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Path through History: Some Modest Proposals

What do you give as a present to someone who already has everything? By every official measure from the Albany-Manhattan bubble, the Path through History is a rip-roaring success. This makes the choice of a 2nd Birthday gift difficult. Nonetheless, I would like to try to offer some suggestions.

which also take into account Bruce Dearstyne’s concerns, raised both by post in New York History and at State Legislator Engelbright’s New York History Roundtable, May 29, about the failure to observe the designated New York History month in November.

Let’s start with the Path through History Weekends at the beginning of June, the events which garner the most attention in the press releases and State of the State Address. The following comes from an email from Eric Scheffel of Empire State Development (escheffel@esd.ny.gov or 518-292-5274) and Melanie Klausner of Finn Partners (Melanie.klausner@finnpartners.com
646-307-6310) – apparently the two people most closely connected with the Path weekends. In an April 29th press release, they said: “More than 200 special events are planned for New York State’s Path Through History Weekends, June 7-8 and 14-15, at venues throughout the state.”

What comes to mind when you think of something “special”? Does it call to mind routine (daily, weekly, or seasonal) activities? How many of the special events would have occurred anyway even if the Path project didn’t exist? The answer is almost all of them. Do Eric and Melanie know this? Do they believe that they are actually spurring the creation of events that otherwise wouldn’t exist? I am sure they are decent hardworking people doing what they were told do and are not the source of the problem.

At the NYSHA conference in June at Marist College, in the session on Hudson Valley tourism, Will Tatum, Dutchess County Historian, made this precise point – that the history organizations are doing what they routinely would do anyway.

Mark Castiglione, the public face of the Path project without actually being in charge of it, or having any power, provided some historical background. As reported here last year, there used to be a Museum Weekend (singular) in May prior to the Path project. When the Governor said, “Simon says ‘Have your event in June,’” history organizations moved some events from May to June.

Mark revealed some of the decision-making that went into this shift. The May date wasn’t working as well as expected because many upstate sites were just opening or hadn’t yet opened after the winter. The event was shifted to June, not only because all sites would then be fully operational, but because it was still during the school year. In other words, neither the May nor June weekend events were ever intended to draw people from outside the local community.That makes sense since everyone knows that those weekends during the school year are not the optimal time for tourism.

So even though the ostensible goal of the Path project is to promote tourism and generate sales and lodging tax, the people organizing the weekends knew that it wouldn’t accomplish those goals. People in New York City, for example, weren’t going to dash up to the Mohawk Valley or Finger Lakes, for a hike, talk, tour, or afternoon event. Nor will people from other states. City people, however, will take the train to the Lower Hudson Valley for day trips which is why MetroNorth was at the tourist summit at Grand Central in May – it’s looking for the summer travelers not the Path weekend non-travelers as evidenced by its promo:

Everybody needs to getaway – even if it’s for a day or overnight. Featuring the hottest Summer Getaways in New York City, the Hudson Valley, Connecticut and beyond.

Find your next stop at Metro-North’s Getaway Day!

MODEST PROPOSAL #1

Since the Path weekends really are local events, let’s change the theme to Community Commemoration Days. The Governor would invite each village, town, city, and county to have events celebrating the heritage of the local community. Local businesses would be asked to sponsor school buses to take the 4th graders on a tour of their own community. Naturally there would be a commemoration and celebration at the conclusion of the tours.

As it turns out, there really are special events conducted by the New York State history community, but since they are not on the designated June weekends they don’t count as “special.” I kept track of some of them:

1. Fort Ticonderoga holds annual conferences in the spring and fall on the French and Indian War and the American Revolution

2. John Brown Day was held May 10 at Lake Placid and addressed the ongoing issue of slavery in the world as we were reminded of by the seizures in Nigeria and Iraq.

3. “Drums along the Mohawk” was performed in August and the Historical Society of Rockland County (HSRC) took a bus trip to see it which included overnight lodging. By contrast the HRSC events on the Path weekends were local and generated no lodging taxes.

4. Erie and Niagara Counties had a ‘History in Your Backyard’ Weekend in May which included seven locations and the distribution of commemorative passports which would be stamped at each location and with prizes.

5. The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and the New York State Canal Corporation teamed up to sponsor 28 events to showcase the Canalway Corridor’s nationally significant heritage and the tremendous recreational appeal of the waterway and trails today.

Careful readers will observe that all of these special events really are special, occur upstate in communities that benefit from tourism, and fit the parameters of the objectives of the Path project. But because they occur at the wrong time, they are not celebrated by the Path through History program.

MODEST PROPOSAL #2: Special Events

Special events in New York State should be recognized by the Governor and supported by ILoveNY just as it does for the Superbowl, the PGA Championship, and the US Open. The French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the Mohawk Valley, Erie Canal, and John Brown have national and even international recognition. What they don’t have is support from the Path through History Project. That should change.

MODEST PROPOSAL #3: NEW YORK PATH THROUGH HISTORY MONTH

The time when people travel most is the summer. Let’s make July New York Path through History Month. The Governor should invite each county executive/borough president to develop tourist programs in their county/borough which can be promoted through tour operators, Amtrak, and MetroNorth… and if they are offered in August, too, that’s fine. So far the Path through History project has not encouraged the counties and regions to develop programs which can be brought to a tour operator. That should change.

MODEST PROPOSAL #4: COUNTY HISTORY CONFERENCES

In April, the Lewis County Historical Society held its 3rd annual meeting of historians. All town and village historians, historical societies, museums, and libraries in Lewis County were invited along with the general public. Every county should have one every year to network, showcase, and plan.

In March, the Historical Society of Rockland County held its second High School Social Studies Local History conference. This effort connects the future voters to the history of the community in which they live. Every county should have one every year.

These proposals are intended to promote the history of the state in a variety of ways

1. To students and teachers
2. To residents
3. To tourists.

It proposes an ongoing sequence of local history-related events and activities which will keep people connected to their history on a ongoing basis

June: Community Commemoration Weekends

July: Path through New York State history tours

Fall/Spring: County history conferences

Spring: County local history social studies conferences.

Local communities and counties do not need the Governor’s permission or ILoveNY’s to do this, but it certainly would help on the 2nd Birthday of the Path through History project, if the Governor would take a leadership position in support of New York History.

 

7 thoughts on “Path through History: Some Modest Proposals

  1. Keep fighting Peter. Your efforts to involve state resources in the promotion of history and historical tourism are both laudable and necessary.
    One important question which your blog discusses, but in my view does not fully answer is which events are important and how to promote them.

    As you know from having recently attended the second meeting of the newly formed Lower Manhattan Historical Association in New York City, there are many private groups that are putting on quality special events without any funds or recognition from the state history or tourism departments.

    Alexander Hamilton For example, this year on October 12, 2014 at 2:30 pm in conjunction with Open House New York (an architecturally based promoter of New York City walking tours) the Lower Manhattan Historical Society will be holding the second annual New York City commemoration of the American victory at Saratoga (October 17,1777, and Yorktown (October 19, 1781)) in Trinity Churchyard, where General Horatio Gates (the winning General at Saratoga) and Alexander Hamilton (a winning general at Yorktown are buried).. Although Gates and Hamilton arguably are the most important revolutionary War figures buried in New York State, there seems to be no public support for these activities from these state funded historical entities.. Fortunately private groups such as the Alexander Hamilton Appreciation Society (which will be participating in the October 12 commemoration) currently have an active program to promote Hamilton. I believe with New York City events there is a need for the State to be more involved.

    James S. Kaplan
    Chairman, Lower Manhattan Historical Society.

  2. A ring can be pretty but it’s elevated to something extraordinary when presented with a proposal of marriage. It comes alive with meaning, awakened by the one using it to express love and intention. Its value grows through each step of the process (choosing, offering, accepting, wearing, cherishing), bringing what was merely a shiny inanimate object into a place of profound symbolism. Events can be very special but saying they are doesn’t make it so. It’s up to those doing the proposing, out of passion and commitment, to reveal their true worth. What do stewards of history do if not this? Telling stories, displaying collections and explaining spaces are indeed everyday events at historic sites and sharing them, as a form of teaching, is a bit of a proposal: “Come and see what we already know and you’ll be excited too!” History, like love, isn’t only about special moments but rather what a lifetime of those moments represents. While those with the privilege of bestowing funding may not always get this, there is usually a soft spot somewhere at which an appeal can be aimed. Tourism, with all its obvious implications, offers this opportunity and is key to bringing game and sometimes slightly unsuspecting experience seekers to places that have been waiting for them to just show up and say yes. Perhaps not everyone needs to agree on what makes an event “special” but maybe, for now, it’s okay.

    1. Thank you for your comment. MY issue in addressing the word “special” is that the Path through History project arbitrarily designates two weekends in June as times for “special” events. My issues with that designation are that the events over those two weekends are typical of what the history community does throughout the year and that annual events outside those chronological parameters are being excluded. Furthermore, there is no state funding for the events listed on the Path through History weekends, the funding such as it is is part of the REDC awards which is the topic of my current series of posts.

  3. First let me say I love the phrase you have coined, “the Albany-Manhattan bubble.” That sums it up right there. It’s a short path.

    Honestly, why does it have to be only a month? Why just “special” events? No one could possibly see all our state has to offer in one month. I think of a path as being long with many paths to take off the main one. We all have county tourism books put out every year. Why can’t the Pathway through history just be a website where we all post our year long events. People can take their own path, make up their own itinerary of places to stop. Every county tour guide can have the web address. I know for our office of the Wyoming County Historian, we have people plan their vacations around our office, and if they have time they go other places sometimes out of county, then I can’t help them. It would be great if all the festivals and events were in one place.

    Course you and I both know how difficult it is to get people to submit info for a website or blog BUT they really should. Who in their right mind doesn’t take advantage of free publicity?

    1. Thank you for writing Cindy. I agree with what you say. The Path through History website actually is capable of accepting submissions or events throughout the year but it is unlikely that you will find many other than on the Path weekends in June. It promises a 24-48 hours turn-around time for approved events to be posted. Special events such as anniversaries and conferences of course do occur year round and not only during the tourist season.

      The problem with your suggestion about the events and the tourist websites is that it presumes an in interest and support for New York State history in the Albany-Manhattan bubble which does not exist. This absence of leadership will become clear in a series of posts I am writing about the awards actually granted by the Regional Economic Development Councils in December.

  4. Peter this is exactly what we need in New York and:
    For Path through History weekends, in the month of July annually, [always the third Saturday in July], this event should be added:

    Solomon Northup Day: a celebration of freedom was held at Skidmore College with Solomon Northup descendants, a panel discussions on by authors and historians pertaining to this period in American History. How Solomon’s story stands out among other slave narratives, with Harvard Professor David Blight as keynote speaker. A reception with descendants, book sales, children’s stories, and music. A multi-venue event taking place over several days. For 2014, a new headstone for Mintus Northup, manumitted slave and father of Solomon Northup, was unveiled at Baker Cemetery, Hudson Falls, followed by the unveiling of a historical plaque commemorating Solomon rescuer Henry B. Northup, Esq at cemetery in Fort Edward. This event takes place third Saturday in July. for more information
    Home – Solomon Northup Day [www.solomonnorthupday.com] and the skidmore.edu website.
    Thank you Peter for this wonderful and exciting project outline.

    1. Renee,

      Thanks for your support and the information about Solomon Northup Day. One might think that given the publicity from the movie, NYS would eagerly support events related to this now nationally-known figure. Obviously that has not happened nor does the Path through History support events which occur outside the first two weekends in June. It will be interesting to see what Cuomo says in his State of the State address about New York State history about Northup, events not in June, and supporting special events in NYS history. While I prefer to be optimistic, the past record is not promising.

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