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NYC Municipal Archives Makes Nearly One Million Historic Photographs Available Online

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In a great bit of news for lovers of New York City history (and everyone else, for that matter), the New York City Municipal Archives recently announced that its new online gallery, featuring a staggering 870,000 plus historical images of New York, is now open and accessible to the public. In addition to historic photographs, many of which have never been released before, users are also able to access maps, moving images, and audio recordings through the online gallery.

Through this project, which took four years to complete, the Municipal Archives has done us all an indispensable service by enabling unprecedented access to New York’s documentary record and appealing to a wide variety of historical interests (social, cultural, political, architectural, industrial, environmental, economic, criminal, etc.!).

Deservedly, the unveiling of its online gallery has brought the Municipal Archives some generous media coverage (including pieces in The Gothamist and The Atlantic, as well as on CBS and Yahoo), which in turn has helped make the digital gallery immensely popular since its introduction. So popular, in fact, that the Municipal Archives has had to temporarily suspend access to the gallery in order to ensure that its infrastructure will be able to accommodate such an overwhelming response.

The gallery’s site is still down as of this writing, but be sure to check it frequently for the gallery’s re-launch (in the meantime, Alan Taylor’s coverage in The Atlantic provides over 50 great images from the gallery to give you a sense of what to expect once it returns in full form). This tremendous achievement, as well as the overwhelmingly positive response that has greeted it, is a testament to the crucial service that the Municipal Archives provides to the New York City community and beyond. It also, unfortunately, comes at a time of uncertainty for the future of the Archives itself.

The New York City Council’s recent legislation proposing to revoke the autonomy of the Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS, of which the Municipal Archives is a part) and merge it with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) is still pending and, if passed, threatens to drastically undermine DORIS’s professional resources and its ability to provide public access to the historical record of New York City.

If such valuable initiatives as the Municipal Archives’s digital gallery are to continue, it is imperative that DORIS remains an independent agency within the New York City government. Please refer to the website of the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York (or the Round Table’s earlier post on this blog) for more information on the legislation concerning the future of DORIS.

Thomas Cole Historic Site Opens Mignot Exhibit

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Louis Rémy MignotThe Thomas Cole National Historic Site has opened a new exhibition: Worlds Between: Landscapes of Louis Rémy Mignot. Curated by Katherine E. Manthorne, this is the first major solo show of Louis Rémy Mignot (1831-1870) in over two decades. The exhibition will offer an intimate look at the work of this young, Charleston-born artist who painted in the style of the Hudson River School – and whose tragic life story is as captivating as his landscape paintings.

In this exhibition the Thomas Cole National Historic Site offers a rare chance to see a full range of Mignot’s work. The catalogue produced for the exhibit includes full-color reproductions of the paintings and an essay by Dr. Manthorne. Guest Curator Katherine Manthorne brings her expertise on traveler artists to the exhibition and accompanying catalog, which offers a fresh look at Mignot as a painter whose global journeying fed his unique artistic creativity. 

Specifically, at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site one may view Mignot’s early Dutch landscapes, subtly nuanced snow scenes, coloristic Tropical landscapes, and painterly European pictures. To celebrate the legacy he inherited from Thomas Cole, the exhibition highlights Mignot’s distinctive views of upstate New York and the Hudson River Valley. In many ways, the gallery at the Cole Site offers the perfect venue for this artist living between worlds. 

 Louis Rémy Mignot (1831-1870) lived between many worlds: he was a Southern artist living in New York City in the years leading up to the Civil War; a French-Catholic, he worked within a predominantly Anglo-Protestant community of artists; he traveled from the American South to South America, and painted both subtle snow scenes and fiery tropical pictures. He belonged to the inner circles of polar opposites – Frederic Church and James Whistler; and in his all too short career, his style moved from Hudson River School realism toward Aestheticism. 

His art and life embodied the mobility that characterized the 19th c. Atlantic world, as he moved from one busy, cosmopolitan port to another. Mignot grew up in Charleston, S.C., where the slave-holding Low Country planter elite frequented his father’s coffee house and confectionary on King Street. At age 17 he traveled to The Hague in the Netherlands for artistic training, and then moved to New York City. From there he visited tourist sites from New York’s Hudson Valley to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. In 1857 he explored South America, painting the steamy lowlands and lagoons that rivaled the Andean panoramas of his traveling companion Frederic Church. 

With the outbreak of Civil War, his southern identity and world experiences made it difficult for him either to remain in the North or to return home to Carolina, and he took up his travels again. Mignot never reached his intended destination of India, but got as far as London. Ever restless, he spent summers in the Swiss Alps and headed for Paris in 1870, where he was trapped during the Commune and contracted small pox. He died at age 39, leaving behind one of the most diverse and sophisticated bodies of work of any American landscapist. 

This is the 9th annual presentation of 19th century landscape paintings at the Thomas Cole site. The exhibition program seeks to foster discussion and understanding of the influence of Thomas Cole on American culture through a generation of artists known as the Hudson River School. Worlds Between – Landscapes of Louis Rémy Mignot will be on view until October 28, 2012. 

DIRECTIONS: The Thomas Cole Historic Site is located in the scenic Hudson River Valley, at 218 Spring Street in Catskill, New York. Located near the western entrance to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, with easy access from the New York State Thruway exit 21 or Amtrak train service in Hudson, detailed directions and more information can be found at or call 518-943-7465. 

HOURS: Starting May 3rd, the Main House and Old Studio are open for tours from 10 to 4pm, with the last tour at 3pm, Thursday through Sunday, through October 28th. Admission to the grounds is free and open dawn until dusk.

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

New Contributor: State Historian Robert Weible

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Please welcome our newest contributor here at the online journal New York History, State Historian of New York and Chief Curator of the New York State Museum Robert Weible

Before taking on the role of State Historian Weible served as Director of Public History for the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Acting Director of the Pennsylvania State Archives, Chief of the Division of History for the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, and Historian of Lowell National Park in Massachusetts. Continue reading