Author Archives: Robert Weible

Robert Weible

About Robert Weible

Robert Weible recently retired as the State Historian of New York.

History In New York: Where Are We Headed?

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Cultural Education Center State Museum ArchivesIs New York’s “historical enterprise” really entering a new phase, as Bruce Dearstyne contends in his recent post? There certainly seems to have been some change going on in the New York State Office of Cultural Education. Perhaps most notably, New York is now employing a full-time State Historian for the first time since 1976 (not 1994, as Bruce suggests).

While this is certainly a step in the right direction, it would be naïve to allege that today’s State Historian position holds the same power and responsibility that it once did. Continue reading

Bob Weible: What’s Next for the New York State Historian?

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State Education Building by Matt Wade Photography (Wikimedia User UpstateNYer)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

Former NYS Historian Weible On State Ed Bureaucracy, Responsibilities

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State Education BuildingWhen 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

The State Historian on NYS History Month 2014

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New York State History MonthIt’s been a very good year for history in New York. The state’s historians, archivists, educators, preservationists, and curators have, over the course of the past twelve months, coordinated their efforts and raised public awareness of New York’s history as never before. And now, as November approaches, it’s clear that History Month is going to make a good year even better.

There will indeed be more and better History Month programming taking place all across New York in 2014 than in recent years. And thanks to the New York State Museum, a program of the New York State Board of Regents and State Education Department, there’s even a History Month logo to help unite and brand all of the state’s History Month programs. Any historical or cultural organization offering November history programs can—and should—use the logo. It’s easily available. Just grab the logo above, or e-mail Bridget Enderle at for a higher resolution copy. Continue reading

New York’s History Community to Convene

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New-York-State-Map1When the Conference on New York State History meets at Marist College in Poughkeepsie on June 12-14, 2014, it will—as always—bring together scholars to present and discuss their latest work in New York State history.

Sessions will include a New York Academy of History panel led by Columbia University’s Kenneth T. Jackson on the past, present, and future of New York’s urban and suburban history; a panel sponsored by the New York Council for the Humanities featuring leading scholars of public history, historical memory, and architecture addressing “September 11 and the Battle for American Memory;” a Hudson River Valley Institute-sponsored panel on the Hudson River School aesthetic and the formation of a national identity; and a lot more.

It will include more in the way of scholarship, to be sure—but also much more than that. Continue reading

Bob Weible: Is NYS History Month Dead?

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poster1997lgIt’s true.  November is New York State History Month.

In 1997, New York’s legislature added Section 57.02 to the state’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Law and 1) designated November as New York State History Month, 2) defined the purpose of the month as the celebration of state history and the recognition of the contributions of state and local historians, and 3) authorized the Education Department to undertake projects to recognize the month (while the legislation failed to identify any specific projects, it did suggest student essay contests as one possibility). Continue reading

Bob Weible: Making History in Difficult Times

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I was disappointed to hear the recent news that Schenectady County officials have chosen to cut funding for their county historian. This decision appears to have less to do with the historian than it did with the county’s fiscal problems.

Many of us are familiar with the state law that requires municipalities to appoint historians, and as Gerry Smith has pointed out, NYS County Law, section 400, also requires counties to make similar appointments. Many counties and many municipalities comply with these laws. Many don’t. But that’s not what’s at stake here. Continue reading

Bob Weible: NY’s Historical Golden Age is Coming

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If there is one thing historians should know, it is that “things change.” After all, without change, history would have no meaning. And historians would have no jobs. Face it. Everyone may love history. But the reason some of us collect paychecks, practically speaking, is that we perform the unique and essential service of helping people understand history—not so we can all venerate the past but so that we can change the way things are and make history ourselves. Continue reading

New Yorkers and the Memory of the Civil War

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As New York’s State Historian, I often say that New Yorkers have long provided the country with some of its most informed leadership. Why? Because they understand and appreciate their state’s place in American history.

Take as a case in point the 100th anniversary of the American Civil War (1961-65). This was a time when some Americans were using their heritage to defy federal desegregation efforts. New York’s Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, however, used his state’s history for a far better purpose. He promoted civil rights and racial equality in America by joining with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others in celebration of the 100th birthday of a document owned by the New York State Library—Lincoln’s draft Emancipation Proclamation. Continue reading