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State of New York State History

History Professors Protest for Local and State History

Who advocates for New York State history? I have frequently bemoaned the absence of a history agenda, an organized history community, and history advocacy day here.  Last year, Ken Jackson, Columbia University and plenary speaker at the kickoff of the Path through History program, ridiculed that very program in his plenary address to the Great Hudson Heritage Network (GHHN).  That plea was followed up by a letter to the Governor through the auspices of the New York Academy of History.  Naturally, there was no response, not even a form letter.

So he tried again this time using the demise of the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA) as the impetus. John Warren, editor of New York History Blog reported the event on April 2, 2017 in  a blog entitled NYSHA Defunct: New York State Historical Association Is No More. Bruce Dearstyne, another long-time advocate for local and state history, wrote about the end of NYSHA for New York History Blog in a piece entitled New York State History in the Post-NYSHA Era. Bruce recounts the history of the now-defunct organization and highlights the need for an organization to do what NYSHA has not been doing for decades. Exactly. We need a state organization to do precisely what the name that organization implies it did.

Into to fray now steps Ken Jackson, a former trustee of that very organization. The letter reproduced below was sent out in October to every state legislator and Regents As you will see, the list of signers is an impressive one. Of course, you already know what the response was.

Dear [State Legislator or Regent],

We write to alert you to a series of actions which will seriously compromise and undermine New York State’s prominent role in our national heritage.  On March 14, 2017, the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA) in Cooperstown, NY, ceased to exist when the State Board of Regents approved a name change from NYSHA to the Fenimore Art Museum (FAM).   No prior notification of this action was ever given to the affected communities, and the name change was but one of dozens of official acts by the Regents on that day.

As professional historians, museum curators, prize-winning scholars, distinguished archivists and librarians, and leaders of historical organizations, all of whom are elected Fellows of the New York Academy of History, we are angered about and oppose this action.  This change, which is the final step in the degrading of NY history in Cooperstown, will damage the Empire State’s rich history and hinder its preservation.  At risk are teacher education programs; History Day, for public school students; the important Library Collection, which holds almost 100,000 volumes and priceless archival materials; the future of New York History, the oldest and only historical journal on our state’s history; the annual New York State Conference on History has ceased to exist; and the standing of New York as preeminent in national history, as it will become virtually the only state in the nation without its own history association.

NYSHA came into existence thanks in large part to a bequest from a private foundation, the Clark Estates. The original charter and the three amended versions (1913, 1926, and 1945, as well as the 2017 one) all specify that New York history is a prime focus. NYSHA was incorporated in 1899 “to promote historical research, to disseminate knowledge of the history of the state by lectures and publication.”  The stealth charter change in March 2017 retained those phrases but shockingly broadened the areas of interest to extend outside New York State. We are surprised that legally this does not violate the organization’s 501(c)3 status.  In addition, public money is annually allocated to NYSHA– now the Fenimore Art Museum– to promote New York history, but the organization is now failing to fulfill this mission at present.  

We ask you as an important public official to contact Paul D’Ambrosio (email to: or phone 607-547-1400) and the Board of Directors (Douglas E. Evelyn, Kathleen Flanagan, Nellie Gipson, Shelley Graham, Robert S. Hanft, Josef E. Jelinek, Erna Morgan McReynolds, Anne G. Older, Jeffrey H. Pressman MD, Thomas O. Putnam, John B. Stetson, Ellen Tillapaugh, Richard Vanison, and Charles B. Kieler) of the newly-named Fenimore Art Museum to urge them to take actions to preserve not simply the name NYSHA, which he insists belongs to FAM, but also the duties and responsibilities of NYSHA. Please urge him to do the following:

1. Continue NYSHA as an organization with real functions;
2. Enable New York History to keep publishing by placing it in the hands of a reliable not-for profit publisher who will invest in it and expand it;
3. Resurrect education programs for public school students;
4. Request that NYSHA strengthen its ties with the State Historian office, the State Museum, the New York Academy of History, and local historians/librarians, to ensure a real and active state network;
5. Continue all other established activities such as the Dixon Ryan Fox Prize.

Thank you.


Kenneth T. Jackson: President, New York Academy of History; President emeritus, New-York Historical Society; former trustee, New York State Historical Association; Jacques Barzun Professor of History, Columbia University; Editorial Board member, New York History.

Paula Baker: Associate Professor of History, Ohio State University;  Editorial Board member, New York History.

Stuart M. Blumin: Professor Emeritus of American History, Cornell University; former Trustee, New York  State Historical Association; Editorial Board member, New York History.

Patricia U. Bonomi: Professor Emerita, New York University;  Fellow  &  Former President of the New York Academy of History; Fellow of the Society of American Historians; Editorial Board member, New York History.

Leslie Fishbein: Associate Professor of American Studies, Rutgers University; Winner, 1976 New York State Historical Association Manuscript Award for “Radical Renaissance: The Ideological Conflicts of the Radicals Associated with The Masses;” Editorial Board member, New York History.

Timothy J. Gilfoyle: Professor and former Chair of History, Loyola University Chicago; Past President, Urban History Association; Associate Editor, Journal of Urban History; Editorial Board member, New York History.

Laurence M. Hauptman: SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History.

Lisa Keller: Professor of History, Purchase College SUNY; Secretary, New York Academy of History; Editorial Board member, New York History.

Dennis Maika: Senior Historian and Education Director, New Netherland Institute.

Robert W. Snyder: Professor, Journalism and American Studies, Rutgers University-Newark; Editorial Board member, New York History.

Timothy J. Shannon:  Professor and Chair of the History Department, Gettysburg College; Editorial Board member, New York History.

Carol Berkin: Presidential Professor of History, Emerita, Baruch College.

Richard Lieberman: Professor of history, Director of the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives, LaGuardia Community College.

Jeffrey Kroessler: Associate Professor, Lloyd Sealy Library, John Jay College.

Mike Wallace: Distinguished Professor, John Jay College and Graduate Center, CUNY;  Founder, Gotham Center for New York City History;  Pulitzer Prize Winner.

David Schuyler: Arthur & Katherine Shadek Professor of the Humanities and American Studies, Franklin & Marshall College.

Philip Ranlet: Adjunct Associate Professor of History,  Hunter College, CUNY.

T.J. Stiles: National Book Award Recipient; Pulitzer Prizes Recipient, for Biography and for History;Guggenheim Fellow.

Edward T. O’Donnell: Professor of History, Holy Cross College.

Clifton Hood: Professor of History, Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Owen Gutfreund: Associate Professor, City University of New York; Fellow, New York Academic of History; former Chair, New York Council for the Humanities (Humanities New York).

Nan Rothschild: Barnard College, Columbia University.

Jean Ashton: Executive  Vice-President and Library Director, Emerita, The New-York Historical Society; Chairman of the Board, Humanities New York (formerly The New York Council for the Humanities).

Charles Gehring: Director, New Netherland Research Center.

Field Horne: Author and Independent Historian.

Peter Galie: Professor Emeritus, Canisius College, Buffalo, NY.

Judith Wellman: Professor Emerita, State University of New York at Oswego.

Daniel Czitrom: Professor of History, Mount Holyoke College.

Jon Butler: Howard R. Lamar Professor Emeritus, Yale University; Past President, Organization of American Historians.

Leslie M. Harris: Professor of History, Northwestern University.

John Kasson: Professor Emeritus of History and American Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Edward Countryman: University Distinguished Professor of History, Southern Methodist University; Recipient, Bancroft Prize.

Kathryn Kish Sklar: Distinguished Professor Emerita, State University of New York, Binghamton.

Jeffrey S. Gurock: Klaperman Professor of American Jewish History, Yeshiva University.

Carol Kammen: Senior Lecturer, retired, Cornell University Department of History, New York State Public Historian of 2004, and Tompkins County Historian.

Simon Middleton: Associate Professor of History, William and Mary; Editorial Board Member, Cultural and Social History and Early American History Series, Brill; Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Philip Terrie: Emeritus Professor, American Culture Studies and Environmental Studies Bowling Green State University.

Elizabeth Blackmar: Professor of History, Columbia University.

Tyler Anbinder: Professor of History, George Washington University.

David Nasaw: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of History, CUNY Graduate Center; President, Society of American Historians.

Steve Zeitlin: Executive Director, City Lore.

Deborah Dash Moore: Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of History and Judaic Studies, University of Michigan.

Thomas A. Chambers: Professor of History, Niagara University; President, Niagara Falls National Heritage Area.

Ivan D. Steen: Associate Professor of History Emeritus, University at Albany, SUNY; Co-Director, Center for Applied Historical Research.

Jerald Podair: Professor of History and Robert S. French Professor of American Studies, Lawrence University.

Vincent J. Cannato: Associate Professor of History, University of Massachusetts, Boston.

John Winthrop Aldrich: Retired New York State Deputy Commissioner for Historic Preservation.

Daniel K. Richter: Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History, University of Pennsylvania.

Tom Bender: University Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History Emeritus, New York University.

Ellen M. Snyder-Grenier: REW & Co., Research, Exhibitions, Writing.

Carol Willis: Director, Skyscraper Museum.

Barnet Schecter: Independent Historian.

Graham Russell Gao Hodges: George Dorland Langdon, Jr. Professor of History and Africana Studies, Colgate University.

Pamela Greene: Weeksville Society.

David Rosner: Ronald H. Lauterstein Professor of Sociomedical Sciences and History, Columbia University.

Natalie Naylor: Professor Emerita, Hofstra University.

David Reimers: Emeritus, New York University.

Myra Young Armstead: Lyford Paterson Edwards and Helen Gray Edwards Professor of Historical Studies, Vice President of Academic Inclusive Excellence, Bard College.

Jonathan Soffer: Professor of History and Chair, Department of Technology, Culture & Society, NYU Tandon School of Engineering; Associated Faculty, NYU Dept. of History.

Robert A. Orsi: Professor of History, Northwestern University.

Susan Ingalls Lewis: Associate Professor of History, SUNY New Paltz.

Ruth Piwonka: Independent historian, Kinderhook NY.

Firth Haring Fabend: Independent historian.

David Hammack: Hiram C. Haydn Professor of History, Case Western Reserve University.

Richard Plunz: Professor of Architecture, Director Urban Design Program, Columbia University.

Eric Homberger: Professor Emeritus of American history, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK.

David Stradling: Associate Dean for Humanities , Zane L. Miller Professor of History, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Cincinnati.

Jameson Doig: Professor Emeritus, Princeton University.

Lynne Sagalyn: Earle W. Kazis and Benjamin Schore Professor Emerita of Real Estate, Columbia Business School.

John L. Brooke: Arts & Sciences Distinguished Professor of History, Dept. of History, Ohio State University.

Max Page: Professor of Architecture and History &  Director of Historic Preservation Initiatives, University of Massachusetts.

Marci Reaven: Independent Historian.

Seth Kamil: Public Historian; President, Big Onion Walking Tours.

Dean R. Snow: Professor of Anthropology, Penn State University.

Virginia Sanchez Korrol: Professor Emerita, Brooklyn College, CUNY.

Faye Dudden: Professor of History, Colgate University.

William Graebner: Professor Emeritus, State University of New York, Fredonia.

Sara Johns Griffen: President Emerita, The Olana Partnership; board member and former  Chair, Hudson Valley Greenway Conservancy.

Lara Vapnek: Professor of History, St. John’s University.

Evan Haefeli: Associate Professor of History, Texas A & M University.

Richard Greenwald: Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield University.

Miriam Cohen: Professor of History, Vassar College

Joseph J. Salvo: Director, Population Division, New York City Department of City Planning.

Michael Frisch: Professor of American Studies and History/ Senior Research Scholar, Emeritus, Univ. at Buffalo, SUNY; Talking Pictures, LLC / The Randforce Associates, LLC.

Charles Sachs: Independent Scholar; retired, Senior Curator, New York Transit Museum.

Michael Leroy Oberg: Professor of History, Geneseo, SUNY.

David William Voorhees: Jacob Leisler Institute.

Thomas Kessner: Professor of History, CUNY Graduate School.

Amy Godine: Independent Scholar, Saratoga Springs.

Jaap Jacobs: Professor of History, University of St Andrews.

Andrew S. Dolkart: Professor of Architecture, Planning & Preservation, Columbia University.

Stefan Bielinski: Senior Historian emeritus, the New York State Education Department.

Lillian S. Williams: Associate Professor, Transnational Studies Department, University at Buffalo, SUNY.

George Chauncey: Professor of History, Columbia University.

Charlotte Brooks: Baruch College, CUNY.

Nicholas Westbrook: Director Emeritus, Fort Ticonderoga.

Joseph S. Tiedemann: Professor of History, Loyola Marymount University.

Tom Lewis: Professor Emeritus, Skidmore College.

Annie Polland: Independent Historian.

Celedonia Jones: Former Manhattan Borough Historian.

While the petition focuses on the NYSHA, it opens the door to all the history issues which have been raised in the blogs here. The signers include not just college professors but representatives from historical organizations, municipal historians, and former state government employees. In other words, the state government thumbed its nose at a fairly distinctive and broad-based list.

Unfortunately the story gets even worse. I recently received a notice from the Museum Association of New York (MANY) promoting the annual February excursion to the nation’s capital on behalf of Advocacy Day for humanities. Generally, New York has a big contingent for a series of meetings with administrative and legislative officials. The irony, of course, is the absence of such a meeting in the state. How come we can marshal people to go to the nation’s capital to advocate but not to the state capital?  Perhaps that is part of the reason why the Regents, Legislators, and Governor don’t give the history community the time of day. We haven’t learned how to ask for it. So instead of just sending a letter, let’s pick three days to advocate on behalf of state and local history during the 2018 legislative session:

1. a day when the legislature is not in session and advocacy can be done locally (such as a Friday)

2. a day when the legislature is in session (such as a Tuesday or Wednesday)

3. a day when the Regents is in session (monthly meetings).

We need to become a squeaky wheel.





21 thoughts on “History Professors Protest for Local and State History

  1. Peter,

    There is another problem that educators need to face. THEY are the biggest problem. It was confirmed to me in a recent interview Russell Shorto gave about his new book on personalities of the Revolutionary War. He admitted clearly, that as a kid, history was boring and totally off-putting to him as a student. In MY lectures, which have been well received, more than once (more than MANY times) people have told me: “If only it were taught like THIS in high school; I might have listened then !!”

    I realize, now, that I really don’t “teach history”. Instead, I simply tell stories, with a lot of pictures to support those stories. It seems to be a winning combination, as I will be down at West Point next week for a Road Scholar lunch lecture, then in the spring a few lectures after dinner at Mohonk and even one in Morristown, NJ at the “North NJ Revolutionary War Roundtable” that meets at Washington’s HQ there, a National Park Service site.

    Teachers need to liven it up more, and make it relevant. How do you NOT get chills when hearing John Stark offer a toast to celebrate, years later, his victory at Bennington with the advice “Remember: Live Free or Die; Death is NOT the Worst of Evils !” or Daniel Morgan , looking at the grounds of Cowpens, SC, saying “This is the ground where we will beat Tarletan tomorrow, or — you can use it to bury my bones !!” Great lines, making history memorable….

    As Pogo once said,”We have met the enemy, and it is …. us !”

    1. Bob,

      You are right to point out that even if state and local history were a robust part of the k-12 curriculum, there is the chance that the teaching will turn students off to history. Museums also may face the same problem with traditional tours that are not interactive or which do not engage the audience with good storytelling or hands-on activities. It should be noted that adult education that you is for people who are there of their own free will and not because they have to be.


  2. Hello! I receive the newsletter but am not on the blog–I’d most certainly like to sign on to your letter if that’s possible. And would like to be part of future actions if possible.

    I was just elected as a member of the Dutchess County legislature, so much of my work will focus on policy at the county level, but if there are ways also to use that new position to advocate (i.e., if you’re asking county legislatures to pass cross-resolutions urging the state to act), I’d be happy to do what I can.
    Best wishes,
    Rebecca Edwards
    Professor of History on the Eloise Ellery Chair
    Vassar College

    1. Hi Rebecca,

      Congratulations on your election. There are things a county legislator can do. You may be interested in my recent post on the situation in Westchester where we do not have one individual county historian. You have a county historian so your situation is different. In theory, the historian presents an annual report to the legislature in January so that should provide an opportunity to see what has been done and to discuss what will be done.

      You also may be interested in the County Executive 2012 State of the County address especially the section on “Embracing Our History.”

      Finally, it was back before the Tricentennial when Mike Kelsey sponsored legislation to establish an annual ten-day Dutchess County Heritage Week I think for late October of early November (which is State History Month). I even sent Mike a copy of the Ulster Heritage program as an example. I don’t recall ever hearing about such a program actually being done despite the legislation being passed.

      I maintain a separate distribution list for college professors from the more general history community. That way the professors don’t receive all the blogs about the goings on at the local and state level. I only send them the more academic related ones such as this one which was generated by history professors. Since you are involved with local and regional history through your anti-slavery program, I can add you the more general list if you would like.

      Good luck with your new job,


  3. > Peter

    Good going again. I posted it with comment on Housing Our History

    As if you have nothing better to do – but I wish you were on FB because everything you do – could also be circulated there. Someone more knowledgeable than I about new media and communications once explained it to me as an “all of the above approach” – where content gets cross distribute on FB, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube when video is appropriate.

    I posted the essay with this comment:

    “#PeterFienman is one of the most persistent & insightful analysts of the #publichistory biz we have. … This uprising by a huge network of academic historians – the list would be 100x longer if they’d reach out to the practitioners – folks working in and/or involved in the 800+ community-based historical orgs and house museums in NY State. Yes “the signers include not just college professors but representatives from historical organizations, municipal historians, and former state government employees.” Museum workers outnumber academics perhaps 10:1 and yet only a couple cited here. But the point is a good one. The New York State Historical Association​ #NYSHA was the heart of the #Cooperstown mission for more than half a century. Its important and there was real leadership there and support for it. There is also a real void now. #AdvocacyMatters #LocalHistoryMatters”

    The one great thing might be if there was a strong annual conference – though my experience is that when academics run it – its boring and when the museologists run it – the academics boycott.

    You tell me.

    Anyway – count me a fan.


    1. Thanks, Bill. Getting the word out is the challenge and it would help to have a more active social media presence.

      P.S. There is a typo on your essay. My last name is “Feinman”.

  4. As an independent scholar living in Asheville, NC, I now better understand why I am having so much trouble finding support for my research and writing about John Apperson and his efforts to protect and preserve the islands and shores of Lake George – from developers, loggers, high water, and squatters. It is hard to get a fellowship to study Adirondack history in a state that has so few museums and archives with a commitment to scholarly inquiry on the subject. Yet New York, with its forever wild clause of the constitution, led the nation in promoting wilderness. The Wilderness Society, the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Nature Conservancy, and a host of our present day land conservation organizations all owe a debt to the work of early activists from Schenectady, starting in 1910 or so, but few scholars have ever had access to the Apperson/Schaefer archives at Union College/Kelly Adirondack Center. I am doing what I can to teach these important lessons, by publishing a book (John Apperson’s Lake George, 5/2017) and a website (, and sincerely hope that New York will find a way to do a better job in supporting history education!

  5. In my home state of Illinois, local history is looked down on and I only know of one Illinois history class at the undergraduate level. I’m glad to see so many people are actually advocating for a focus on and enrichment of state and local history. Although the situation looks bleak, you are 100 times better off than Illinois believe me. All history is local. Every event happens somewhere. It seems strange to me how it’s looked down especially at an academic level.

    1. Thank you for replying to my blog on the State of New York State History which was reposted on New York State History Blog. I am sorry to hear that the situation is even worse in Illinois. The problem here is that we know the importance of local history and even require every municipality to have a local historian, but the law isn’t enforced and we end up just paying lip service to it.


  6. Successive administrations at NYSHA and the Farmer’s Museum have managed to slowly obliterate a once world class historical association, through antipathy, mission creep, or outright neglect. Stephen C. Clark Sr. and Louis C. Jones pulled off quite the coup when they brought NYSHA from Ticonderoga. With the help of Dixon Ryan Fox, Edward P. Alexander, and Clifford Lord it made huge advances. In the last few decades we have seen fundamental aspects of the organization they helped build decline and eventually fade away entirely. The educational program for schools, the Young Yorkers was a great vehicle for promoting NY State history in schools, as well as ensuring visitation to the museums throughout the school year. It built relationships with NY youth that built appreciation for NY’s history and gave them a vested interest in the organization. The Seminars on American Culture brought people from all over to Cooperstown experience history first hand and learn more about their past. The New York History quarterly was a first class publication and invaluable to both professional historians and amateurs alike. Wendell Tripp’s contribution to the production of that publication was yeoman’s work and he deserves recognition for his years of work on it.

    Now it is all gone, a legacy squandered by later generations. In a few years no one will really remain who remembers what the organization once was. It is ironic that an organization based on the preservation of history has forgotten its own.

    Someone needs to write the history of NYSHA before everyone is gone and the lessons of its decline are lost to the ages.

    1. Thank you for replying to my blog on the State of New York State History which was reposted on New York State History Blog. You may even be more distressed as you follow the story on subsequent posts. You are quite correct to point out that the current situation culminates a long period of decline. At present there is not state organization advocating on behalf of New York State history. NYSHA is the perfect name for such an entity but unfortunately it remains legally bound to the Fenimore Art Museum. So even a new name is needed. Bring back the Yorkers!


  7. I wish that I could have put my name on this as well, but my status as a former employee would obviously have detracted from the impact.


    Fred Lucas, Independent Historian, Indiana.

    1. Thank you for replying to my blog on the State of New York State History which was reposted on New York State History Blog. You probably won’t like the subsequent posts on the subject. Unfortunately no additional name on the petition would matter since neither NYSHA nor the Board of Regents is going to do anything to alleviate the problem.

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