New York State Reduces Role of State Historian

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Cultural Education Center State Museum ArchivesThe role of New York State Historian has been downgraded by the Office of Cultural Education to a lesser paid position reporting to the Chief Curator of the State Museum.

Members of the historical community from across New York State – including former State Historian Robert Weible, who retired in July – had been quietly advocating for a stronger, more independent State Historian with a focus on Public History.

The last independent State Historian was Louis Tucker, whose official title was Assistant Commissioner for State History in the State Education Department. Austerity efforts in the 1970s led to the State Historian position being moved into the State Museum.

Robert Weible, who began serving as State Historian in 2008, held the official title of State Historian and Chief Curator of the State Museum with the management level pay grade of MC-2. The next State Historian is being hired with the official title of Senior Historian at the pay grade of 22, and will report to the Chief Curator of the State Museum. The Chief Curator vacancy created when Weible left has been filled by Jennifer Lemak.

The State Historian position was announced February 24, 2016; applications are due by March 16. The position announcement was posted online.

Further Reading on the State Historian

Former State Historian Bob Weible wrote about the position for The New York State History Blog just last week, including a short history of the position.

Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne, who served on the staffs of the New York State Office of State History and the State Archives, recently wrote about the importance of the State Historian to the State’s history community.

All stories on The New York History Blog about the New York State Historian can be found here.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons user Matt Wade.

5 thoughts on “New York State Reduces Role of State Historian

  1. Nolan Cool

    Thanks for posting this news. The position certainly requires more autonomy, as well as greater resources overall. Governmental efforts to consolidate the position need to look beyond the position itself. Rather, the dysfunction present seems to stem from no real support for any true, widespread collaborative initiatives in the historical community, which a capable State Historian could work to accomplish. However, the effort is as much bottom-up as it is top-down.

    It’s easy to advocate for this type of change and to promote the idea of a fresh understanding of how civic engagement through history can work in the \twenty-first century – but to truly push the message requires a truly collaborative vision (at least in my opinion). The State Historian needs the resources to serve as a structural beacon for the NYS historical community, just as history organizations should support, work through, and work with the person in the position. Hopefully, the next-in-line will be able to work toward this goal, and in the process, formulate clear organizational framework for the position and expectations for the future.

  2. Leigh C. Eckmair, Historian TOwn of Butternuts and Village of Gilbertsville, NY

    Guess I was not the only one who noticed ;( This is a HUGE slap in the face of the History of the New York State’s Historian position/s and each of us/all of us who toil out here under the, obviously, misapprehension that what we do is important for the future of the history of New York. This will definitely reinforce those local governments who believe they do not have to follow the direction of the Arts and Cultural Affairs laws to support their own local history.

  3. James S. Kaplan

    It is indeed unfortunate to hear that the New York State government has downgraded the position of State historian.
    This comes at a time when the need for intelligent promotion of the State’s history has never been greater. The State’s economy and particularly the economy of New York City has never been more dependent on its tourist industries (as broadly defined) and historical tourism is an increasingly important component of those industries. Furthermore with an ever increasing influx of immigrants and a general decrease in history and social studies classes in our schools, there is in my view a significantly greater need for citizens of this state to be educated about the State’s history.
    It is particularly ironic that the state would downgrade this position (if that is what happened) at a time when local organizations, such as the Lower Manhattan Historical Society (“LMHS”) of which I am President, are actively trying to lead an upsurge in interest in history in Lower Manhattan and New York City. We have just won a hard fought battle, which ultimately gained the support of the New York City Council and the Mayor to rename the north part of Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan as “Evacuation Day Plaza” as part of our effort to reinstitute the ancient Revolutionary war holiday of Evacuation Day. Last year for the first time in 39 years we revived in connecition with the visit of the French ship Hermione a July 4 parade in Lower Manhattan and are working on plans for more extensive July 4 weekend activities this year, in the hopes of making historical activities in Lower Manhattan a serious competitor to the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest in Coney Island as New York City’s most important July 4th event. We also have for the last three years in October held a celebration of the American victories at
    Saratoga and Yorktown by laying wreaths on the graves of General Horatio Gates, Alexander Hamilton and Marinus Willet, to emulate the celebration of the Battle of Bunker Hill in Boston, which has taken place for 230 years.
    Thee are many other events and anniversaries such as the 200th anniversary of the commencement of
    construction of the Erie Canal, the 250th anniversary of the construction of Saint Paul’s Chapel in Lower Manhattan, the proposed New York State Constitutional covention, the 85th anniversary of the New Deal engineered by New Yorkers Frankklin Roosevelt and Frances Perkins, and the establishmen onf the first synagogue in North America on Sotuh William Street in Lower Manhattan that should be celebrated and about which New Yorkers should be educated.
    We could certainly use and would welcome the assistance of the New York State government and an active state historian in these efforts.
    James S. Kaplan
    President, Lower Manhattan Historical Society

  4. Christopher K. Philippo

    Disappointing news that the position has been downgraded. The position might have more focus now, though, if the job description is accurate.

  5. Robt Hedgeman

    Role of New York State Historian Reduced,
    The criteria for the State Historian is immense. However NYS has down graded the position and salary for the State Historian and will place it under the authority of the state museum, where it will “In my opinion” become obscure. From here I think more down grading and salary reduction could occur.
    I do not have knowledge of “all the facts”. My comment is my own.


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