New York State offers a special window into African American history and American culture. It was a center for 19th century anti-slavery organizations, and home to Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and many other Abolitionist and Underground Railroad leaders.
Nevertheless, anti-black discrimination remained an issue well into the 20th century, and the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) actually has its roots in the Niagara Movement, whose first meeting in 1905 took place on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls because members were turned away from hotels on the U.S. side. Continue reading
Supplying water to millions is not simply an engineering and logistical challenge. As David Soll shows in his history of the nation’s largest municipal water system, Empire of Water: An Environmental and Political History of The New York City Water Supply (Cornell Univ. Press, 2013), the task of providing water to New Yorkers transformed the natural and built environment of the city, its suburbs, and distant rural watersheds.
Almost as soon as New York City completed its first municipal water system in 1842, it began to expand the network, eventually reaching far into the Catskill Mountains, more than one hundred miles from the city. Empire of Water explores the history of New York City’s water system from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century, focusing on the geographical, environmental, and political repercussions of the city’s search for more water. Continue reading
In my last post here at The New York History Blog, I reported on a recent tourism press release issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office.
Today I’d like to turn to the Governor’s State of the State address as it relate to history, history tourism, and cultural heritage tourism more generally.
Here is some of the relevant text: Continue reading
New York City’s Historic Districts Council (HDC) has announced its 2014 Six to Celebrate, an annual listing of historic New York City neighborhoods and institutions that merit preservation attention.
This is New York’s only citywide list of preservation priorities coming directly from the neighborhoods. Continue reading
Ancestry.com, the world’s largest online family history resource, has announced the availability of an index to more than 10 million New York City birth, marriage and death records, spanning 1866-1948, for free online at Ancestry.com/NewYork.
The new index, made possible through a relationship with the New York City Department Of Records/Municipal Archives, enables people exploring their family history to discover and learn more about their possible New York roots. Continue reading
In A Stripe of Tammany’s Tiger (Cornell University Press, 1966, 2013 Reprint), Louis Eisenstein, a Tammany precinct captain from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, sets out with his coauthor Elliot Rosenberg to chronicle the evolution—or rather devolution—of New York City politics through the first seven decades of the twentieth century.
Eisenstein imbues his lively narrative with an overarching theme: that personal interactions and good faith between those at all levels of power are of paramount importance both for sustained political success and for competent municipal administration. Continue reading
The Center for Public Scholarship at The New School in New York City is hosting a free public event celebrating the University in Exile, on Thursday, January 30, 2014.
The University in Exile was created by The New School’s first president, Alvin Johnson, as a haven for scholars whose careers and lives were threatened in Germany in 1933, when the Nazi Party came to power and acted to expel all Jews and political opponents from German universities. Continue reading
In an important legal ruling, NYS Supreme Court Judge Donna Mills found that elements of the proposed New York University expansion plan would build on land which has long been used as public parkland, although not officially designated as such. The NYU project proposed between West Houston and West Third Streets, has, according to Sam Roberts of the New York Times “arguably generated more rancor than any other project in the neighborhood since the proposed expressway in the 1960s.”
It is only possible to build on parkland in New York State with the approval of the State Legislature. The legal action opposing the expansion which Justice Mills ruled on was brought against the City of New York by a coalition of community groups, neighborhood residents and NYU faculty. Continue reading
The award winning book, Heartbeats in the Muck: The History, Sea Life, and Environment of New York Harbor has been updated and reissued in paperback. In Heartbeats, author John Waldman covers the arc of history of New York Harbor from its pristine origins through the ravages of the industrial era to its remarkable comeback today.
First published in 1999, the volume won a New York Society Library Award. The revision includes an epilogue that brings the story of the Harbor to 2012, the 40th Anniversary of the critically important Clean Water Act, and includes the ambitious ongoing oyster restorations; alien species such as Asian shore crabs, zebra mussels, and snakehead fish; the effects of climate change; rehabilitation of the legendarily polluted Gowanus Canal, and even a return of bald eagles to Manhattan. Waldman’s work on New York Harbor also resulted in a Norcross Wildlife Conservation Award and, in 2012, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Conservation Award. Continue reading
In anticipation of The Black Fives, an exhibition opening in March that explores the history of African American basketball teams that existed from the early 1900s through 1950, the New-York Historical Society is initiating a scholarship contest inviting New York City metropolitan area high school students to submit original essays, videos or photographs on the theme of breaking barriers in basketball and making history. A panel of judges will review applications and announce winners in each category.
The scholarship contest seeks entries that answer the question: How has basketball profoundly changed New York history, United States history, or your own personal history? Continue reading
Following the run of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at Brooklyn’s Ambrose Park, showman Nate Salsbury, in the 1890s, sought another production to fill the vacant venue. His first thought–for an exhibition on Italian industry–did not get very far because his poor health prevented him from planning it.
Searching for something “purely national and a novelty,” he decided on a show that would provide a “picture of the South,” to be called “Black America.” Salsbury hired Billy McClain, a black entertainer who had already been doing a show called “The South before the War,” to manage the production. Continue reading
In the first continental war, the French and Indian War, America fought with the British and against the French. That war was then followed by two others where “We the People” were not good, proud, loyal subjects of British king. We even allied with France against England. Imagine that!
The initial focus was on New York City. At that time, it was limited to southern Manhattan There the statue of King George would be toppled following a reading of the new Declaration of Independence in one of the iconic moments of the war. The remains of the statue would be smelted into bullets to be used against the King’s troops. Later, the sudden appearance of the British armada was a true “shock and awe” experience for the city. The Revolution was nearly nipped in the bud as a providential fog enabled Washington to cross the East River on August 29, 1776. Continue reading
Using previously unstudied Coast Guard records from 1920 to 1933 for New York City and environs, Ellen NicKenzie Lawson’s Smugglers, Bootleggers, and Scofflaws: Prohibition and New York City (SUNY Press, 2013) examines the development of Rum Row and smuggling via the coasts of Long Island, the Long Island Sound, the Jersey shore, and along the Hudson and East Rivers.
With the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, “drying up” New York City promised to be the greatest triumph of the proponents of Prohibition. Instead, the city remained the nation’s greatest liquor market. Continue reading
Bells ringing from a forest of steeples, horseshoes striking cobblestones, boat whistles in the harbor, Yiddische mamas scolding children from tenement windows. These are instantly recognizable noises that evoke a historical time and place, adding up to what today’s historians sometimes call a “soundscape.”
In today’s cities when the most characteristic sound may be the giant crash of falling brick walls as old buildings are demolished, soundscapes are a precious way of experiencing history outdoors. This heritage is particularly relevant in urban settings where so many layers of the city have gone missing. Continue reading
In Spring 2014, the New-York Historical Society will present a range of exhibitions that will examine New York City architecture, fashion and photography through the lens of the legendary Bill Cunningham; the early history of African American basketball before the dawn of the National Basketball Association; the second installment of Audubon’s Aviary, showcasing New-York Historical’s collection of Audubon watercolors; and an exhibition of quilts and textiles created during the Civil War. Continue reading
During the holiday season of 1945, a most unusual conversation was taking place in the Northern New York. It was a pivotal year in the twentieth century―history’s worst war had just ended, and an effort to prevent future wars had resulted in the formation of the United Nations, which officially came into being on October 24. The groundwork had been laid earlier in San Francisco, where delegates from fifty governments joined forces and drafted the original UN Charter.
The next order of business was to find a home for the new alliance, referred to widely then as the UNO (United Nations Organization). Since San Francisco hosted the charter conference, it was considered a favorite in the running. But as the process played out, northern New York was abuzz with the possibility of being chosen as permanent host. Continue reading
Hell’s Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space: Class Struggle and Progressive Reform in New York City, 1894-1914 by Joseph J. Varga (Monthly Review Press, 2013) considers how urban spaces are produced, controlled, and contested by different class and political forces through an examination of the famous Manhattan neighborhood during the “Progressive Era.”
Hell’s Kitchen is among Manhattan’s most storied and studied neighborhoods. A working-class district situated next to the West Side’s middle- and upper-class residential districts, it has long attracted the focus of artists and urban planners, writers and reformers. Now, Joseph Varga takes us on a tour of Hell’s Kitchen with an eye toward what we usually take for granted: space, and, particularly, how urban spaces are produced, controlled, and contested by different class and political forces. Continue reading
In cultural studies the cosmic center refers to the meeting point between the heavens and the earth at the center of the universe. It often is associated with a high place perhaps in nature like a mountain or human-built like a ziggurat.
For the United States of America, New York City is the cosmic center, the crossroads of the universe, ground zero. But as New York prepares to ignore the 350th anniversary of when it became New York, it’s also appropriate to remember that when New York began as New Amsterdam, no one thought of it as a city on a hill. There is a story to tell of how it turned out that way. Continue reading
Drivers exiting the New Jersey Turnpike for Perth Amboy, and map readers marveling at all the places in Pennsylvania named Lackawanna, need no longer wonder how these names originated.
Manhattan to Minisink: American Place Names in Greater New York and Vicinity (University of Oklahoma Press, 2013) provides the histories of more than five hundred place names in the Greater New York area, including the five boroughs, western Long Island, the New York counties north of the city, and parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Robert S. Grumet, a leading ethnohistorian specializing in the region’s Indian peoples, draws on his meticulous research and deep knowledge to determine the origins of Native, and Native-sounding, place names. Continue reading
With nearly 49,000 people living in city shelters, including almost 21,000 children—a modern-day record that may well be broken—there has never been more of a need to step back and understand how New Yorkers have confronted poverty and homelessness over time.
The Poor Among Us: A History of Family Poverty and Homelessness in New York City (2013, White Tiger Press), puts current policies in perspective through the lens of nearly 300 years of public and philanthropic efforts to alleviate poverty in New York City. Continue reading