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
This 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
“Collections Care 101” will be held at the Rensselaer County Historical Society (RCHS) on Friday, June 12, 2015 from 9 am to 4 pm.
The day-long workshop covers the basics of collections care and is presented by Stacy Pomeroy Draper, RCHS Curator; and Kathryn Sheehan, RCHS Registrar and Rensselaer County and City of Troy Historian. Continue reading
New 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