Category Archives: Public History

The State Historian and the Future of New York History


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Seal of New York StateThe position of New York State Historian was created in 1895. The Historian was appointed by the Governor until 1911, when the position was moved to the State Education Department. Since that time, it has been located in a number of offices including the Office of State History (1966-1976), and since then, in the State Museum.

State Historians’ job descriptions and priorities have varied over the years as well. The first State Historian, Hugh Hastings (1895-1907), had been a New York Times reporter and concentrated on documentary publications. The next one, Victor Hugo Paltsits (1907-1911), a librarian and expert in colonial history, was known for meticulous editing of published editions and laid the basis for expanding the position into the area of archives. Alexander C. Flick (1923-1939) edited and led the publication of a multi-volume history of the state. Louis L. Tucker (1966-1976) held the titles of State Historian and Assistant Commissioner for State History in the Office of State History and, in the early 1970’s, was also Executive Director of the New York State American Revolution Bicentennial Commission. Continue reading

Mohawk Country Heritage Association Forms


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Picture1The Fort Plain Museum is taking the lead in organizing a new marketing association for the Mohawk Valley’s numerous 18th century historic sites.  The new association will work to promote eight historic sites in western Montgomery County all within 4 to 6 miles of Exit 29 on the New York State Thruway.

Billed as “Mohawk Country, America’s First Frontier” the association’s first marketing effort has targeted the month of July. Continue reading

Bruce Dearstyne on the State History Conference


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unnamed27-300x136The annual New York State History Conference, held at the end of June at Niagara University, demonstrated once again the robust diversity of the state’s historical community and its research, projects, and initiatives. There were many interesting sessions but I wanted to share impressions of five particularly interesting and important themes.

Cooperation. Paul D’Ambrosio, President of the New York State Historical Association, in welcoming conference attendees, emphasized the essential role of cooperation in sponsoring, organizing, and managing the conference. Continue reading

Humanities Council Seeks Advocates for Suffrage Centennial


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suffrage logoThe year 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York State, a milestone for the state and a transformative moment in American democracy.

The New York Council for the Humanities has launched an effort to get the New York State Legislature to appropriately mark New York State Women’s Suffrage Centennial. “We feel that the New York State legislature has the opportunity and fiscal obligation to support the Commemoration,” an e-mail from the Council said. Continue reading

5 Ways NYS Can Promote Its American Revolution Stories


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Virginia Promotion on TurnNew York has a great story to tell about its role in the American Revolution. In fact it has many great stories to tell, and many people are telling and struggling to tell those stories.

Given the plethora of sites in the state relating to the American Revolution and to the significance of the events which transpired here, one would think that the State basks in the greatness of being the home to so much that was so critical to the founding of our country. Think again. Continue reading

State Historian Bob Weible Stepping Down


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Robert+WeibleNew York State Historian Robert Weible, who also serves as Chief Curator of the New York State Museum and leads the State Museum’s History Office, has announced that he will retire from state employment. His last day will be Wednesday, July 15, 2015.

According to Antonia Valentine, spokesperson for the New York State Education Department: “The Museum will conduct a national search for candidates for Chief Curator of the Museum and New York State Historian over the next several months. In the interim, the Museum’s History Office will report to the State Museum Director.” Continue reading

Civil War Anniversary Effort A Mockery Of Sacrifice


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Civil War 150th New York StateA recent post here at the New York History Blog by regular contributor Bruce Dearstyne caught my attention.  Dr. Dearstyne, a tireless advocate of this state’s history, was considering New York’s celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War.

“New York has not had an official state office or commission to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the war and the state’s role in it,” Dr. Dearstyne noted. “Of course, there have been many notable ceremonies, exhibits, and public events in our state during the past four years. The New York State Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee provided leadership and a focal point for publicizing events. The New York State Military Museum did outstanding work.”

I was taken aback a bit by this notion that the New York State Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee provided leadership, or publicized events – I couldn’t recall ever hearing of them. Continue reading

Entering the Post Civil War Sesquicentennial Era


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lithograph of the Battle of Gettysburg from the Library of CongressA recent article “Made in New York: The Empire State at War,” in the Albany Times Union by Civil War historian Bill Howard reminded readers of New York’s central importance in the Civil War.

Howard noted, among other things, that New York governor Edwin Morgan began mobilizing troops for the war even before the surrender of Fort Sumter, enlisted about 450,000 soldiers during the war (more than half of the state’s population under 30), was a major supplier of arms and other war materials. Howard analyzes several other New York contributions and concludes that “the war could not have been won without New York’s contributions.” Continue reading

Funding A History Passport Program


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Adirondack Coast History PassportPassports are an underutilized resource for promoting tourism and community identity. While I have been a strong advocate for the creation and use of passports at the local, county, and regional basis for schools and tourism, I only now have realized the potential funding opportunity with the latest round of funding through the Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC).

This epiphany began at the annual conference of the Association of Public Historians in New York State in Corning in April. On the display table there was a pile of Adirondack Coast Cultural Alliance passports. Continue reading

A Call For Municipal Historian Reform In NYS


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NYS MapThis question of what municipal historians should be doing came up at the recent annual conference of the Association of Public Historians of New York (APNYS). The setting was a session at the conference for first-time municipal historians and was chaired by Christine Ridarsky, the City of Rochester Historian who works at the Central Library in Rochester and serves on the APHNYS board.

The stories told during the session did not reflect well on the state of the municipal historian position in New York State. Some had stumbled into the job based on very local circumstances. They didn’t know what the job entailed, nor did the municipal leaders who appointed them. Continue reading

Peter Feinman: The State of the Municipal Historian


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NYS MapNew York prides itself as being the only state in the country to require each municipality to have an historian. Unfortunately, besides taking pride in this action, the State does little or nothing to support those historians.

In previous posts, I have reported the following based on an analysis of a download of the municipal listings from the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS): Continue reading

Legends And Lore Historic Marker Grant Program


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Legends and Lore Grant Program - croppedThe William G. Pomeroy Foundation has partnered with the New York Folklore Society to launch a new grant program to promote cultural tourism and commemorate urban legends and folklore as part of the New York’s history.

Folklore is an expression of our common past, yet it draws attention to what is unique about communities. Passed from person to person over time, there is often historical truth at the heart of every legend. Continue reading

Fenton History Center’s Pizza and Genealogy Project


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fresco(1)Those of us in the local history museum business sometimes struggle to connect with the large segment of the general population that doesn’t see the relevance of history. They are busy with their everyday lives; schedules of work, family and leisure time. Trying to get their attention and then bring them to a history based event can be challenging.

A few years ago at a Fenton History Center Board of Trustee meeting (Fenton History Center is in Jamestown, Chautauqua County, NY) we were brainstorming about how to collect and disseminate more local Italian genealogy and the stories that go with the families involved. One of the Fenton History Center Trustees suggested we hold a pizza judging event. We tabled the idea until last year when we started the “Slice of History Pizza Challenge”. Continue reading

Rethinking Outreach by Moving Outside the Museum


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Iszards Store Window DisplayThe Chemung County Historical Society has been working with new partners and new programs as part of our effort to be a greater presence in our community. As director, I feel that it is imperative that the museum be a part of everyday community life, analogous to our local library. In order to make a greater impact on our community, we need to find better ways to entice community members to visit our museum and for us to meet our fellow citizens where they are.

Over the past eighteen months, the CCHS has had the opportunity to place new exhibits throughout our community, develop new programming with an unexpected partner and strengthen ties to a traditional partner. Continue reading

‘Humanities in the Public Square’ Grant Opportunity


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NEHThe National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has announced a new grant opportunity called “Humanities in the Public Square” that will put humanities scholars in direct dialogue with the public on some of the most pressing issues of today –  through public forums, community programs, and the development of educational resources.

This new grant opportunity is part of the National Endowment for the Humanities’ agency-wide initiative The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, which seeks to demonstrate and enhance the role and significance of the humanities and humanities scholarship in public life. Continue reading

Interview: City Of New York’s Municipal Archives


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NYC Department of Records and ArchivesKen Cobb joined me on “The Forget-Me-Not Hour” podcast this week, talking about one of the richest repositories in New York City: the New York Municipal Archives.

Ken, Assistant Commissioner of Department of Records and Information Services for the City of New York, talked about the collections of the archives – vital records, tax records, police records, almshouse records, mayoral records, legislative records, and more. Continue reading

Inside New York State’s History Tourism Bubble


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Andrew Cuomo Path Through historyThe Albany-Manhattan bubble is a term I use to describe the alternate reality in which the New York State government operates regarding history tourism.

Recent events in New York, Albany, and Corning (The New York Times Travel Show, Tourism Action Day, a Tourism Advisory Council Meeting, and the Museum Association of New York Annual Conference), and the presentations and comments I heard from by the inhabitants of the Albany-Manhattan bubble, demonstrate a disconnect with the real world and little hope that anything constructive will be done to bridge that gap. Continue reading