My First Year As A Local History Librarian


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2015-12-12-ScannersIn mid-October, I marked my first anniversary as the “local history librarian” at the White Plains Public Library. Four years earlier, I was a library clerk at an urban public library trying to figure out how to make a job out of my seemingly varied interests. I liked direct service, helping people, but I also valued more solitary, research driven work. I knew Intellectual freedom and a progressive, supportive community were a necessary part of any job I might hold, but I did not want to obtain a PhD or set out on my own for the wilds of self-employment. I knew I loved education, but I didn’t want to be a teacher. So the world has another librarian.

Through a friend, I began working at Albany Public Library as a Library Clerk and found the public library united my passions for working with people and knowledge in a democratic, autonomous space. Librarians can be educators without being constricted by the bureaucracy that comes with teaching. Librarians can also be historians, but don’t have to work within the traditional academic or museum systems, where publishing requirements or institutional obligations can take up lots of time. Attracted as I am to intellectual autonomy and the propagation of alternative historical voices, working as a local history librarian looked like a perfect opportunity to see if I could manifest some of these values. Continue reading

Regents Makes Museum Education Act A Priority


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CapitolThe New York State Board of Regents has made the Museum Education Act (MEA) a Legislative Priority for 2016. The Act would provide museums and other eligible institutions access to grant funding to conduct curriculum-based educational programs for students and teachers in grades pre-kindergarten through grade twelve and adults enrolled in continuing education programs.

The grants are expected to be competitive in nature and could be used for a variety of curriculum-based educational programming, including funding for the transportation of students to museums or museum staff to classrooms. Continue reading

Sullivan County’s ‘White Christmas’ Connection


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WhiteRoeAerialThe Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont did not bear much of a resemblance to a Catskills’ hotel of that era, and Dean Jagger’s General Tom Waverly was definitely not much like a Sullivan County hotel owner, but the movie “White Christmas” has a strong local flavor nonetheless.

The titular tune of the top grossing film of 1954, of course, was conceived and written right here in Lew Beach, and the movie’s thin plot line was really little more than a vehicle for county resident Irving Berlin’s music. And then there is Danny Kaye, sharing the lead with the inimitable Bing Crosby –  who sings Berlin’s most memorable song for the third time on screen– as well as Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen.

But except for two separate twists of fate, Kaye may not have been part of “White Christmas” at all.  Continue reading

The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad


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ben_franklins_worldBetween the 1830s and 1860s, a clandestine communications and transportation network called the “Underground Railroad” helped thousands of slaves escape to freedom.

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, we investigate this secret network with Eric Foner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author of Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015). You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/059

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Recent Lower Hudson Valley History Meeting Highlights


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hudson valleyIn recent weeks I have had the opportunity to attend and participate in three regional and county history community meetings. These included the annual meeting of the Greater Hudson Heritage Network; a meeting of Region 3 (mainly the Hudson Valley) of the Association of Public Historians in New York State (APHNYS); and the Sullivan County History Conference

These three meetings provided opportunities to meet with colleagues, discuss important issues, and learn what’s happening. What follows are some highlights from those meetings. Continue reading

This Holiday Season Record Your Family’s Oral History


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Oral History Home InterviewsBy combining technology with time-honored techniques of interviewing and storytelling, this holiday season can be an ideal time for people to hear and preserve eyewitness accounts of life experiences from loved ones for future generations, says an historian at Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History.

“One thing almost all Americans share is regret that when we were children, we did not listen better when our parents, grandparents and older relatives or friends told stories about people and places alive only in their memories,” said Lois Myers, associate director of the institute. “Such oral traditions may be the most fragile links to our family history.”

With sound or video recordings, people can uncover and preserve the origins of family rituals — such as holiday celebrations, common sayings or even recipes, Myers said. Continue reading

Addressing The Care of Cemeteries


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The Historians LogoThis week “The Historians” podcast features an interview with Craig Tolosky, secretary/treasurer of the East Line Union Cemetery in Malta, with his perspective on challenges facing cemeteries in New York State. Mr. Tolosky’s daughter, Christie Tolosky, is buried in the cemetery. She died at the age of 24 from what was later diagnosed as Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome. You can listen to the full podcast hereContinue reading

Museum of the City of New York Names New President, Director


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DONHAUSER-facebookJumboThe Board of Trustees of the Museum of the City of New York has appointed Whitney W. Donhauser President and Director of the Museum. She will join the City Museum on January 1, 2016, succeeding Susan Henshaw Jones who is retiring at the end of the year.

Whitney W. Donhauser has had a 23-year career in museum management and fundraising. As Senior Advisor to the President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Donhauser worked with the Museum’s Board of Trustees, Director, President, and executive leadership on formulating and implementing Museum policy. Continue reading

How We Remember the American Revolution


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ben_franklins_worldWhy do we choose to remember the American Revolution as a glorious event that had almost universal, colonial support when in fact, the Revolution’s events were bloody, violent, and divisive?

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, we explore our memory of the American Revolution and how our memory of the event and its participants evolved with Andrew Schocket, author of Fighting Over the Founders: How We Remember the American Revolution (NYU Press, 2015). You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/058

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Capital Region in 50 Objects: A Model Exhibit


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Captial Region in 50 ObjectsThe Albany Institute of History and Art opened an exhibit in September entitled “Capital Region in 50 Objects” that runs through next April. It is a model of creative, imaginative display of historical objects, using a quotation from Henry Ford as a starting point: “Every Object Tells a Story If You Know How to Read It.”

There are 50 objects and for each a corresponding photograph putting the object into historical perspective. The captions are uniformly informative. Continue reading

Billie Jean King Will Be Susan B. Anthony Birthday Luncheon Speaker


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BJK headshot 2013_2_ Andrew Coppa Photography (3)(1)The National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House has announced that the keynote speaker for the 2016 Susan B. Anthony Birthday Luncheon will be Billie Jean King, sports icon, humanitarian, and champion of equal rights. The annual luncheon will be held Wednesday, February 10, 2016, at the Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center.

A native of Southern California, Billie Jean King has won thirty-nine Grand Slam singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles during her tennis career. She famously defeated Bobby Riggs in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match. King is the founder of the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, which seeks to address inclusion and diversity issues in the workplace, and the Women’s Sports Foundation. In 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, and, in 2010, was appointed to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. Continue reading

A New Book About Catskills History


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catskillshistoryStephen M. Silverman grew up in Los Angeles and admits he knew nothing about the Catskills before coming to New York to attend college. And yet, despite that rather late introduction to the area, he has managed to write what promises to become one of the most important books about the region, released last month by Knopf.

In fact, from the first glimpse of its colorful dust jacket to the final profound phrase on the last page of text, The Catskills: Its History and How it Changed America is about as impressive a book as you are likely to find on this or any subject.  The history is comprehensive, covering virtually everything from the Hardenbergh Patent to Washington Irving to hydraulic fracturing to casinos; the illustrations are magnificent, including some of the most breathtaking renderings of Asher Durand and Thomas Cole; and the sources are impeccable, most notably hours and hours of videotaped interviews with respected modern authorities. Continue reading

Exhibition Features Mt. Beacon Incline Railway


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Beacon Incline Railway LogoComing on the heels of the recently published book on the Mt. Beacon Incline, the Mount Beacon Incline Railway Restoration Society has announced the opening of a six-month exhibition. Entitled Along the Mt. Beacon Incline Railway: Past, Present & Future, the exhibition explores the initiative to bring back the Mt. Beacon Incline through the lenses of a historic narrative and an eye towards the future.

As Beacon, in Dutchess County, continues to transform and revitalize, the organizers argue, the Incline’s restoration provides a unique opportunity to connect the past with the future in a way that is meaningful to the city’s heritage and relevant to the community of today. Continue reading

Converting A Historic Jail To Women’s Activism


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Women exchanging ideas. Photo:Kathleen HulserArt deco murals, decorative brick work, mosaics – not quite what you expect to encounter at a women’s prison. The Bayview Women’s Correctional Facility at 550 West 20th Street in Manhattan was built in 1931 as a YMCA for merchant sailors. Converted to a prison, it was closed after Superstorm Sandy flooding and is now being converted to a Women’s Building. As an adaptive reuse, the main building will be preserved with some elements that reflect the history, even as the site is re-purposed as a women-focused community facility. Continue reading

War, Money, and the American State, 1783-1867


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ben_franklins_worldAs Benjamin Franklin stated in 1789, “nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Given the certainty of taxes it seems important that we understand how the United States’ fiscal system developed.

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, we explore the development of the early American fiscal system with Max Edling, Professor of History at King’s College, London and author of A Hercules in the Cradle: War, Money, and the American State, 1783-1867 (University of Chicago Press, 2014). You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/057

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Johanna Yaun On Municipal Historians


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hathornhouseNew York has 932 towns, 547 villages, and 62 cities. Each one of them is required by State law to appoint a Municipal Historian.

To most people, this sounds like a quirky mandate, especially considering that there’s no requirement to provide a salary or storage space to maintain local records. Also, you may remember a Municipal Historian presenting a slide show at your elementary school or at a community festival where you may have developed an appreciation for their work – or perhaps been unimpressed because of how out-of-touch they were. Continue reading

NY History Blog, History Community Updates


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NYS MapAs we near the end of the year I thought I’d offer some updates about the status of the New York History Blog, and at the same time, some important news for the history community.

Those who attended the Researching New York Conference in Albany recently may be aware of the following developments, but this will no doubt be the first time many have heard these important announcements. Continue reading