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The Final Six Findings: Ending the History Peril

Nick Wallenda at Niagara Falls which I saw in person The Times tribune

In this post, I review the final six findings and conclusion of Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service. Readers should keep in mind the relation of these findings to the history community as a whole including state, municipal, and private organizations.

FINDING 7: PRODUCTIVE AND ENDURING PARTNERSHIPS FOR HISTORY

When I read in this finding, “History in the national parks depends on cooperation and collaboration with others,” I nearly choked. How often have we heard this jargon platitude meaninglessly been recited over the years? Can you even count that high? Of course, cooperation and collaboration matter, and of course, they don’t happen except as an exception. At the New York State History Roundtable convened by State Legislator Steve Englebright on May 29, 2014, with the Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Culture and Education sitting next to the chair of the Regents’ subcommittee on Culture and Education, the repeated comment made again and again by multiple attendees was the prevalence of silos within the history community including the State Archives, State Library, and State Museum all housed in the very same building. I heard the word “silo” mentioned so often I thought I was attending a farmers’ conference.

The system is rigged against cooperation and collaboration. No one is paid to cooperate and collaborate. People are paid to so something at a specific site and not to work with others. There is no funding for “Pathfinders” in New York, for people to create paths through history involving multiple locations. When I was creating Teacherhostels/Historyhostels for weekend and week-long visits to multiple sites, I learned first-hand that as an outsider I was the only one bringing multiple private, municipal, state, and federal sites together in a cooperative and collaborative program. Naturally, then, I was curious to see what would be  recommended for the NPS while recognizing that it is a national organization of geographically distant sites.

Recommendations

1. Maximize synergies with the professional history community
2. Develop relationships with institutions of higher education or other cultural organizations in their areas
3. Partner with universities and history graduate students to conduct needed research
4. Go digital in partnership with other repositories of related archival information
5. Create k-12 materials

I would like to focus on the last recommendation since it is the most local. It also is the most varied as each of the 50 states has its own social studies curriculum and guidelines. Therefore it is necessary for the NPS and any other historic site to work with state education department, social studies councils, or local school districts depending on the geographical extent of the desired school market. It is a reasonable bet to assume that the Battle of Saratoga and the Erie Canal will at least be mentioned in a New York public school at some point. At what grade? For how long? In connection with what else?

Several years ago, I worked on a curriculum program on Eleanor Roosevelt with the NPS. Lesson plans were developed in a variety of areas as part of a traveling suitcase schools could request. My subversive question was how much time do schools devote to Eleanor Roosevelt? Rather than creating separate lesson plans, it might be more beneficial to see how her life intersected with the political, social, and civil rights issues which were studied more extensively. On the other hand, one elementary school teacher loved Eleanor and was determined to include her in her class. As an elementary school teacher she had more flexibility than social studies teachers. In hindsight, it might even have been better to have hosted an Eleanor Roosevelt conference combining talks, tours, and workshops on how to integrate her into the curriculum.

The same Roosevelt site also hosts and annual Teaching the Hudson Valley (THV) conference. I am not aware of comparable conferences in the other valleys of New York State or in the city. Perhaps there are in other states. Do NPS sites share best practices? Would other sites know what is being done in the Hudson Valley? Ironically, it occurs in the same room where the NPS staff and one of the authors of Imperiled Promise conducted a workshop on June 12, 2014 which started this whole sequence of posts.

As originally conceived, THV did exactly what the report recommended. It partnered with nearby Marist College. The speakers in the program included history professors and authors as well as NPS and National Archives staff on designated themes. The attendees were teachers and staff from historic sites. There was funding to support teachers pairing up with an historic site to visit, to create lesson plans, and to have class visits. That is not exactly what is done now, but the THV did implement some of the recommendations of a study that hadn’t even been written yet. But again, one key obstacle is the state-mandated curriculum along with the challenges of school field trips.

As an example, a recent post in New York History Blog by Bruce Dearstyne, author of The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State’s History, notes that Philip Schuyler, father-in-law of current superstar Alexander Hamilton, is not mentioned in the New York State social studies curriculum at the grades 4 and 7/8 level. Dearstyne then writes about Schuyler as a figure in New York State history. He mentions this in connection with a newspaper article on the increased attendance at the Schuyler Mansion, a New York State historic site in Albany. After the battle of Saratoga, Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne was a “guest” of fellow gentleman Schuyler. In fact, Schuyler was a participant in the battle and had a second home right near the battlefield in what is today Schuylerville. That house is an NPS site and as I recall from visiting it as part of the Battle of Saratoga weekend Teacherhostel/Historyhostel, some NPS staff even live on the premises.

My point in mentioning these examples from personal experience, is to emphasize that the NPS is not operating in a vacuum. Right now history and social studies are a low priority in the k-12 curriculum compared to the Common Core. That initiative is about reading and math or in a more elaborate version, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The idea that if people are interested in something then they might want to read about it has no place in educational thinking today. It’s not as if we are a storytelling species or that there are any stories to tell in our own communities. So while I digress slightly from the Finding, it is important to recognize the concerns raised are part of a larger dilemma. All the more reason why the NPS needs to join the conversation by attending the social studies and history conferences at the national and state level and to add its voice to the discussion about the place of history in the k-12 curriculum.

FINDING 8: TECHNOLOGY AND THE PRACTICE OF HISTORY   

Nine single-space pages are devoted to this finding even before the specific recommendations are made. At times like this I think of the municipal historians who don’t use email (at least for “work”) or the counties that don’t have enewsletters (almost all of them). Technology has changed information storage, information retrieval, and information sharing. It changes how history can be experienced and how people in the history field can remain in contact. There are bureaucratic issues. There are financial issues. There are “creatures of habit” issues.

The recommendations under this finding relate to training, website design, integrating databases, use of social media, apps. The key issue here is the need for topdown leadership. It is absurd to expect every historic site to reinvent the wheel. And unproductive.

FINDING 9: STEWARDSHIP AND INTERPRETATION OF AGENCY HISTORY

This finding refers to the history of the NPS itself, an organization which has now celebrated its centennial. Apparently there once was a position of bureau historian within the chief historian’s office. The consultants recommend it be filled and other actions be taken to document and preserve the histories of the individual sites.

FINDING 10: THE CONSTRAINTS OF BOUNDARIES, ENABLING LEGISLATION, AND FOUNDING HISTORIES

“History at many sites seems to be understood as having ended at the park’s creation and stopped at its boundaries.”  The authors ask the NPS to take a broader view. They laud the creation of National Heritage Areas (NHA). They like the way NHAs blur the distinctions between natural and cultural resources.

Shouldn’t each NHA have an annual conference for the history community within its region and with the scholars who address its theme?

FINDING 11: FIXED AND FEARFUL INTERPRETATION

This Finding notes the tendency toward “defensive history,” by which they mean a “certain timidity in the face of controversy or criticism.” The result may be a reduction of portraying “what really happened” (a history credo) to the recounting of some factual details. As one might expect, this condition relates particularly to Civil War sites and slavery. The authors fault the NPS for imagining there is a singular national inheritance serving as the “civic glue” for all Americans. Instead they tout the recognition of numerous, complex, often conflicting interpretations.

Besides timidity, there is another problem. Ironically the quest to be political correct, that is, sensitive to the various hyphenated identities, also can distort a story. While it is beneficial to include people other than dead white men in the story, the emphasis on the women’s exhibit or a black exhibit at an American Revolution battlefield obscures the historical reality of the dead white men who made that site a memorial in the first place. If you have ever watched AMC’s Turn about the spy ring from Long Island you will see it is a product of 21st century progressive values. Dead white heterosexual male John Simcoe, the founder of York/Toronto where there is a day in his honor, has become a vicious Darth Vader while historical housewife and mother Anna Strong has become a younger femme fatale with an enhanced role. The latter was a marketing decision announced before season 3 at a meeting at the New-York Historical Society with the production staff and “Anna” herself in attendance. But these very examples do reflect the ongoing nature of historical interpretation.

The authors cite a lack of coordinated approach to controversial interpretations.  They acknowledge that sharing authority with visitors would mean a change in NPS procedures. They then note the irony that historic sites often become historic sites precisely because they were not bland or non-threatening, but because there was something controversial going on at that site or by the person who was born lived, or died there. On a bureaucratic note the authors report that the NPS is prohibited from conducting formal surveys of visitors. Presumably that means here is an area where outside assistance may necessary unless the rule is changed.

The recommendations deal with various organization issues and the use of social media to get a better handle on the visitor perspective. Maybe there should be different tours for different viewpoints instead of the one standard tour seeking an e pluribus unum message. Why shouldn’t people who think 9/11 was an inside job, slavery was good for Middle Passage Blacks, and 5 million people voted illegally have their own tours? It is after all their own vacation. And why should people on vacation who believe otherwise be trapped in a tour group with those who differ? Don’t we self-segregate at home?

In a world where people are entitled to their own facts, the basic methodologies of history tours may need to change.

FINDING 12: CIVIC ENGAGEMENT, HISTORY, AND INTERPRETATION

The authors of the study embrace the function of civic engagement at NPS historic sites. “Indeed, the most exciting possibilities for civic transformation emerge at points where staffers and visitors encounter difference…people whose understanding of differences of history and civics differ from their own.”  They go on to write, “dialogue on controversial issues helps people develop new civic skills.” When was the last time you saw people dialogue on controversial issues? In Congress? On cable TV shows? At a presidential news conference?

Do the same people visit Civil War battlefields and Underground Railroad sites? Sometimes. Why? Do people get their news from multiple media sources with different perspectives or from one source? The NPS doesn’t operate in a vacuum so let’s not go overboard on the changes the NPS can affect in the American population’s understanding of American history. How much do professors transform students versus reinforce students’ views and that’s with an entire semester and the power of the grade at their disposal? The NPS should be thinking about other types of visitor experiences besides the 30-minute tour and viewing of exhibits.

CONCLUSIONS

The authors of the study Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service conclude where they began. They call for the dismantling of the elements of agency culture and structure that confine history and historians in small boxes separate and detached from the agency as a whole and from the larger field of professional history scholarship and practice. They champion the creation of the two councils:

1. The NPS History Leadership Council
2. The History Advisory Board

and more involvement with the Organization of American History. During the course of their research, they learned that a similar study had been undertaken a generation earlier. They unearthed it covered in dust buried deep in the bowels of the NPS underground vaults designed to withstand nuclear blasts and requiring multiple passwords, fingerprint and eye retina examinations to access. Once they passed muster and read the report they were upset to see it: considering that it had been relegated to the dustbin of history, wasn’t their report also so imperiled? For a post-mortem on it, see the next post.

Fulfilling the Promise: Recommendations to End the Peril of History (PART V)

Clio, muse of history, Roman statue, Vatican Museum

In part 3 of the study on the state of history in the National Park Service, the authors turn to the findings and recommendations. The section carries the ominous title “The Endangered and Fragmented State of History in the NPS.” The opening paragraph uses such words as “an afterthought,” “stagnant and irrelevant,” “erratic,” “underfunded, undervalued, underutilized and misunderstood,” “deteriorating,” “losing ground,” and “threatened.” And these were the words of the NPS respondents to the survey!

While there are individual success stories as recounted in the previous post, they tend to be locally-driven and without system-wide support or encouragement. When I was doing Teacherhostels/Historyhostels, I would notice the teachers who were determined to include local history in their classes no matter what. They were the ones who initiated the class trips or created the lesson plans about the history in the class’s backyard. Then the teacher (or sometimes principal) would retire or transfer and the effort would die. Even if one teacher took the lead, it did not necessarily mean the other teachers in the same grade in the same school or school system would follow. Yes, there are individuals who make that effort but they are the exception and they stand alone. Can the situation at the NPS be changed?

The authors declare that it can. They present a series of findings from their work and propose recommendations. I am not going to rewrite the 60+ page section to fit into a blog format. Instead, I will provide the findings and some of the key recommendations. Some of them will seem strangely familiar to anyone involved with the situation in the state below the federal level.

FINDING 1: THE HISTORY/INTERPRETATION DIVIDE

This finding refers to the organization of the bureaucracy. Since here in New York we have just gone through an effort to get a full-time historian, we should be able to relate the challenges confronting the NPS. One specific comment made was that historical research frequently is compliance and management focused and not for the interpreters who stand before the visitors. Sadly people in historical interpretation often have little formal training in history, subject knowledge, or expertise in doing primary source research. What’s worse is when the high-quality works and research which does occur ends up on shelves unread, unused, and inaccessible to the public. There is a disconnect with the visitors.

Recommendations

1. Restore full staffing and budget for the chief historian’s office
2. Create a History Leadership Council within the NPS with an annual meeting [could that be done at a state level and/or regional level even if national office ignored the recommendation?]
3. Revise the Essential Competencies for both interpreters and historians to promote cross-disciplinary training [what are the standards for competency as an interpreters or historian at non-NPS sites?]
4. Create long-range interpretive plans with a research needs component vetted by scholars, i.e., non-NPS people.

FINDING 2: THE IMPORTANCE OF LEADERSHIP FOR HISTORY

“An urgent need exists for visible, and well supported leadership that articulates an inspiring and wide- ranging vision for NPS history, encourages new directions, highlights and enables quality scholarship and innovation, and fosters interconnection and community among history and interpretative professionals throughout the agency and with historians outside NPS.”

Besides restoring the staffing and budget for the chief historian’s office noted above, other action should be taken.

Recommendations

1. Create a History Advisory Board to include representatives from national history and museum organizations and leading scholars to work with the History Leadership Council. I would add the executive director of the National Council for the Social Studies to the list.
2. NPS staff should attend professional conferences, pursue graduate training, and publish. I will be writing about this recommendation in an upcoming post based on my own experiences at some conferences this spring and summer.

3. FINDING 3: THE CHALLENGE OF DISCONNECTION

This finding relates to the isolation of history in the NPS. It refers to the isolation of people “doing” history and to the history knowledge. Respondents to the survey referred to the “total fragmentation” within an insular bureaucracy leaving people disconnected, isolated, and powerless. One result of the lack of the internal capacity of the NPS has been the outsourcing of work to contractors who have little connection to the organization. The report states that NPS staff “are not offered sufficient opportunities to take advantage of the crucial opportunities that professional conferences offer for ongoing connection with other historians.” It wasn’t even clear to the authors if the respondents had online access to scholarly journals the same way professors do through their colleges. Of course given the workload of the staff, shrinking travel budgets, and the lack of support from supervisors, it was problematic how much time NPS even had to avail themselves of such online access or to research/publish in such journals.

One respondent quoted in Finding 3 wrote: “I have begged, pleaded, and scrimped to attend conferences and necessary training,” a sentiment shared by multiple respondents. People resort to attending such conferences at their own expense and/or on vacation time. Superintendents may consider such absences as a “junket” or “boondoggle.”

Recommendations

1. Implement multiple avenues of internal communication within the NPS history staff. Since I maintain lists of NPS (and NYSOPRHP) staff, I sometimes wonder who else besides me is contacting the collective history staff on an ongoing basis on history-related issues. And this is not to say my own lists are comprehensive or up-to-date.
2. Collaborate with historians at colleges and universities.
3. Attend conferences both within the NPS and external to it and present at sessions at conferences
4. Obtain online access to scholarly journals and publish academic articles and monographs
5. Collaborate thematically citing the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites (similar to the example of American Revolution sites in New York I mentioned in a previous post and Civil War sites which are not common in New York but are an obvious theme nationally).

4. FINDING 4: HISTORICAL EXPERTISE IN TODAY’S WORKFORCE

“[S]upport for professional expertise in history is surprisingly weak….[G]reater emphasis needs to be given to the acquisition and maintenance of a strong base of in-house, professionally qualified historical expertise.” The consultants devoted 7 pages to this finding. Clearly it is one of importance to them. The discussion covered issues like place-based history, professional training, raising job requirement standards, and hiring people at those higher levels. Ultimately the key may come down to the comment of respondent: “the agency would have to undergo a cultural transformation and value history equally with nature and recreation.”

Recommendations

1. Analyze the current standing of history within the bureaucratic job grades.
2. Support staff training as a budget line item including travel.
3. Upgrade research and interpretation skills based on the analysis in #1 above.
4. Raise standards.

FINDING 5: A HISTORY WORKFORCE FOR THE FUTURE

One immediate concern is the “graying” of Park Service staff. Where will the next generation of historians come from? This section encompasses a general discussion on the status of history (and Humanities) at the college and graduate school level. Obviously that topic is worthy of a post in its own right. One general observation I wish to make is the issue of the appeal of public history in general to those people who do purse graduate degrees in history. As long as the tenured position at a college is the primary goal, other venues suffer. What is the history career track in the NPS (or OPRHP or NYCParks or private non-profits or municipal historians)? Is it the purpose of the Cooperstown Graduate Program in museum studies to produces wives for the husbands who have the real jobs (a comment made a few years ago by a Cooperstown Graduate Program admissions officer or professor, I forget which, at a MANY conference wrap-up session to an audience of almost exclusively white women).

Recommendations

Besides enhancing the status of history within the NPS, the recommendations are:

1. Host public history field schools
2. Reach out to Graduate School directors and surplus history PhDs.

FINDING 6: INADEQUATE RESOURCES FOR HISTORICAL PRACTICES

This finding has to do with staffing, budgets, and organization including the use of volunteers for non-expertise jobs.

The remaining six findings will be reviewed in the next post.

Imperiled Promises: Successful NPS Case Studies (Part IV)

Martin Van Buren National Historic Site (Michael Frederick)

The report Imperiled Promises isn’t all doom and gloom. It does cite some examples of successful work already being done within the NPS prior to the recommendations listed in the report. In this post, I will focus on the examples primarily related to New York and offer some comments.

African Burial Ground National Monument

One success noted was the African Burial Ground National Monument in lower Manhattan. The discovery of the burial ground was a national media phenomenon in no way typical of historic sites. For one thing, it is a new site within the NPS and not a reconfiguring of an existing site. In the study, the authors cite “a remarkably inclusive, patient, and creative process of civic engagement” following the chance discovery of this burial ground north of the walled street that once marked the northern boundary of New Amsterdam. It functioned roughly from 1690 to 1754 and may have contained 15,000 burials. That civic engagement led to contentious discussions and negotiations before a mutually agreeable settlement was reached.

But while the establishment of the national monument site succeeded, the post-settlement process has been less than hoped for. I write this recognizing that the NPS staff who assisted the Lower Manhattan Historical Association (LMHA) in our Alexander Hamilton Immigrant Award Ceremony and parade on July 2 also manage this site. While the site does well with school groups unfortunately its location a few blocks north of Lower Manhattan and the security clearance required to entire the site of a functioning federal office building hinder its appeal with tourist groups. It would work as better as a stop on a New Amsterdam tour package or an African tour package. I suppose such tours do exist but in a general tour of Lower Manhattan where time is precious the extra few blocks and security procedures are a detriment.

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail

One NPS success site mentioned with New York implications is the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. For the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark from 2003 to 2006, the NPS partnered with American Indian communities, state and local governments, the private sector, and other federal agencies. Why is this relevant to New York? We don’t have Lewis and Clark, but we do have William Johnson. His story touched upon many different peoples especially in the Mohawk Valley including Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Tuscarora, Palatine, Dutch, French, and English among others. Much of that activity occurred within the Erie Canal corridor so the NPS already operates in that area. But what connected the peoples wasn’t the canal but trails and roads just as Lewis and Clark used for their expedition, in particular, what is now Route 5. Perhaps the NPS could take the lead in organizing a William Johnson National Historic Trail and in bringing together the American Indian communities, state and local governments, the private sector, and other federal agencies to create such a trail. Is the NPS permitted to take the initiative and a leadership role?

American Revolution: Lighting Freedom’s Flame

On a larger scale, the study touts the NPS’s success with an American Revolution curriculum called American Revolution: Lighting Freedom’s Flame. The curriculum material is available free of charge to teachers and school systems and is accompanied with educational resources.

I noticed in examining the Fort Stanwix and the Saratoga Battlefield some web sites of locations in New York that there are lesson plans related to their respective battles. My sense is that the lesson plans are for the classroom and not for the school trips to the sites especially since they are available nationwide wherever the American Revolution is taught.

The curriculum and the lesson plans on the American Revolution raise several questions.

1. Is it the function of the NPS to be national experts on the story American Revolution? Here I go with the baseball term WAR, wins-over-replacement. In these terms it means what does the NPS add to the story of the American Revolution that isn’t being told elsewhere? Why should the NPS seek to tell the entire story of the American Revolution? What the NPS has are specific sites where critical events occurred. In my opinion, it would be more beneficial to focus on the story of those sites within the context of the larger story rather than to seek to tell the larger story. It’s not as if it isn’t told elsewhere and the NPS is filling a gap.

2. The story of the NPS sites in the American Revolution shouldn’t be told in isolation from other sites and wars. For example, Fort Ticonderoga and Fort William Henry, private sites near Saratoga, also are part of the story and that story is really a three –phased one including the French and Indian War and the War of 1812. In addition there are multiple small sites including just over the border in Vermont that are part of the story as well. When I did Teacherhostels/Historyhostels called Forts of the Empire State (week long) or the Battle of Saratoga (weekend), we visited many of these sites. Besides meeting with the Rangers and education curators at the other locations, we were exposed to the curriculum the local sites had to offer. Fort Ticonderoga has annual conferences on both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution combined with some touring; Fort Oswego, a state historic site covering all three wars also has conference. Here is an example where the NPS should be collaborating with related sites about the local story rather than try to be the experts on the national story.

3. Related to the above, how are teachers to become aware of what the NPS sites have to contribute to the story of the American Revolution? Fort Ticonderoga has teacher programs and has attended social studies conferences including making presentations. The mantra of “if you put in on the web, they will come” works with comical cat videos but not necessarily less funny curriculum.

Here is where state actions would be beneficial, at least in New York. Although we temporarily(?) no longer have a state history conference, we do have some state meetings. Even a session at the annual Museum Association of New York (MANY) conference dedicated to forts of the empire state would help bring together NPS, state, and private sites with a shared interest and stories to tell. Same for the Erie Canal. In fact, the NPS could even host not just a session but working conferences. To some extent, the Women’s Suffrage conferences held the past two years and the subject of two posts represent an example of bringing together a thematic segment of the history community involving an NPS site.

Martin Van Buren National Historic Site

The report positively cites the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site in Kinderhook for successfully bridging the gap between nature and culture. Its work on Van Buren’s post-presidential farming activities. One might add, considering the growth in recent years of the local farm products, this approach fits in nicely with the cultural developments in the Hudson Valley. One sees local produce in markets, restaurants, and supermarkets. In effect, Van Buren’s past efforts synchronize well with current practices.

Flight 93 Memorial (not in the report)

Kudos to Ranger Robert Franz for his work at an unexpected and tragically new addition to the NPS umbrella. He is the “interpretive park ranger” at the Flight 93 Memorial.  His job is to tell the story again and again to visitors who often remember exactly where they were when they first heard about 9/11.  He tells the story of the plane that crashed into a field and not into a building. One should note that he tells the story to people sitting on benches at the Flight 93 Memorial and not standing in the sun for 30 minutes.

Franz is a military veteran and a pilot who brings his background to his storytelling. He has those 30 minutes to tell the story. He has to keep his own emotions in check at certain portions of the story which he repeats day after day to new visitors. There are unscripted pauses in his storytelling. He listens as people in the audience share their own memories of the day. He tolerates the conspiracy “theorists” who question whether the crash even occurred. The Holocaust never happened. The people were better off in slavery than back in Africa. The moon landing is fake news. Rangers are required to maintain their cool. Maybe there should be special tours or places for those from the far side. Robert Franz says “Let’s roll!” and the 30 minutes are up. Time to move on the next place after stopping at the gift shop.

We are a storytelling species but that doesn’t mean everyone is a good storyteller. History sites needs them. How do you get them? How do you prepare them? The recommendations of the Imperiled Promises study are next.

Part I Imperiled Promise: History and the NPS (and OPRHP)

Part II Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service

Part III Imperiled Promise: Recommendations

Funding Deadline Coming Up

With the approach of the funding deadline for REDC awards for2017 fast approaching, I received this email in my own region.

Dear Colleague:

The CFA Application Deadline is just 2 weeks away. All applications must be submitted through the portal (https://apps.cio.ny.gov/apps/cfa/) by July 28, 2017 at 4:00pm sharp.

Round 7 Resources available on the REDC website (http://www.regionalcouncils.ny.gov):

If you have any questions please let me know.

Thanks,

Meghan

Meghan A. Taylor
Regional Director, Mid-Hudson
Empire State Development
33 Airport Center Drive, New Windsor, NY 12553
Office: (845) 567-4882 | Meghan.Taylor@esd.ny.gov
www.esd.ny.gov  

In conjunction with that deadline, I am completing my investigation in the Marketing New York awards granted by I LoveNY for the 2016 REDC. Certain issues were noted in the previous posts on these awards Show Me the Money and I LoveNY Funding:

1. differentiating between marketing and capital improvements
2. squeezing state-wide and regional organizations into the REDC designated regional and county format
3. the non-existence of Path through History awards.

Exactly how the line is drawn between “marketing,” the basis for these awards and capital improvements. One wonders exactly where within the REDC process capital improvements best belong. Imagine if the funding for capital improvements by I LoveNY was freed up to develop and market tourist programs instead.

This post resumes where alphabetical review by region left off. It starts with the Mohawk Valley Region, a REDC funding region but not an I LoveNY region. The post continues with New York City, the North Country, the Southern Tier, and the Western Region to complete the state review.

Mohawk Region – $81.9 million awarded to 88 projects 

Fulton County – no awards granted in this category 

Herkimer County
City of Little Falls Explore Little Falls
The Explore Little Falls initiative will execute a strategic marketing campaign to position Little Falls, as the ideal “attraction-level” setting in which to experience the rich cultural and historical heritage of life along the Erie Canal.
Amount: $54,000

This award actually mentions cultural and historical heritage. Under normal circumstances, Little Falls can be considered the western end of the Mohawk Valley since the falls necessitated portage in colonial times. Its ecology contributed the logistics of Burgoyne’s plan in 1777 leading to the nearby Battle of Oriskany in which General Herkimer participated, a battle now “celebrating” its 240th anniversary. It is easy to imagine Little Falls as a day-stop on a multi-day trip along the Mohawk River be it for the American Revolution, the Indian Nations, or the Erie Canal. Little Falls is a perfect example of the benefits of collaboration and cooperation.

Herkimer Diamond Mines, Inc.
Herkimer Diamond Mines Expansion Project
The Herkimer Diamond Mines will use grant funds to assist in the expansion and upgrade of its current facility, including infrastructure improvements.
Amount: $125,000

Montgomery County – no awards granted in this category

Oneida County
Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute (MWPAI)
MWPAI Celebrates the Arts of New York
Grant funds will be used for a comprehensive marketing plan for “MWPAI Celebrates the Arts of New York,” a summer-long series of events that will showcase the work of New York State artists both past and present.
Amount: $110,534

Otsego County
Baseball Hall of Fame
Redesign of Museum Marketing Materials
Grant funds will be used to improve the impact of the Museum’s marketing materials in an effort to generate additional visitors.
Amount: $333,750

One notes that State Senator James Seward who represents this area is proposing that baseball be designated the state sport.

New York State Historical Association Spirit of the Ice:
The Art of Figure Skating Through the Ages
Fenimore Art Museum (FAM) will use the grant funds to support a major exhibition and programming to debut never-before seen collection of art and artifacts devoted to the sport of figure skating.
Amount: $120,500

One would never know from these two awards in Otsego County that the two sites involved  are only a few miles apart. How hard would it be to create a Cooperstown weekend history package?

Schoharie County
Iroquois Indian Museum
Iroquois Indian Museum Marketing Initiative
Grant funds will be used to further extend the current marketing outreach by promoting a diverse series of events and exhibitions in 2017 at the Iroquois Museum.
Amount: $20,000

As previously reported, each Indian museum operates independently. There is no collaboration.

The Mohawk Valley is an area with plentiful opportunities for revenue-generating history itineraries. From the Indian Nations to the American Revolution to the Erie Canal to Industrialization the area is ripe for collaborative and cooperative efforts which could bring valuable revenues to a hard-hit area. I speak from experience having created with substantial local help a Mohawk Valley Teacherhostel/Historyhostel. What a great place for an REDC Pathfinder application!

New York City – $80.2 million awarded to 121 projects
Bronx
The New York Botanical Garden
Conservatory Restoration Project
Grants funds will be used to help with the addition of LED lighting which will increase energy efficiency, create dynamic and vibrant visitor experiences and augment the landmarked Conservatory’s status as a tourist attraction facility.
Amount: $100,000

Kings (Brooklyn)
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Brooklyn Botanic Garden Woodland Garden and Accessibility Improvement Project
Grant funds will be used to support the creation of a new feature for the garden that will increase attendance, and provide a new location for education classes and visitors to learn about urban gardening while simultaneously creating handicapped accessible routes through the existing garden.
Amount: $500,000

Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Bridge Plaza
Brooklyn Bridge Plaza, located under the iconic Brooklyn Bridge will be the final section of Brooklyn Bridge Park to be constructed. The Plaza is envisioned as a flexible space that will host seasonal markets, concerts, picnics, and multicultural events, attracting visitors from the region and the world. The grant funds will support the electrical services necessary to support an ice skating rink extending the outdoor season of the Park and attracting visitors year-round.
Amount: $740,000

Brooklyn Historical Society
Waterfront Exhibition
Grant funds will be used for final design, fabrication, and marketing of Waterfront, a 3,200 sq. ft., a long-term, educational exhibition that will be housed in Brooklyn Historical Society DUMBO, a new satellite museum in the Empire Stores complex on the Brooklyn Waterfront.
Amount: $176,283

New York
American Museum of Natural History
2016 AMNH Market New York
The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) seeks funding towards an exciting new capital addition to its nearly 150-yearold complex. The new facility will improve access to and circulation within existing Museum space, linking the current 25 buildings of the complex and providing visitors with a new entrance, while also upgrading and modernizing the Museum’s operational services.
Amount: $1,000,000

Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Tenement Museum Marketing Initiative
The Tenement Museum will use grant funds to support the launch of a strategic marketing campaign to boost visitation as it opens its new exhibit in July 2017.
Amount: $204,600

Richmond
Staten Island Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Staten Island Tourism Proposal
Funds will be used to create a new welcome center to enhance visitors’ experiences, and a new building façade to improve visibility. Additionally the project includes a branding and marketing plan for Staten Island with media and other outreach, a visitor campaign to facilitate bookings, new visitors’ brochures and guides, a website upgrade, and an update to an interactive kiosk at the ferry terminal.
Amount: $324,738

Staten Island Museum
Capital Improvements to Staten Island Museum
Funds will be used to support and provide a better visitor experience at the Staten Island Museum.
Amount: $77,976

New York City as might be expected is in a separate category. It has a substantial tourist operation of its own independent of the state organization. It draws the overwhelming number of tourists to the state although confined mainly to one borough. Its draws the overwhelming number of non-tourists from the business, college, and the diplomatic communities. As was mentioned in a Tourist Advisory Council (TAC) meeting, the goal for TAC is for the second trip to New York to be outside the city for and/or one-day trips from the city to other areas. The village of Nyack on the Hudson River in Rockland County for example is actively pushing that front in its REDC applications. Here is where great transportation is important plus coordinating local visits with the train schedules as the National Park Service does in Poughkeepsie for the Roosevelt sites. Getting people to spend a week in the Hudson Valley or Long Island is difficult enough but day or weekend excursions beyond the Big Apple has possibilities as well as using it for a springboard for sites even farther away. New York is a big state and foreign visitors don’t always appreciate the distance from the city to Niagara Falls.

North County Region – $61.4 million awarded to 77 projects
Clinton County – no awards in this category

Essex County
Cascade Ski Center, LLC
Ski Center Adaptations for a Changing Climate
Grant funds will be used for snowmaking and tourism infrastructure improvements to support year round operations and expand the recreational opportunities in order to diversify tourism offerings in the Olympic region.
Amount: $42,000

Destination, Inc. Ironman 70.3
Grant funds will be used to host a new internationally recognized Ironman 70.3 event, in Lake Placid, for 5 consecutive years starting in September of 2017.
Amount: $50,000

Star Trek Original
Series Set Tour Trekonderoga 2017
Grant funds will be used to promote and increase attendance at Trekonderoga 2017, a special event hosted in Ticonderoga, NY, featuring former actors who appeared on Star Trek and other SciFi TV shows of the 1960s, and centered at a CBS licensed Star Trek set replica.
Amount: $26,000

As a Star Trek fan, naturally I applaud this item. But it does seem that that there is more money for ghosts and Klingons than re-enactors.

Wildlife Conservation Soceity (sic)
Cycle Adirondacks 2017
Grant funds will be used to develop and initiate a marketing campaign to promote the Cycle Adirondacks, a multi-day roadbicycle event, focused on metro NYC can drive outdoor recreation-based tourism to the Adirondack Park and have a lasting economic impact in the Adirondacks.
Amount: $75,000

Franklin County
The Wild Center
New Markets for The Wild Center and The North Country Phase 3
Grant funds will be used to execute a strategic multi-media marketing campaign to bring more millennials to vacation in the North Country Region and to visit The Wild Center.
Amount: $300,000

Village of Saranac Lake
2017 World Snowshoe Federation Championships Special Event
The Village of Saranac Lake will use grant funds to assist with the hosting of the 2017 World Snowshoe Federation (WSSF) Championships from February 23-25, 2017.
Amount: $75,000

Hamilton County
Adirondack Museum
Fall Festival Special Event
The Adirondack Museum will use funds to support the development, marketing, and launch of a new annual Halloween inspired festival during October 2017.
Amount: $125,000

Jefferson County – no awards granted in this category

Lewis County – no awards granted in this category

St. Lawrence – no awards granted in this category

Southern Tier Region – $60.4 million awarded to 63 projects
Broome County – no awards granted in this category

Chemung County
Harris Hill Soaring Corporation
Flight Center Expansion and Rennovation (sic)
Funds will be used to renovate and repair four structural issues, update the facility, and install handicapped accessible rest rooms at the Flight Center.
Amount: $50,000

Chenango County – no awards granted in this category

Delaware County – no awards granted in this category

Schuyler County
Watkins Glen International
Racing Promotions
Watkins Glen International will utilize funds to engage in a marketing plan designed to attract millennial travelers from Canada and Pennsylvania to the NASCAR weekend in Watkins Glen.
Amount: $150,000

Steuben County
Corning Museum of Glass
New York Waterways Glass Barge
Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG) will use grant funds to install a mobile glassblowing studio on a canal barge (The Glass Barge) to provide live glassblowing demos to the general public at waterfront locations along NY waterways.
Amount: $57,830

Tioga County – no awards granted in this category

Tompkins County
Center for the Arts at Ithaca Inc.
Hangar Theatre 2017 Marketing Campaign
Funds will be used to increase programming with a holiday show in 2017.
Amount: $159,100

The Sciencecenter Discovery Museum
Sciencenter Reimagined: Renovating and Expanding Exhibitions and Facilities
The Sciencenter Discovery Musuem (sic) will use grant funds to replace and renovate nearly all the museum’s indoor and outdoor exhibitions, improving quality of life indicators and dramatically enhancing the region’s ability to attract workers and tourists to the region.
Amount: $150,000

Western New York Region – $62.0 million awarded to 105 projects
Allegany County – no awards granted in this category

Cattaraugus County
City of Olean
Allegheny River Canoe Kayak Launch Project
Grant funds will be used to support the “paddle trail” project which will consist of purchasing and installing two portable launches (one ADA compliant) in strategic locations that would expand recreational opportunities and support the idea of being part of a regional system of launches along the Allegheny River.
Amount: $44,600

Chautauqua County
Chautauqua County Dept of Planning and Economic Development
Marketing Chautauqua Countys Overland Trails
Funds will be used to promote and increase the usage of existing trails, including the
County-owned Overland Trails through a strategic branding and marketing initiative.
Amount: $16,945

National Comedy Center
National Comedy Center Tourism Capital Grant funds will be used for upgrades at the National Comedy Center for the purchase and installation of two large digital screens on the entrance building, and the purchase and installation of the Hologram Theater Projection System. These upgrades provide a strategic PR opportunity to create national publicity and increase visitation to the region.
Amount: $234,000

Erie County
Shared Mobility, Inc.
Bicycle Tourism in Buffalo
This project will work to increase bike tourism in Buffalo and Western New York. The funds will be used to develop a marketing and branding theme, and implementation to promote more participants from around the region to come to the many biking events.
Amount: $125,000

Tough Mudder, Inc.
Tough Mudder Western NY 2017
Funds will be used to implement and promote the Tough Mudder; an event at the Kissing Bridge Ski Resort in Glenwood, NY on August 5-6, 2017.
Amount: $250,000

Visit Buffalo Niagara
African American Heritage Marketing Initiative
Funds will be used to promote the 100th anniversary of the formation of Buffalo Local 533. This momentous occasion in Buffalo’s cultural history affords the opportunity to highlight Buffalo’s role as a center of African American heritage tourism to those outside the Buffalo Niagara region.
Amount: $37,500

Visit Buffalo Niagara
Meet Buffalo
Grant funds will be used to carry out the Meet Buffalo Niagara initiative, a multiphase project that will target meeting planners and decision makers from professional associations, inviting them to visit Buffalo Niagara to be introduced to community stakeholders, cultural attractions and regional assets that will help to drive home the point that they should host their organization’s conference in Buffalo Niagara.
Amount: $45,000

Niagara County
Aquaurium of Niagara
Aquarium Renovation Project
Grant funds will be used to construct a new Humboldt Penguin Exhibit, incorporating into the Aquarium’s updated master plan, to address the needs of the facility and to significantly enhance the Aquarium as a key attraction for visitors to the Buffalo/Niagara Region.
Amount: $100,000

Arrowhead Spring Vineyards
Niagara Wine Country Fine Wine Marketing
Arrowhead Spring Vineyards will use grant funds to lead a marketing effort to create and promote Niagara Wine Country (NWC), thereby increasing awareness of the Niagara Wine Region and the entire wine industry throughout the State.
Amount: $16,500

Artpark Company Inc.
US Premiere of Plasticiens Volants
Artpark will use the funds to present a special event, Plasticiens Volants, a spectacular performing arts event never before seen in the nation, thus increasing the perception and consideration of New York State as a travel destination, as well as raising the visibility of the Western NY region.
Amount: $52,992

Historic Palace, Inc.
The Palace Theatre Expansion
Grant funds will be used to support much needed HVAC, plumbing and electrical upgrades, additional seating, an improved concession area, and an expanded orchestra pit which will enhance the overall theater experience.
Amount: $423.000

I realize it is late in the game for this year. For the history community, if you haven’t already reached out to your TPAs, county executives, or attended an REDC workshop and/or training session, you may need to wait to next year. Here is one area where collaboration and cooperation really could benefit the history community. Many locations are not destinations in and of themselves but collectively they are part of an experience which can be marketed if people work together.

The NPS Imperiled Promise: Recommendations to Eliminate the Peril – Is Anybody Listening? (Part III)

After all the surveying and analysis as described in two previous posts, the authors of the study Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service turned to the recommendations to alleviate the situation. As one might expect they called for the NPS to recommit to history as one of its core purposes and to adhere to the “best available sound history scholarship as a standard of quality for the NPS history.

They proposed 12 approaches to historical research to be discussed nationwide throughout the NPS.

  1. Expand interpretive frames beyond existing physical resources

Any physical site including its physical resources is only a remnant of a disappeared past. Furthermore historical research may uncover stories not directly represented among the physical objects which by chance happened to have survive. Tell the big story.

  1. Emphasize connections of parks with the larger histories beyond their boundaries

No site is an isolated island whose stories are limited to the physical space set aside by law. Learn the connections and include them in the story of your site. I will add that tourists may already make such connections in their itineraries whereby they visit multiple locations during their vacation.

  1. Highlight the effects of human activity on “natural” areas

Integrate nature and culture. Natural areas or landscapes may have been shaped by human activity. I will add that representations of natural areas also may obscure the human activity which shaped. Human activity shaping the landscape did not begin with European settlers. Leave the two-dimensional clichés to Disney. Tell the stories of real people.

  1. Acknowledge that history is dynamic and always unfinished

For example the male white (English) Harvard New England historians of the 19th century tended to privilege the role in the American Revolution of male white New Englanders in their writings and scholarship. Both New York and the South were shortchanged as well as other ethnicities, races, and genders. In another example, ten years ago how many high school students had even heard of Hamilton? The more people want to be part of the story of the American Revolution, the stronger the United States becomes. I don’t know if every immigrant to England, France, and Germany connects with William the Conqueror (or King Arthur), Charlemagne (or Napoleon), Frederick the Great (or Bismarck), but every American can connect with some figure in the American Revolution. History grows when it is alive and part of our journey as a country.

  1. Recognize the NPS’s role in shaping every park’s history

Those who tell the story become part of the story because of what they choose to tell. I will add, should every guide at a single site tell the same story? Given that not everything can be communicated in a single tour, why should every tour be the same? The visitors too have different interests. For example as part of two conferences, I recently visited the Oriskany Battlefield twice. We had the same NPS Ranger guide. For the American Revolution in the Mohawk Valley conference, he spoke about the battle; for the Erie Canal Bicentennial conference, he spoke about the stones from the nearby canal being used to construction the monuments at the battle site. Let’s recognize the different aspects of the story at a site and allow visitors to have some control over what they will experience.

  1. Attend to the role of memory and memorialization at historical sites.

“Rather than freezing an event depicted at a park or site as something that happened in the past, history interpreters should acknowledge and investigate the diverse and changing ways (and reasons) that people have remembered and assigned significance to that event or place (up to and since the when the park itself was designated “historic”). I will add, fossils (of dinosaurs) do have an appeal, but an immersion into history provides a more vibrant memory for the visitor.

  1. Highlight the open-endedness of the past

“Rather than cloaking historical outcomes with a gloss of inevitability, history interpreters might pry open past events to reveal the many viable alternatives a multitude of past actors faced as they struggled to solve actions, take actions, and frame horizons.” I will add, suppose William Johnson had lived throughout the American Revolution instead of dying in 1774? Suppose slavery had been the deal-breaker that prevented the United States from constituting itself as a country in 1787, then what?

  1. Forthrightly address conflict and controversy both in, and about, the past

Scholars disagree. Do visitors know that? For the NPS with its many Civil War sites, this admonition can be a real challenge especially with all the talk today about memorials, statues, and street names.

  1. Welcome contested and evolving understandings of American civic heritage

This recommendation seems like a variation of the previous one. The civic aspect is crucial.

  1. Envision “doing history” as means of skills development for civic participation

Tours tend to teach details not skills. Tours tend to provide small-bore facts that are quickly forgotten. Quick, which painting is of the second son of the patriarch and what is name of the woman he married on the painting next to him? As I worked my way through this list of recommendations, I realized, as you readers may have, that many of these recommendations are more suitable for a classroom, i.e., an air-conditioned setting where people are sitting down for up to 30-45 minutes as in a public lecture, than to an outdoor or non-airconditioned indoor setting where people are standing and on the move. Perhaps it should be no surprise that the consultants, professors obtained through the auspices of the Organization of American History, would tend to recommend replicating the ideal classroom setting without taking into account the practicalities of the visitor logistics and expectations.

  1. Share authority with and take knowledge from the public

Again this recommendation seems like a variation on a theme and one more appropriate to the classroom than the guided tour. If these conversations are to occur in an academic setting such as a ranger attending a history conference, then such exchanges are worthwhile and one of the purposes of a history conference. If these conversations are to occur during a guided tour then it seems more reminiscent of having a discussion with a loudmouth know-it-all who could dominate the tour if left unchecked.  Exactly what are the venues where these conversations with the public are supposed to occur? Typically guided tours are not conducive to such exchanges with the general public but can work with a controlled group such as teachers.

  1. Better connect with the rest of the history profession and embrace interdisciplinary collaboration

By this the authors specifically mean NPS historians should have ongoing relationships with public history sites, academia, and k-12 education. I interpret this to mean in part attending the national and state history conferences of various organizations, attending the history conferences about related subjects, attending social studies conferences.

 

Collectively, these recommendations certainly present a positive vision of history at history sites. My questions and concerns are where the rubber hits the road. Exactly how are these recommendations to be implemented? What do they really mean on the frontlines where the worlds of the tourist visitor and the Park Ranger intersect? Since historic sites are not cookie cutter facilities, what do they mean in the different settings? How are Park Rangers to be trained to do what the recommendations suggest?

Ironically, the tourist visitor already has implemented some of these recommendations. When tourists plan a vacation trip, they select the places they intend to visit. In other words, they are positioning an historic site within a host of places in their one-week vacation. In so doing, they are making connections to other venues, not all necessarily historic, as they schedule their trip.

Sometimes the geographic range of the associated sites to a NPS historic site may be quite extensive. Think of the Civil War battlefields as the most obvious. Sites also may be connected to state, county, local, and private sites as well in the event covered or the person/people who lived at the NPS site. This means cooperating and collaborating both within the NPS especially across thematic lines and with external organizations. Is there a mechanism to do that?

There are a wide range of facilitates within the NPS umbrella. Some would find it easier to comply with these suggestions than others. For example in New York, there is a giant FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt complex in Hyde Park including grounds, multiple structures, a presidential library, and a visitor center thanks in part to Friends with Benefits. I have conducted week-long Teacherhostel/Historyhostel at the site combing NPS and non-NPS presenters, tours, and walks. People can spend a day there on their own and the site has its own cafeteria. This site has the size to implement the recommendations if it hasn’t done so.

On the other hand, there is nearby St. Paul’s Church, scrunched into a now-commercial area in Mount Vernon. The site is owned by the NPS but operated by a private group. Its friends group doesn’t begin to compare to that of the Roosevelts. It lacks the space of the larger Roosevelt site. Its lectures are in the unairconditioned church itself where we sit in the colonial church pews. Quite a different experience. Although I park often by Grant’s Tomb by the Hudson River near Riverside Church in Manhattan, its setting in a plaza makes it a stop on the gazillions of bus tours “doing Manhattan.” It really is a tomb. People take their pictures and then it is on to the next non-NPS site which has nothing to do with Grant. How should these sites implement the recommendations?

Before continuing to exam Imperiled Promise, I suggest certain actions to be taken which would benefit not only the NPS but the history community in general.

1. Workshops on recommendations of Imperiled Promise to be held in the primary NPS areas in New York such as New York City, Hyde Park, Saratoga, and Rome.

2. The workshops to be open to non-NPS sites including the NYSOPRHP sites. As an example, the NPS has a site at Fort Stanwix in Rome, it operates the aforementioned Battle of Oriskany site for the NYSOPRHP which owns it. NYSOPRHP also owns and operates nearby the home of the commander of the American force, Palatine General Herkimer (but without a site manager). Then there are related non-government sites like Herkimer’s Church and the Shako:Wi Cultural Center of the Oneida who supported the American side in this America Revolution battle. The division of the Haudenosaunee into competing sides for one tribe fought another had lasting effects to this very day. Look how much is missed if only one site is visited or if the separate sites do not function together.

Imperiled Promise isn’t only a wakeup call to the NPS to get its history act together, it’s a call to the entire history community. Is anybody listening?

Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service Part II

This post is the second in a series investigating Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, an NPS-commissioned study with implications for the NPS historic sites in New York, the state counterpart with the NYSOPRHP historic sites, as well as for historic sites in general. For Part I, click here.

Imperiled Promise, proposes “a new vision of history” designed to “lift history out if its often marginal state” by stressing its place as a core activity.

So positioned, history can help the NPS better guard the precious resources in its care, and propel the agency toward greater relevance to American civic life….to fulfill its promise of creating an inspired, informed, and thinking citizenry.

The deliberate use of the word “civic” signifies the commitment to the vision of local/state/national history as in integral part of the social fabric of the community, a fabric that is being unraveled even more so today than in 2011 when the report was written. The ongoing controversies about Confederate memorials testifies to the power of historical memory to the present and of the need to bring it out into the open and see the light of day. Since many NPS sites are military battlefields, it should not be surprising that the NPS also is on the frontlines of the cultural battlefields as well. Similarly many other sites, especially colonial, have had the experience of re-evaluating the lives and events of the people associated with the site. Engaging the public in a discourse is fraught with danger and not something all historic sites are equipped to do. But ignoring the past is no solution either.

The authors of the study sent out over 1500 survey forms to NPS staff with history as part of their job description. The positions included rangers, historians, and curators and some archivists and archaeologists based on the government employment codes. Retired people were contacted, parks were visited, and group sessions were held at the annual meetings of the Organization of American History (OAH) and National Council on Public History (NCPH). It should be noted that former New State Historian Bob Weible had been head of the NCPH and that City of Rochester Historian and APNHYS board member Christine Ridarsky has become more involved with NCPH in the last few years. Marla Miller one of the authors who presented at the workshop in 2014 prior to the NYS History Conference is now the Vice President and she informed me at the Massachusetts History Alliance meeting in June at Holy Cross, that the annual NCPH conference would be in our area in 2019.

The Introduction to Part I of the report paints a dire picture. The actual word used by the authors is “distressing.” There appears to have been “a decades-long decline in the relative investment made in ensuring that history scholarship and interpretation remain sound and robust.” One source described the study as “a renewed reminder of the historical staffing crisis that has been growing like a noxious weed in the National Park System over the past decade.” The place of history within the organization is not good:

Even when the consequent attitude toward history is not outright disdain, there is a dreadful tendency to view historic sites as somehow emasculated by the absence of geysers, waterfalls, granite grandeur, and genuine law enforcement challenges.

This blunt and bleak assessment highlights the enormous obstacles confronting any serious attempt to elevate the status of history within the organization.

To gain a better understanding of what is really happening on the ground, the authors examined the history staff of the NPS. They found that these individuals “are dispersed and often only loosely connected.” Even the 182 individual “historians” by job title out of 22,000 total staff including seasonal and temporary don’t necessarily do “history” as someone outside the bureaucracy would understand it. One respondent wrote that history in the NPS is “sporadic, interrupted, superbly excellent in some instances and vacant in others.” A critical shortcoming identified is one which will resonate with the New York history community: “neither the chief historian’s office, nor any other single entity within the service, clearly speaks on history’s behalf or has responsibility for overseeing all history work throughout the NPS.” Gosh, I wonder how that situation could exist or be a problem. I am shocked. Shocked to find out that no one is in charge here.

The authors, who themselves are historians by training and profession, recognized that there is a problem across all history organizations including museums, colleges, universities, schools, and public programs. The challenge they identify is to make history, historical thinking, and historical training relevant and intelligible. As an example of critical thinking, suppose a President of the United States claimed that a certain Secretary of State was the worst one in American history and that America has been a loser in all the treaties it has signed (so we are going to return Alaska to the Russians, thank you very much Secretary of State William Seward of Florida and Auburn, New York for that folly!). On what basis was that historical conclusion reached? On what basis can it be challenged?

The authors bemoan the popular perception of history as “either a boring recital or memorized facts or a series of arcane and tedious debates about esoteric subjects.” To those one might add that contrary to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, people are entitled to their own facts. In this environment when people have the right to alternative facts it is difficult to make the case the NPS should encourage and foster critical thinking skills as part of a park visit. Of course, the report was written when there was a former professor in the White House. Times have changed. What do you as a ranger when confronted with someone who prefers an alternate universe? Rangers don’t have the option to change the channel.

The author’s discovered some ingrained institutional issues that compromised the position of history within the NPS. An internal divide is expressed through the shorthand of “nature” and “culture.” Within the culture realm there is another division, this time between:

Cultural resources management or the preservationists who protect the physical remains of the past, and interpretation or education-oriented processes aimed at fostering public appreciation for the resources and introducing larger narratives of the American story.

According to the consultants, the past 40 years of the NPS has been a confining of history, historical research, and history programs to preservation. The story began in 1935 with the passage of the Historic Sites Act. Suddenly a nature and scenery organization had thrust upon it responsibility for historic sites (just as happened to the Office of Parks in New York). There already was an NPS Chief Historian beginning in 1931 tasked with an education mission for the nature sites. As it turned out, the Chief Historian had an academic history background and he envisioned the history sites as classrooms for the teaching of history. Therefore he needed a history staff. Since all this was happening during the Depression, he was able to hire Ph.D.’s in history and soon had a staff of 60. But the marriage of history preservation behind the scenes and history presentation to the public was a tense one.

By the 1960s, the preservationists had won the battle. Broad historical themes were out and targeted messages conveying specific information about the specific site one was in. With the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the new National Register of Historic Places operated under the umbrella of the National Park Service. The result of various shifts in department organization and practices was according to one survey respondent that NPS historians are “buried under compliance and a variety of bureaucratic mandates.” Instead of practicing the craft of history, the NPS historian survey respondent wrote: “Much of our professional talent in the cultural resources disciplines spends the bulk of its time on resource management” and not applied research. Furthermore, there is a gap between history or what passes for it in the NPS and the best professional, scholarly practices in history. That discrepancy is part of the reason for this study through the Organization of American Historians. That discrepancy is part of the reason why professional historians were asked to conduct the study. That discrepancy is part of the reason why professional historians with an emphasis on public history were asked to conduct this study.

With this background in mind, we can now turn to:

1. What was recommended?
2. How does it applies on the state level to government owned and operated historic sites.
3. What are the lessons for non-federal and non-state history museums and societies?

To be continued.

Are You Authorized to Teach Teachers?: The CTLE and You

In a previous post, I reported that the New York State Education Department (SED) had established new procedures to regulate the teaching of teachers for professional development credit. The change was due to the abuses of the old system by teachers and school districts. The new system called Continuing Teacher and Leader Education (CTLE) was featured at a workshop at the Museum Association of New York (MANY) conference. I attended the workshop and consider it to have been the most important session of the conference.

The presentation was by Kathryn Weller and James Jenkins of the New York State Museum (NYSM) with the assistance of Ann Jasinski (SED). The State Museum had to apply for CTLE authorization itself so the staff could speak from direct personal experience. The PowerPoint presentation is available free. For it or any questions contact:

Kathryn Weller: Kathryn.Weller@nysed.gov
James R. Jenkins: James.Jenkins@nysed.gov

Copies were sent to attendees and I am writing this post based on my notes from the session and the PowerPoint.

By statute, CTLE is defined as follows:

Activities designed to improve the teacher or leader’s pedagogical and/or leadership skills, targeted at improving student performance, including but not limited to formal continuing teacher and leader education activities.

It applies to:

Teachers with a Professional Certificate in the Classroom Teaching Service
 School leaders with a Professional Certificate in the Educational Leadership Service
 Teaching Assistants with a Teaching Assistant Level III certificate.

 CTLE does not apply to new teachers. Once teachers have received their professional certificate the requirements are:

each 5 year registration period, an applicant shall successfully complete a minimum of 100 hours of continuing teacher and leader education, as defined by the Commissioner.

 The issuer of CTLE credits must be authorized to do so by the SED. Some entities automatically qualify as a CTLE provider: schools, teacher centers, and BOCES. Then there is another category called “Other prospective sponsors.” This category includes museums and/or historical societies. There is a $600 application fee for 5 years coverage. Technically the $600 is for the evaluation of your application so if your application is declined you are out the money, there is no refund. There is no indication if a rejected application can be resubmitted without an additional $600 fee based on feedback from SED or even if SED will provide feedback. My impression is this one of the areas that requires finetuning.

To download the application as a PDF go to www.highered.nysed.gov/tcert/pdf/CTLE%20Sponsor%20Application-Full.pdf

Some of the items for the application are similar to what you may already do for grants. The key items in the application process are:

1. Copy of Charter or Certificate of Incorporation
2. Copy of mission statement or purpose of the organization
3. Sample CTLE Activity and all relevant documents – this is the only time a proposed CTLE activity needs to be submitted. You are not required to submit each time you present a program. Most likely history organization programs will be content oriented. You will be presenting information via a lecture, exhibit tour, grounds tour, etc.

One type of presentation not directly addressed is an activity many organizations do: a public lecture by an author/professor. We want teachers to attend such programs and have the opportunity to hear content information from scholars but the program is not a teacher program and would be offered even if no teacher attends. My impression is this is not the type of program SED had in mind when designing the form. However lectures are a common activity by historical organizations. Furthermore, after the lecture, there is not going to be a separate meeting with teacher(s) who attended the often evening lecture. Here is an example when some finetuning in the program may be needed.

CTLE may also be pedagogical. Typically the pedagogy follows the presentation of the content. Here is the information, now how will you use it in the classroom?

The application form provides guidelines on what is to be submitted as a sample CTLE activity.

1. title, description and outline of the program
2. subject/topic of the CTLE activity, learning objectives and its target audience (classroom teachers, school leaders, teaching assistants or any combination of these)
3. names, curriculum vitae and qualifications of the presenter(s) for each lecture or subject/topic
4. a course syllabus and copies of any handouts or materials
5. costs, refund policies, cancellation policies and proposed location(s)
6. a description of the teaching methods to be used
7. advertising materials, brochures and/or information about how the CTLE activity will be marketed and
8. the length of the CTLE activity in contact hours.

Again, please keep in mind that you only have to submit this information once and with one example. It does however indicate the information you will need to keep on file for each program that you offer. See Section 2 CTLE Activities below for more detail.

1. Description of the organization’s procedures to identify, design and evaluate CTLE activities
2. Organization’s procedures and criteria for selecting instructors
3. Description of the organization’s procedures to evaluate effectiveness
4. Plan to maintain records – good old-fashioned folders for each class were recommended although it can be done as computer files too.
5. Financial resources documents
– Attach a brief description of the financial base upon which the organization’s CTLE activities are funded.
– Attach a description of all physical resources (e.g., offices, buildings, etc.), administrative organization, employees, student services, and any other resources available to facilitate CTLE objectives.

One should note that fees can be charged to participating teachers seeking CTLE credit. Still there are some issues. Not all organizations have physical resources. Not all organizations have employees. Not all organizations have a financial base, meaning some programs have to pay for themselves through the registration fees to at least cover the out-of-pocket costs of the program. For the smaller organizations, CTLE may be more of a burden than a help.

SECTION 2 – CTLE ACTIVITIES

What are the CTLE activities that SED wants history organizations to fulfill? Here is some sample jargon. The CTLE activity:

1. will expand educators’ content knowledge and the knowledge and skills necessary to provide appropriate instructional strategies and assesses student progress;
2. is research-based and provides educators with opportunities to analyze, apply, and engage in research.

In some cases, it may be useful to complete the application with the aid of a teacher or someone familiar with the k-12 social studies guidelines.

Sample lesson plan templates used by the NYSM are included in the PowerPoint presentation.

SECTION 3 – INSTRUCTORS

Sponsors are required to use instructors who are qualified to teach the CTLE activities. For museums and history organizations the requirement more likely refers to content specialists than education specialists.  Curators and historians are two prime examples. Educational specialists refers to people who know how to use different types of resources as evidence or can create experiences that embrace the Enquiry Arc of the Social Studies Framework.

The applying organization must certify that standards for the selection of instructors will be maintained. One needs to maintain job descriptions that demonstrate that the individual instructor is qualified by training and/or experience to teach the CTLE activity assigned to them. Typically this would be the CV of an invited speaker. In addition, the organization must maintain and use written procedures to evaluate instructors’ performance. Once again, these requirements do not mean that each and every time you offer at CTLE program you have to submit to the SED the job descriptions and evaluations of each instructor, but that you are required to maintain the supporting documentation m for the program for up to eight years. These records are subject to audit when the participating teacher’s record is up for review.  There are sample forms available and the suggestion was to keep them in hard copy filed by class or program.

SECTION 4 – ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING

Similarly with the assessment of learning, there must be a documented method and record to measure the extent to which the CTLE objectives and educational methods were met in the program. These assessment methods could include:

post-tests
questionnaires
participant evaluations
activity monitors (a component of a larger assessment)

The NYSM created a participant questionnaire you can copy. It evaluated:

Instructor
Workshop
Materials
Relevancy
What the participant learned
How they will apply the information learned

The PowerPoint presentation includes a sample of the form used by the NYSM. Some short responses questions are:

Additional comments about the presenter(s)?
How did you learn about this workshop?
What did you learn today and how will you use that information?
What was the most useful part of this workshop? Why?
What was the least useful part of this workshop?  Why & how could we change it?
What future workshop topics would you be interested in?

Again the question here is what about teachers attending a public content program, meaning a lecture? There really isn’t time after the lecture to meet with the attending teachers. Often there isn’t beforehand either. How exactly to handle this will require some trial and error to see what actually works.

SECTION 5 – RECORDS

As mentioned, records are to be maintained for eight years. The required information to maintain includes:

the date and location of the CTLE activity;
the name and curriculum vitae of the instructor/presenter;
the objectives and learning methods of the CTLE activity;
the outline of the CTLE activity, the assessment methods used, and the number of contact hours of the CTLE activity;
a summary of any evaluation of the CTLE activity;
copies of all promotional materials used in a CTLE activity;
any evaluation of the need for the CTLE activity; and
the list of certified professionals in attendance, including each attendee’s first name, last name, last four digits of their Social Security Number and their date of birth.

Upon completion of the program, the CTLE provider then can issue a certificate to the participating teacher. The certificate is to include:

1. the CTLE institutions name;
2. the name of the participant as it appears on the TEACH website;
3. the last four digits of the participant’s Social Security Number;
4. the participant’s date of birth;
5. the date and location of the CTLE activity;
6. the CTLE activity title;
7. the educational area (e.g., pedagogy, content, English language learning);
8. the number of CTLE hours;
9. the Approved Sponsor Identification number;
10. the sponsor’s contact email address and phone number;
11. the name and signature of the Authorized Certifying Officer and a statement indicating that the organization is recognized by the New York State Education Department’s Office of Teaching Initiatives as an approved sponsor of CTLE for Professional Classroom Teachers, School Leaders and Level III Teaching Assistants.

Obviously there are confidentiality issues in the required information particularly with the date of birth, Last 4 of SSN, and Email/contact.

THE CTLE AND YOU

What does all this mean for an individual history society and museum? If you are a local organization only providing programs to teachers in the school district where you are located, probably not much. The local school district, teacher center, or BOCES will issue the CTLE credit. Your only responsibility will be to certify to them that you are in compliance. That may mean submitting CVs of the instructors in the program. Most likely the school will provide the forms it wants you to use for evaluations, lesson plan, certificates which you will complete and return to the school.

If you are involved with multiple school districts and promote your programs to a larger audience, then you need to become an authorized CTLE provider. At the workshop the NYSM and the Albany Institute of History & Art both in attendance are authorized. Since the workshop, I have noticed that the New-York Historical Society and Teaching Hudson Valley (NPS) have become authorized providers as well. Obviously these organizations offer programs covering wide geographical areas, they want to be in control of their own programs which they initiate, and they have the staff to complete the application.

One possibility raised at the workshop, in response to my own comment, was whether one organization could function as the recordkeeping organization for another. The answer was yes. This means, for example, that the Albany Institute of History & Art could be the one official CTLE authorizer in Albany (city and/or county) and would maintain the required records for eight years. So rather than smaller organizations going through the formal application process, it could simply contact the Albany Institute of History & Art and send its program forms there. This would enable a smaller organization in Albany to offer a program to multiple school districts without being a CTLE provider itself.

Although the program originated in 2016, it is still brand new to the history community. At the time of the workshop there may only have been the one non-government CTLE provider, the Albany Institute of History & Art with additional applications in the pipeline. There are some improvements which would be helpful:

1. Clarifying how the “parent” relationship would work so smaller societies can offer CTLE activities without having to pay the $600 evaluation fee or spending the time to prepare the application.

2. Clarifying how teacher participation in public programs with content value would qualify such as a lecture series during the school year, conferences such as the recent American Revolution in the Mohawk Valley, and the routine types of walks, tours, talks, historical organizations present during the normal course of operation or for designated days like the Ramble in the Hudson Valley or the Path through History.

3. Recognizing that not all history providers have physical offices, resources, or staff, especially municipal historians and volunteer organizations.

4. Providing a list of the most common guidelines and standards in the curriculum relevant to history organizations especially for content.

The CTLE represents an important step in potentially reducing the abuses of the previous situation. Still there should be no underestimating the determination and ability of school districts to game the system. It is important for the history community to learn the language of the CTLE process so it can be proactive by saying to the schools : “We know what you have to do to comply with the CTLE requirements, here is how we can help.”

Immigrants and July 4

On July 2, the Lower Manhattan Historical Association (LMHA) held its second annual Alexander Hamilton Immigrant Awards Ceremony at Federal Hall, the National Park service site at Wall and Broad Streets in Lower Manhattan. Following the ceremony a parade was held (an edited video will be available at the LMHA website in the near future.
As a board member of the organization, I was asked to say a few words immediately prior to the handing out the awards. A slightly longer version of my remarks are presented below.

 

Today we honor four Americans at the Alexander Hamilton Immigrant Awards Ceremony. If I had said these words – say – 5, certainly 10 years ago, people would have been befuddled and looked at me in bewilderment.

Sure Alexander Hamilton was a founding father.

Sure he helped establish this country.

Sure he has a long list of achievements which I could recite until you are bored.

But immigrant!?

Recognizing Alexander Hamilton for having been an immigrant!

What’s going on here?

When Hamilton and others constituted this country, no one knew that it would last.

No one knew it would have a centennial.

No one knew it would have a bicentennial.

No one knew it would celebrate its 241st birthday.

But even as those first Americans sang Yankee Doodle Dandy, they called America an experiment.

And as we know, not all experiments succeed.

A journey had begun but would it endure?

With round two, the War of 1812, it looked like the experiment might end in failure. As a new generation of Americans was baptized by blood into the American covenant experience, things looked grim for the fledgling country. But we sang the Star Spangled Banner and endured. The journey continued.

On July 4, 1817, in Rome, New York, a hole in the ground was dug on what became the Erie Canal, a wonder of wonders of technological achievement and political vision. The journey continued and their were canal songs to sing as you can hear from the Hudson River Ramblers outside on the steps of Federal Hall.

By July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of our birthday, the experiment seemed a success. We had overcome the threats to our existence and were ready to fulfill a manifest destiny. On that very day two of the authors of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, died within hours of each other. For the people of times there could only be one explanation for such a coincidence: Divine Providence blessed this country. The journey continued.

On July 4, 1827, New York freed its slaves. The unfinished business that stained the very fabric of this country ceased in at least one more part of it. The journey continued.

At the beginning of July in 1863, the two halves that had been rendered asunder fought at Gettysburg. Months later, Abraham Lincoln in an address that would redefine the country, said these words which Americans still recall to this very day: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Lincoln knew that not all the people in the audience were sons and daughters of the American Revolution.

Lincoln knew that many of the people in the audience and who had voted for him were immigrants.

Lincoln also knew that Americans native-born or naturalized who had been baptized by blood in the war to preserve the Union stood as one with those who had created the country 77 years earlier. Lincoln heard a new song, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, a song that combined the words of a Congregationalist and the music of a Methodist camp song, the leading religions of the colonial past and the Civil War present joined together. The journey continued.

When the “War to end all Wars” was fought, once again immigrants joined with the native-born on behalf of the country they loved. Irishman George M. Cohan revived Yankee Doodle Dandy on behalf of the effort to win the war Over There, Over There and America sang his songs as another generation and new immigrants were baptized by blood into the American covenant community. The journey continued.

World War II confronted America with the face of pure evil. This time it was a Russian-born Jewish immigrant, Irving Berlin, who composed the song America sang on its way to victory. With “God Bless America” another generation of Americans, native born and from Ellis Island rose to the occasion. The journey continued.

Have we run out of new songs to sing about the country we love? Have we stopped producing people who express their love of country through music? Sure there is Born in the USA by the Boss, a beloved song to the Gipper, who said it was morning in America and we are a city on a hill that the eyes of the world are upon. We don’t hear those sentiments coming from the White House anymore.

But what about “Hamilton.” Not a song to sing but a musical to experience. Not simply a Hamilton for academics to study, but Hamilton as a story for all Americans to tell, a soundtrack for Americans to buy, a musical for high school students to perform, a message for all Americans to hear.

Yes, he is still the same Hamilton who did all those things that helped build this country, but he has become something more than an academic figure, he has become a symbol, a metaphor, an example. He has done so not only though himself but through the cast that shares his story. When Hamilton lived there was no such thing as a white race in America. There were Scotch-Irish, Dutch, Palatines, French Huguenot, Puritan English, Cavalier English and woe to the person in New York who didn’t recognize the difference among the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. Now we have new names and more peoples but the issue remains the same – are we all part of We the People?

Hamilton answers in the affirmative.

Hamilton affirms that July 4 is the birthday of the country for all Americans.

Hamilton asserts that we are all part of the American narrative.

The journey continues

Who will tell the story ends the musical.

We will tell the story.

Right here.

Right now.

With the Alexander Hamilton Immigrant Achievement Awards

Thank you and congratulations to the awardees for continuing the journey.

Imperiled Promise: History and the NPS (and OPRHP)

Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service is the title of a study commissioned by the NPS in partnership with the Organization of American History (OAH). Although first published in 2011, it was slow to see the light of day. In 2014, it was the subject of a pre-New York State History Conference workshop which I attended and wrote about during the NPS Centennial in 2016. I had intended to delve more deeply into the report itself which I downloaded but never quite got around to writing about it. In this post I wish to begin to address the findings of the study. As you will see, the comments are doubly important for New York State:

1. We have many NPS sites in the state
2. The issues raised frequently apply to state historic sites as well.

The findings also are related to the fledgling Massachusetts History Alliance’s efforts to forge exactly what the name says, a history alliance in Massachusetts. I recently attended its conference held at Holy Cross and will reporting on those developments in future posts.  There is a lot going on and it is difficult to keep up.

According to the Executive Summary of Imperiled Promise, history is at the heart of approximately two thirds of nearly four hundred national park units. At the time of the report, 182 NPS employees carried the job title of “Historian.”  However, the authors pointed out that people without the classification may do history-related work as well. I don’t know what the comparable figures are for the NYSOPRHP.

The attendance of the sites is part of the story. By way of perspective, a local news report in 2016 provided the following NPS attendance figures for 2015 in Dutchess County:

Vanderbilt Mansion drew 431, 961 visitors ranking 133rd of 368 NPS destinations but 6th for National Historic Sites. By comparison the White House had 526, 623 visitors.  Other NPS sites in Dutchess include, FDR ranked 11th and the related Val-Kill ranked 26th.  All these sites were outdrawn by Walkway over the Hudson, a state site with 448, 719 and some by the Dutchess County Fair with 394,422.

These numbers can be deceiving especially in a PowerPoint presentation. Vanderbilt Mansion on the Hudson River serves a community park much like Central Park. It is a lovely setting for painting, photography, dog-walking, jogging, and other park activities that just happen to occur on land which has an historic mansion. Similarly the Walkway over the Hudson River is another spectacular recreation setting. By and large both sites with free grounds access are day trips if not after-work visits. By comparison, the Grand Canyon drew an estimated 5.5 million people the same year. Besides the admission fees, people who visit it spend money on meals, souvenirs, lodging, and transportation. Attendance numbers need to be treated very carefully depending on what one is trying to prove or demonstrate. They also highlight a divide noted in the report between the recreational and historical sites managed by the same organization. As I recall at a preservation conference in 2016, even NYSOPRHP joked about the number of historical versus recreation sites under its umbrella. Obviously in New York, Jones Beach and Niagara Falls will outdrew any traditional historical site and that does affect the allocation of funding and management time.

Returning to the Executive Summary, the following observation bears notice. I know that my blogs can be very pointed but pay attention to what was reported in this NPS-commissioned study:

“[The NPS’s mission] has been imperiled by the agency’s weak support for its history workforce, by agency structures that confine history in isolated silos, by longstanding funding deficiencies, by often narrow and static conceptions of history’s scope, and by timid interpretation.”

Not exactly subtle or complimentary. Do these conditions apply at all at the state level as well?

Naturally, the authors of the study have recommendations to remedy the situation. The issue of whether or not these recommendations were implemented or whether the report was filed on the consultant reports  shelf as one NPS Ranger delicately phrased it will be deferred until after they are presented.

The first recommendation required a commitment by the NPS to history as one of its core purposes. That commitment required the NPS to “invest” which has the implication that at some point money is required to do what the report recommends is needed to be done. The investment should be for:

1. creating a robust place-based visitor engagement with history
2. connecting the history of the site to the histories beyond the boundaries of the site
3. forthrightly addressing conflict and controversy in history and its interpretation in the present.

To achieve this vision, the NPS would be obligated to overcome the legacies that undermined the effort.  The negative legacies included:

1. underemphasis and underfunding of historical work
2. artificial separation of cultural resources management from interpretation
3. artificial separation of natural resources interpretation from cultural and historical interpretation
4. overemphasis on mandated compliance activities
5. a misperception of history as a tightly-bounded fixed and accurate story instead of being an ongoing process of discovery with changing narratives and multiple perspectives.

To address these concerns, the authors proposed almost 100 recommendations (which I will not list).  They involve the management, workforce development, and funding. In general terms, one may say there is an issue of the “historian” function at an historic site. What is the training necessary to become an historian? How does one maintain competence in the field or engage with ongoing scholarship to remain current? Are there organizational meetings devoted to history that staff at historic sites should attend? How can existing state and regional organizations support history in addition to curating and exhibit presentation? Would some kind of history certification process be beneficial such as teachers have using professional development to increase their salary? How relevant is all this for the local often volunteer municipal historical society and museum?

Two items in the Executive Summary recommendations bear special notice. They both involve bringing together and creating an empowered leadership. The authors of Imperiled Promise challenge the NPS to create two groups:

1. History Leadership Council, an internal group comprised of the most talented and influential historians and interpreters
2. History Advisory Board, an external-based group comprising the nation’s leading public history professionals, innovative curators, insightful scholars, savvy administrators.

The authors felt that if such groups were formed with legitimate leadership and authority from the NPS, the other challenges could be overcome. In-other-words, they proposed a top-down solution that would gradually impact the grassroots level at the individual sites. Care to guess what actually has happened?

In any event, one can readily observe that similar considerations apply at the state level as well. One may even add that historic sites are owned and operated not just by the states but by counties, cities, towns, villages, and privately.  As it turns out, all history organizations in the state would benefit if some of the recommendations were opened up to extended beyond the NPS itself. In future posts, I will explore in more detail what the Imperiled Promise report specifically recommended and provide some examples of what the NPS in New York actually is doing.

History Conferences, Cultural Heritage and Tourism

Mohawk Valley History

Local history organizations in New York State create history conferences. This comparatively unexplored facet to the history community provides examples, lessons, and insight into what is being done and potentially what could be done.

In the past few weeks, I have participated in the third-annual American Revolution Mohawk Valley Conference organized by the Fort Plain Museum and in the Erie Canal 200 Bicentennial Conference organized by the Oneida County History Council and the Canal Society of New York. I should note that during this period I was the recipient of frequent notices about the Peterboro Civil War Weekend the same time as the American Revolution conference. I further note that I have occasionally attended French and Indian War and American Revolution Conferences at Fort Ticonderoga, Underground Railroad Public History Conferences organized by the Underground Railroad History Project of The Capital Region, and baseball conferences in Cooperstown. I exclude from this discussion such annual organization conferences as by APHNYS, MANY, and the NYSHA back when there was a state history conference. I also am referring to multiday events that potentially require lodging by the participants.

As we all know, New York is rich in local, state, American and even world history. Becoming aware of that history and then immersing oneself in it sometimes requires more than a one-hour talk or tour. These history conferences provide a welcome opportunity for diehard aficionados, the educated, the biologically-connected, and local boosters to join together in an intellectual and physical shared experience…in some cases year after year.

Let me review some of the non-content lessons learned from these conferences. By that I mean I am not going to dispense content knowledge about the American Revolution or the Erie Canal, but to share observations about the conference experience.

Lesson #1 – It can be done . Kudos are deserved for the volunteer efforts by the local organizations who undertake the daunting task of organizing a conference. As someone who has organized both day-conferences and week-long Teacherhostels/Historyhostels, I know from personal experience that everything always takes longer than expected or desired and there always is more involved than originally anticipated. I strongly recommend that sessions be held at APHNYS and MANY about the logistical and organizational challenges in putting together such events.  While it may not be possible or advisable to put together to rigid a procedural manual, there are lessons to be learned and benefits to be gained by sharing what is involved. In the meantime I encourage all such conference organizers to submit a post to New York History Blog on what is involved in organizing a conference.

Lesson #2 – Conferences generate revenue.  The Erie Canal conference included 106 registrations including 72 who paid for a conference dinner at a restaurant, 82 who participated in a bus tour, and 86 who paid for a canal cruise.  I don’t have the comparable numbers for the American Revolution conference but registration was in the range of 200 people, there were over 100 people at the conference dinner at a catered meal at an historic site, there were two 55-seat buses on the tour I took.

As an example of the revenue generated, consider my dinner-table companions at the American Revolution conference. Two people from North Carolina and Kansas had flown to New York, rented a car, and stayed in a motel. Two had driven from out-of-state and one from downstate (me) and stayed in a motel (and I know there was travel expense for at least one other – I don’t take notes at the dinner table so some of the details have been forgotten). The net result is that our one table generated more travel revenue than all the local Path through History events since the project was launched on August 28, 2012, have produced.

A few years ago, I think it was in the food court at Empire State Plaza in Albany where I saw Gavin Landry and Ross Levi of I LoveNY, I mentioned the potential of promoting history conferences as way of bringing people to (upstate) New York and generating revenue. As I recall, Ross responded favorably to the suggestion as something that should be done. It is something that should be done. As part of the REDC funding process there should be a bucket for funding history conferences.

Lesson #3 – Conferences create actual paths through history even when they aren’t on a Path through History weekend. At the Erie Canal conference there was a one day bus trip. Admittedly that bus tour was best for real canal buffs but let’s face facts, for almost anything you think of there are bound to be fans. Our local archaeology society in Westchester had a lecture recently on the discovery of the skeleton of King Richard III at a carpark in England. We had people from New Jersey and Philadelphia drive to attend a 45-minute lecture by the excavator. Who knew there was a King Richard III fan club? Thank you William Shakespeare. The point is not everybody is interested in something but there is a segment of the population interested in practically any aspect of New York State history if organized and promoted right. Whose job is it to do that?

As it turns out, one of the presenters at the Erie Canal conference was Dana Krueger, who is an organizer and member of the MANY board. Her presentation showcases what can be done and what isn’t being done. Interest in canals is a worldwide phenomenon. Naturally there is a conference for canal people. This year the World Canal conference will be in Syracuse due to the Erie Canal bicentennial. In her presentation Dana mentioned the various other canal activities besides the conference itself:

  • There is a special one-day early-bird tour on the shipwrecks of Lake Champlain with lodging and travel arrangements from Albany.
  • There is a two-day pre-conference tour on the Champlain and Eastern Erie Canals following immediately upon the special one day early-bird tour with travel and lodging arrangements from Albany.
  • There is the third annual two-day cycling tour of the towpath through the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park which involves lodging and apparently is held independent of the World Canal conference.
  • There is a three-day post conference Erie Canal tour from Syracuse to Buffalo.

 

The World Canal Conference website also mentions the possibility of additional “itineraries” through the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. That website contains nine “itineraries.”

Don’t these tours and itineraries seem a lot like paths? How come none of these events are even listed on the Path through History website? Is the promotion for these tours limited to people who will attend the conference? Isn’t it possible that people would be interested in such early-bird, pre-conference, and post-conference tours in years when there is no canal conference or by people who are not going to attend the conference in Syracuse this year? Are these one-time tours or the beginning of a sustained repeatable development and promotion of paths through history based on one of the themes of the Path through History project? As one who has attended the Tourism Advisory Council meetings, I can say without hesitation, the World Canal Conference is a separate agenda item treated as a onetime event with no ongoing considerations for upstate tourist travel.

A similar situation occurred with the American Revolution conference. Two tours were offered. One repeated the one I had taken the first year…and was sold out by the time I registered for the conference this year. It focused on sites between exits 27 and 29 in the New York State Thruway depending on whether one was coming from the east or the west. The Exit 27 to 29 history organizations in Montgomery and Fulton counties have created a website call Mohawk Country and produced two brochures. Combined they feature about 20 sites. Individually, they tend not to be destination sites on their own. But these organizations take the collaboration and cooperation mantra seriously. Collectively Montgomery and Fulton counties have created the basis for a Mohawk Valley Path through History. Now what they need is tour operators. Recently Norm Bollen of the Fort Plain Museum addressed the Montgomery County legislators on the value of cultural heritage tourism. For these sites to put together bus tours outside the annual conference would be great achievement. Montgomery and Fulton counties should request the creation of Pathfinder as part of the REDC funding for this year. A little help from the state would be nice.

Finally I would like to share the experience of the annual conference of the Society for Industrial Archaeology held in Albany in 2015. Although it was two years ago, I have been saving the information for the right post and now is the time. Look at the trips this conference sponsored keeping in mind the specialized nature of industrial archaeology.

First there were the all-day trips with lunch and transportation provided

  • Schenectady and vicinity
  • Power and Transportation including the Amtrak and New York State Canals repair shops, the Port of Albany, Erie Canal at Waterford, and the Mechanicville Hydroelectric Plant, built 1897, oldest continuously operating plant in the nation with original equipment in service.
  • Port of Coeymans where sections of the new Tappan Zee Bridge were being assembled; Scarano Boat Building, Port of Albany, builder of passenger ferries, cruise boats, and historic replica vessels; SUNY College of Nanoscale Engineering & Science, Albany, R&D facility for the microchip industry with complete prototyping lines.
  • Hudson-Mohawk Industries in Cohoes, Troy, and Waterford.
  • Bridges, both the manufacturing of them and those that have been built.

 

Participants had the option of choosing only one tour since all five were offered on the same day. One can see that combined, they would create a one-week program based in Albany. Quite obviously the focus of the tours was for specialists but how difficult would it be to create history tours involving Albany, Cohoes, Schenectady, Troy, and Waterford. Actually the problem would be limiting the tour to just five days! I speak from experience having created Capital Region Teacherhostels/Historyhostels and having scouted sites that couldn’t be included even in a week. Somehow the conference organizers were able to put together five one-day tours.

In addition to these tours which were part of the conference price, one also could take

  • day bus trip to Sharon Springs
  • four 1.5 to 2.5 hour tours in Albany during the course of a day
  • day bus tour for Landmarks of the Hudson-Mohawk Region through historic industrial districts of North Albany, Watervliet, Cohoes, Waterford & Troy. One bus returned via Albany Airport for those who need to catch early afternoon flights.

 

How’s that for planning.

I have championed the creation of Pathfinders. These are people who would have the job of doing what these conference organizers have done but with the intention of creating repeatable sustainable tours. It is truly tragic with all tens of millions of dollars expended on touting New York, so little is devoted to building the infrastructure, the actual creation of tours for people to take.  All tourists are just supposed to wing it by surfing the Path through History website to create one-time tours specifically for themselves. Makes you wonder how many people actually use the site to create such self-guided tours before traveling to New York.