This week I came across an article about Joe Bagley, the 31-year- old archaeologist who has been put in charge of one million mostly un-cataloged City of Boston artifacts. Underpaid and overburdened, he’s found ways to triage the projects that come at him each day. He has to be a historian, a fundraiser, a bureaucrat, a volunteer coordinator, a social media guru, an artifact guardian, a cheerleader for preservation, a meticulous registrar, and a broad minded strategic planner, all at the same time.
You’re not alone, Joe. This has become the narrative of the post-recession workplace. It’s like a reality TV premise: we give you poverty level pay and a mountain of responsibility, and expect you to turn this organization around with your hipster ingenuity. I see it so often that I’ve started to refer to it as the martyr-hero motif. Continue reading
I would like to congratulate Devin Lander on his recently announced appointment as New York State Historian.
I have known and worked with Devin for several years and believe that he holds the potential to become an outstanding State Historian. He has solid grounding in New York State history and appreciates the power it holds to educate New Yorkers, build responsible citizenship, and strengthen the quality of life in communities across the state. He’s smart, principled, thoughtful, even-tempered, respectful, patient, and very professional. He works productively and well with others, listens to what other people have to say, promotes cooperation among diverse constituencies, and gets good things done.
At the same time that I applaud Devin’s appointment, I share some concerns of many, if not most, people in the state’s history community: municipal and academic historians, history teachers, students, archivists, librarians, museum professionals, historic preservationists, community activists, heritage and cultural tourism officials, genealogists, re-enactors, and a long list of others, including just plain old history buffs. We worry that Devin will find it difficult to succeed in his newly downgraded position within the New York State Museum. Continue reading
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia today announced the appointment of Devin Lander as New York’s State Historian. Lander, who currently serves as the Executive Director of the Museum Association of New York (MANY), is expected to join the Education Department on May 19, 2016.
The State Education Department, the Department’s Office of Cultural Education, and the State Museum have been under fire for their handling of the State Historian’s position in recent years, including their downgrading the job to a lesser-paid position reporting to the Chief Curator of the State Museum. Among those critical of the decision to reduce the role of State Historian have been former State Historian Robert Weible and members of the Commission on Local and Public History, convened ten years ago by Deputy Commissioner for Cultural Education Carole Huxley to advise the Department of Education on the appointment of a State Historian. Continue reading
When New York’s governor appointed the first State Historian in 1895, the Progressive Era was just getting underway. The appointment was part of a much larger reform movement to strengthen American democracy by professionalizing government and promoting more active and knowledgeable civic participation in public affairs.
Progressives were especially focused on public education, and in 1911 – seven years after the establishment of the State Education Department – New York moved its State Historian from the Governor’s office to the newly formed department. Continue reading
In 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
New 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
There’s a crisis in historical societies and historic house museums across the nation. Membership dues and visitation are in decline. The costs of maintaining buildings and collections is exhausting resources.
Volunteers are under pressure to digitize archives and make resources more widely available to the public without having the expertise or budgetary supports that would be necessary to do so. Exhibits and programming are stagnant while trustees work tirelessly to triage the symptoms. And the public is largely unaware of the treasures that these institutions have to offer. Continue reading
The sudden retirement of Bob Weible, the New York State Historian, provides an opportunity to reassess the position. What does the history community want from the state historian – assuming there even should be one in the first place? Continue reading
The 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
New 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