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Learning From New England History Programs

There are several events which have occurred or soon will be occurring in New England that should be of interest to the New York History community. These include

  • A Connecticut Council of Social Studies (CCSS) announcement
  • April 26 New England Historical Association (NEHA) annual conference
  • April 28 Connecticut League of Historical Organizations (CHLO) regional meeting
  • June 2 Connecticut League of Historical Organizations annual meeting
  • June 16-21 Connecticut’s “Path through History”

These events highlight some similarities and differences in history actions in the two regions.

1. Social Studies Consultant Named for the State Department of Education (SDE)

Notice from the CCSS:

“Getting a new Consultant on board has been a major priority of the CT Council for the Social Studies, and CCSS is glad to learn that the state’s Social Studies community will soon have a resource person and advocate at the SDE. Steve [Armstrong] presently serves as president of the National Council for the Social Studies and is also a social studies department supervisor in the West Hartford public schools. He is also an adjunct instructor of history at Central Connecticut State University. Before working in West Hartford, Steve was a long-term teacher and social studies department chair at Manchester High School. He is a past-president of Connecticut Council for the Social Studies, the New England History Teachers Association, and the Connecticut Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History.”

Exactly what this person will do was not specified but to have a voice on behalf of social studies inside the State Department of Education or the Education Department in New York has to be good for the field.

2. New England Historical Association spring conference, April 26, 2014

This conference despite the name of the organization is not limited to New England topics or people. My estimate was over 100 people attended the one-day event. Below are some highlights.

History and the Pedagogy of Place – A Roundtable Discussion

“Walking the Talk and Talking the Walk: Teaching with Walking Tours” Pleun Clara Bouricius, Mass Humanities: Unfortunately at the last minute this talk was cancelled but it certainly would have been interesting to learn exactly where and how this was done.

“Learning Local: The Freshman Humanities Capstone – Place-Based Education in St. Johnsbury, Vermont” Denise Scavitto, St. Johnsbury Academy

This 9th grade teacher uses local sites to teach history. She works with the local historian and each student team of 3-4 people makes a 10-minute presentation. I have invited her to write a post for New York History about her efforts. A former 9th grader, now a senior, also spoke at the conference about her work with the local Abenaki.

“Living History: The 1971 March on Concord and Lexington”
Elise Lemire, Purchase College, SUNY

This New-England-born professor now teaches in New York near me. I have invited her to attend the May 10 meeting at Iona College on how to promote the American Revolution in Westchester County. That meeting will be the subject of a future post. Although this presentation was about Lexington and Concord, her emphasis on juxtaposing perceptions of the sites over time are relevant to any historic site especially the ones which are major tourist attractions. She referred to an historic site as a palimpsest where layers of history can be excavated on how the site is remembered.

Sustaining Public History in a Changing Climate – A State of the Field Roundtable Discussion

Leah S. Glasner, Central Connecticut State University, noted that the decision in Connecticut to cut back trees to within 8 feet of powerlines in the wake of Sandy led to a public outcry and raised the issue of the role of the public historian in such issues.

Chuck Arning, the National Park Service, opined that people want to touch history and walk where it occurred. He asked what will happen when we lose not simply a sense of place but place itself. He referred to WWI cemeteries on Pacific islands now threatened with flooding due to global warming as well as to all the inhabitants of the island who may need to be relocated. What part of their legacy will they carry with them?

David Glassberg, University of Massachusetts, took an historical perspective on the impact of climate change asking:

1. What have public governments done in the past in paying for coping with nature?
2. What part of the historical legacy should be protected ? How will such decisions be made?

Considering Arning’s comments on the touching and walking history to our sense of place and emotional security, what happens if that place is lost? We do tell stories of environment and resilience such as the “Dust Bowl” [and the Hollywood special effects blockbusters] and such environmental stories help us cope with change by providing refuge.

During the Q&A, I mentioned several examples of people who have adapted to a change of place that might help in such investigations: immigrants, refugees, New Yorkers who move to Florida. Glassberg mentioned the example of people who stay put but whose sense of place changes when everyone around them moves. Jill Mudjett, Vermont Public Radio Commentator, who chaired the next session offered that people who move to Vermont often have very rosy romantic perceptions of the state which are non-historical. This reminded me of the scene from “Fields of Dreams” on why people will come: “It is money they have, but peace they lack.” How many second-home owners from Manhattan to upstate New York are looking for Mayberry, Bedford Falls, or Cicely, Alaska?

Revisiting Local History: Is “The Little Old Lady in Tennis Shoes” Still Relevant?

Susan Ouellette, Saint Michael’s College,”Experiential Learning and Local History”

She spoke of her use of local history at the college level. In particular, she uses cemeteries which are near the college and easy to walk through to teach social history. Births, deaths, ages at marriage, final words chosen all reveal the 19th century history of the community. One group of students thought they had identified a serial killer since the man was buried next to four wives. Times have changed. I invited her to write a post for New York History on her experiences.

Dan O’Neil, Ethan Allen Homestead Museum, “Experiencing History Where it Happened”

He focused on “living history.” He contrasted the historic site with its connection to a place and event where history occurred to a museum built at a non-historical site. Telling stories that come alive and engage the audience have a striking impact. One can see, smell, touch, and taste history. Education is more powerful when place is involved, when there is participation. I invited him to write a post for New York History on his experiences.

Strange as it may seem, video games with powerful graphics and strong shared community identity may achieve some of the same. The next conference is October 18 at Franklin Pierce University. These were good sessions and I am glad I attended.

3. On the Road

The program on April 28 by the CLHO at Keeler Tavern Museum in Ridgefield (on the Westchester border which made it easy to attend), was described as follows:

Celebrate spring with colleagues at this last CLHO “On the Road” program until the fall. Learn from your colleagues and experts in the field. As always, these programs include a hefty amount of discussion and debate – both practical and in theory. You’ll be sure to return to your organization with lots of new ideas and even a plan of action.

The precise topics of discussion were secondary to the bringing together of 20 people in the history community to network, talk, and break bread. Such meetings are needed.

4. Museums as Community Hubs, June 2 CLHO

I plan on attending this conference. On numerous occasions I have written that the Path through History is based on a fundamentally-flaw perception that the primary purpose of history organizations is tourism. Instead I have said it is to serve the local community. I guarantee that almost all the events listed on the Path through History June weekends will be locally-based events sometimes decades old that do not bring heads-to-beds. Connecticut gets it. Consider the CLHO description of the conference.

Does your organization want to attract, welcome and represent your community?
Could your site be a community hub? How?

As early as 2007, museum leaders from across the country with assistance from Reach Advisors, a strategic and predictive analytics research firm, began exploring and discussing the strategies and tactics used by museums to attract, welcome, and represent their communities. As a result of these conversations three common denominators were identified – indicators of the most successful community-museum programs. First, everyone must be on board. Your organization’s leaders and staff (volunteer and professional) must commit to being the hub for the long haul, and their buy-in should include creating the strategies needed to get there. Second, a successful partnership and its benefits are a two-way street, with investments made on both sides. And third, museums must practice the art of an open mind and careful consideration before agreeing when choosing new and diverse partners.

Don’t miss your opportunity to be a part of this ongoing conversation during the CLHO’s Annual Conference on Monday, June 2 at the Hilton Mystic, in Mystic, CT. Learn how Connecticut historical societies, archives, and museums are developing programs, exhibits, and operational models that look outward into their communities and forward into the future. Hear from colleagues throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic about replicable programs and explore the possibilities and consequences of attracting more visitors to your site.

Imagine if the New York historian had the resources to offer such a conference not just on a statewide basis but regionally.

5. New England Path through History

To top it off, New England even has created a path though history, that is, a program involving multiple nights and multiple historic sites.

Boston – January 2014 – Historic New England presents the Program in New England Studies, an intensive week-long exploration of New England from Monday, June 16 to Saturday, June 21, 2014.

The Program in New England Studies includes lectures by noted curators and architectural historians, workshops, behind-the-scenes tours, and special access to historic house museums and collections.

Examine New England history and material culture from the seventeenth century through the Colonial Revival with some of the country’s leading experts in regional architecture and decorative arts. Curators lecture on furniture, textiles, ceramics, art, and wallpaper, including history, craftsmanship, and changing methods of production. Architectural historians explore architecture starting with the Massachusetts Bay style of the seventeenth century through the Federal and Georgian eras, to Gothic Revival and the Colonial Revival.

Expert lecturers include: [I have excluded them]

Travel throughout New England for tours and receptions at historic properties in Greater Boston; Essex County, Massachusetts; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; South Berwick, Maine; and Woodstock, Connecticut. There are workshops where participants spend time with curators examining items from Historic New England’s extensive collection; special visits to private homes and collections; in-depth tours with Cary Carson at two Historic New England seventeenth-century properties; a demonstration of seventeenth-century furniture making techniques; and a champagne reception on the terrace of the Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House on Gloucester Harbor. The program is a chance to meet people from all over the country who want to learn more about New England and to hear from the connoisseurs who want to share information about their area of expertise.

The $1,550 fee includes all lectures, admissions, guided tours, transportation to and from special visits and excursions, daily breakfast and lunch, scheduled evening receptions, and various service charges.

The Program in New England Studies is designed to appeal to owners of historic houses, private collectors, museum professionals, graduate students, and those who enjoy New England history. Enrollment is limited to twenty-five participants. For a complete itinerary and registration information visit our WEBSITE or call 617-994-6629.

Historic New England is the oldest, largest, and most comprehensive regional heritage organization in the nation. We bring history to life while preserving the past for everyone interested in exploring the New England experience from the seventeenth century to today. Historic New England owns and operates thirty-six historic homes and landscapes spanning five states. We share the region’s history through vast collections, publications, programs, museum properties, archives, and family stories that document more than 400 years of life in New England. Visit

Where is the Historic New York organization that does the same? Think of how many paths could be created in New York if we were serious about promoting tourism throughout the state!

These examples from our neighbors to the east, suggest the range of actions which are possible to support and promote local history, education, tourism. Let’s hear from the New York history community.


2 thoughts on “Learning From New England History Programs

  1. Hello Peter –

    “Learning From New England History Programs” caught my eye this morning, and if you weren’t aware of my 37-year career as a full-time creative and performing artist (over 200 performances per year), and my designation via legislation passed by the CT General Assembly as Connecticut’s 1st Official State Troubadour in 1991, I thought you might find what I do of interest. I have developed a number of history-related programs and CDs with historical themes. Most recently, on April 1st I released my 17th CD “We Owe Allegiance To No Crown” [Songs From & About America’s Second War Of Independence]. I’m currently working on two projects: my second Civil War CD, and another with songs from and about “The War To End All Wars”. My great-uncle was killed in Chateau Thierry, France in 1918, so this album will be a tribute to him, and to insure that he and his comrades will not be forgotten.

    Yesterday I performed a benefit concert here in Norwich to raise funds to cast and erect a CCC Worker Statue here in Connecticut. My late-father served with the CCC in 1935 in Claremont, NH. We raised over $1500 yesterday. I debuted an original song at that concert entitled “The Boys Of The CCC”.

    Next month, I’ll be singing another original song, “Norwich’s Lifesaving Tree” to commemorate the designation of a tree that literally saved the lives of five people during the Flood Of 1963 as one of Connecticut’s Notable Trees. If you got this far, I thank you for your time.

    TCinCT – Norwich, CT

    1. Thanks for the information. Please be aware that my post was written for The New York History Blog. I was using examples of what has been in New England to show the New Yorkers what is possible. It was not intended for New England audiences or meant to be a comprehensive listing of the various people who tell the New England story.

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