Bruce Dearstyne On Lobbying at Albany

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nycapitolPeter Feinman and Tom Shanahan’s recent posts (1, 2) on lobbing were very informative and enlightening. To make progress, though, the state’s historical community would need at least three things.

One, leadership in Albany. This might come from the State Historian, State Historic Preservation Officer, State Archivist, or an association such as the New York State Historical Association or the Association of Public Historians of New York State. Better yet would be leadership from a consortium broadly representing the state’s historical community, such as a new State History Council. This has been under consideration for a number of years, dating back at least to the plenary session at the 2009 State History Conference in Plattsburgh on the status and future of state history, and discussed in the 2011 special issue of the Public Historian, “Strengthening the Management of State History: Issues, Perspectives, and Insights from New York.”

Two, an agenda. What is it that the state’s historical community wants from state government that is not being provided now? That would become the focus for lobbying efforts. There would need to be a consensus around priority items. Some possibilities might include strengthening the status and role of officially designated local government Historians; requiring the teaching of New York State history in the public schools; an online “Encyclopedia of New York State History” that might begin with entries from local Historians; a new state office for advisory services and grants to historical programs; and better integration of existing programs, e.g., state historic sites linked to education and “Path Through History.” Many would be no-cost, or low-cost items in the context of the state budget.

Three, champions and sponsors in the Legislature. Few things advance in the legislature without strong legislative champions, particularly from the majority in each house.

Getting started would be easy. All it would take would be for an interested organization to set up an online discussion forum or website such as a wiki (no-cost) to discuss these issues or to convene a meeting to discuss how to work together. The website could be set up now. The meeting might take place early in November, to coincide with State History Month.

New York’s historical community could certainly make progress if there were a concerted effort. Other states have shown the way. Minnesota, for instance, enacted a constitutional amendment that directs funds to cultural programs, including historical projects.

There are lots of reasons to feel that this is a good time:

  • Thanks to John Warren’s continuing effort and initiative, this New York history blog continues as a central point for information and discussion. The stories of imaginative, robust programs and projects that appear every week on this site constitute evidence about the energy, talent, and determination of the state’s history community.
  • Governor Andrew Cuomo is showing more interest in state history than any previous modern governor. He constantly cites New York’s historical greatness in his speeches. New York’s leadership in building the Erie Canal is one of his favorite examples. Governor Al Smith (who signed the law establishing our system of Local Historians in 1919) is often cited as one of his role models. Cuomo has mounted historical exhibits in the Capitol. He has a history website. His “Path Through History” initiative is boosting heritage tourism. An appeal for a new state history program would resonate with all these interests and initiatives.
  • The recession is lifting and that means there should be more resources available for progressive, imaginative, cost-efficient initiatives.
  • Much of the technology needed to reach people and coordinate advocacy these days is in the social media arena and free of charge. Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube are among the possibilities. These are all “no cost” meaning no outlay of funds are required.

Of course these and other initiatives would require talent and expertise, but the state’s history community has those in abundance.


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Bruce Dearstyne

About Bruce Dearstyne

Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne served on the staff of the New York State Office of State History and the State Archives. He was a professor and is now an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies and has written widely about New York history and occasionally writes about New York history issues for the “Perspective” section of the Sunday Albany Times Union. Bruce is the author of two books published in 2015: The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State’s History (SUNY Press) and also Leading the Historical Enterprise: Strategic Creativity, Planning and Advocacy for the Digital Age (Rowman and Littlefield and the AASLH). He can bereached at

9 thoughts on “Bruce Dearstyne On Lobbying at Albany

  1. Bill Hecht

    We need a state digital archive where local museums can store their digital collections. I know of at least four museums that have large digital archives but no good backup.
    A place were local small museums can send their digital information and know that it will be kept up to date and migrated to new formats as the years pass.

    1. Ellen Apperson Brown

      I agree! I have been developing digital archive of the papers of John S. Apperson, Jr., a pioneer preservation lobbyist working out of Schenectady. I would be thrilled to be able to entrust my digital archive to a historical organization in New York to, as you say, keep it safe and ensure that it is kept functional over time. Unfortunately, the Apperson papers ( the originals) are now housed in the Kelly Adirondack Center, in Niskayuna, and under the management of Union College, and it will be long years before the material is organized, digitized, and “interpreted” to the public. So, as it now stands, I am the only one anywhere who can write about the contents of those important documents. I would love for some help from other scholars and historians!

  2. Carolyn Suffern

    Dr. Dearstyne:

    I have been enjoying AMC’s Sunday night series “TURN,” which is based on New York’s Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring, but I am dismayed that it is the State of Virginia that is advertising ITS Revolutionary War history as an opportunity for heritage tourism on this show, not the State of New York – a great missed opportunity for NY tourism.

    If Virginia has resources, does not New York? Heritage tourism is big business, very big business.

  3. Susan D'Entremont

    Bill Hecht – This is an interesting suggestion and something that the NY3Rs Association (group of the 9 library councils in NYS. See has been concerned about as well. As you can imagine, this is an expensive proposition, although doing it collaboratively would save some money. Do you think the museums would be willing or able to pay a fee for this service?

  4. Miguel HernandezMiguel Hernandez

    It would be inappropriate for State employee like the NYS Historian or an official from the NYSHPO be lobbying the State legislature. I do agree with Bruce Dearstyne however that the various private-non profit history organizations residing in NYS do need a representative voice in Albany and that the major organizations like New York State Historical Association and the Association of Public Historians of New York State s be charged with fleshing out the details as to the mission, goal, objectives and priorities of such an organization, with input from the disparate local historic societies and respected individuals like Dearstyne, Fineman, Warren, Shanahan and others who could champion the effort.

  5. Bruce DearstyneBruce Dearstyne

    Thanks for these responses! Just a couple of quick responses:
    I too have been watching TURN and after the first episode back in April wrote an essay on the topic, which is in the works. Carolyn Suffern is absolutely right. To check for yourself, just click on

    When I wrote about leadership and advocacy by state officials, I should have said more. Miguel Hernandez is absolutely right. State officials can’t go outside their agency and lobby the legislature. But a state official could: (1) work with the state’s historical community in developing a legislative proposal; (2) go through the agency’s review and approval process so that it becomes an officially proposed piece of legislation for transmittal to the legislature (in the Education Department, that would be approval up through the Regents); (3) work with the agency’s legislative liaison on getting sponsors and supporters; and (4) lead and coordinate the work needed to get the bill passed, in concert with history organizations and other interested groups. This might include preparing white papers and explanations and justifications for the bill; meeting with legislative staff and legislators to explain and advocate for it; testifying in its behalf; and answering questions, including from the press. To have a chance of success, though, all of that would need to be done in concert with the organizations representing the state’s history community. Of course, one or more of those organizations might try to go it alone, drafting and pushing their own legislative proposal. It is hard to see how that could succeed. But working together – leadership from state offices + leadership and lots of advocacy work from the community – a lot could be done.

  6. Miguel HernandezMiguel Hernandez

    Bruce, do you think it would be possible fir you to convene an exploratory meeting in Albany to discuss this lobbying idea? Suggest Fineman, Warren, Shanahan, Warren, yourself and others like Smith of the municipal historians group and Weible could be the “scouting party ” This is by no means would be limited to these persons. Perhaps Paul D’Ambrosio, President and Chief Executive Officer of the NYS Historical Association,Taylor Stoermer of Historic Huguenot, chair of the Public History Department at SUNY Albany etc. and Julian Adams of NYSHPO should be there as well. You probably know the usual suspects and could round them up. Think some sort of facilitated “brain storming” session would show if this idea has legs .

  7. Susan D'Entremont

    Thanks for the description of what folks in state agencies can do, Bruce. I always knew that no direct lobbying is allowed, but was murky about what they CAN do. This clears it up considerably.


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