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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.

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.

Déjà Vue Monica Lewinski All Over Again

“The greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to the president who is keeping his word to the American people,” former Christian Mike Pence testifying to his worship of Dear Leader as the only one who save America, June 12, 2017.

At what point did you know that the President of the United States had had his willy slicked in the oral office and lied about it under oath? I am not asking what you thought of his actions. I am not asking if you thought his actions were moral or immoral, legal or illegal, impeachable or impeccable. I am asking at what point you knew what actually happened.

Knowing what actually happened is a central credo of the history profession. It is call to the historian to investigate sources, sift through evidence, and weigh probabilities all in the hope of being able to reconstruct a narrative of what had occurred. Jurors engage in similar activities before rendering a verdict…or so one would like to believe. Similarly people in positions of power making life and death decisions about others face the challenge of making such decisions with incomplete information.

In practice, of course, that is not what happens. First you decide what you want to be true and then then you affirm that really is what happened. Let’s consider Monica Lewinski as a case study in political decision-making. When the American public first became aware of the charges involving her and the President, there were two significantly different reactions. For Republicans among others the response was “Duh! Like what else did you expect from Slick Willie?” As it turns out they were exactly right in their reaction to the charges. However “Duh, what else” is not a legally valid argument. “Duh, what else” cannot be submitted in a court of law.

But what about profiling? Profiling means even without direct evidence regarding a specific action taken or which may be taken, a person, like the police, may make a decision about another individual. In real life the use of this technique engenders problems. In TV, it is revered. Profilers on detective shows are able to spin detailed life histories about the perpetrators of deeds from scant evidence. TV profilers inevitably are exactly right about the narrative they create about a person they have never met. In the TV world, they are heroes.  Is their opinion evidence? Can one say based on past behavior of dishonesty, adultery, and rape that therefore the President must be presumed guilty of the charges as soon as they were presented?

For Democrats among others the response was exactly opposite. Here was another example of the vast right-wing conspiracy at work. These concocted charges should be dismissed out of hand as the ravings of demented people dedicated to a vendetta of bringing down the President. They were deplorable. The charges had nothing to do with what actually happened. In this instance, the Democrats were as wrong as wrong can be. It is beneficial to track the Democrats who became obligated to change their views to observe how they went about coping with the new reality.

For the first few months following the public revelation of the charges, the government lawyers investigated their veracity. Fact finding occurred. Evidence was accumulated just as one would expect in such an endeavor. People of interest were identified and interviewed.  Timelines were constructed. Narratives were proposed to tell the story based on the evidence gathered.

At each step of the way, Democrats became more and more skilled (and desperate) to present alternative explanations. Highly educated people with the gift of spin appeared nightly on the cable talk shows to show assert that what seemed to substantiate the charges was merely circumstantial evidence that could be explained away. It didn’t matter what common sense would cause a reasonable person to think because there had to be another explanation for what actually had happened. The prima facie fact right from the start was that nothing supported by the vast right-wing conspiracy could be true, therefore it wasn’t, and therefore the evidence couldn’t prove it.

Then came the stained blue dress. The stained blue dress was the proverbial smoking gun. The stained blue dress was the game changer. The stained blue dress meant in the real world in which we actually live one and only one explanation made sense. The Democrats now had to face the fact that the charges were true. Without the stained blue dress, the Democrats would have gone to their dying day believing the lie; with the stained blue dress, that house of cards collapsed and Democrats had to confront the truth.

The Democrats successfully countered the reality of what had occurred with the “so what” defense. So what if the President of the United States had had his willy slicked in the oral office. So what if the President of the United States had lied about it under oath. So what if the President of the United States had forced his personal secretary to run the gauntlet to testify on his behalf, the single most cowardly act by a President ever. So what if the President of the United States had disrupted the country for months on end rather than to tell the truth. What was unthinkable in January had become “so what” by the fall.

The Democrats now faced another decision. The Republicans dedicated themselves to making Vice President Al Gore a ten-year president. The Republicans did everything they could to make the current Vice President the new President (this position would change in 2000). It was the Democrats who strenuously objected. They relentlessly fought to prevent Al Gore from becoming the President. Now that they knew what actually had happened they successfully deployed the “so what” response and prevented Al Gore from becoming a ten-year President.

What would have happened when facing the truth, if the Democrats had decided to chuck the President overboard and replace him with the Vice President? Would Iraq have occurred? Would Obama have become President? Would the wife of a removed President have dissolved their partnership and then tried to succeed on her own? Could she have? Would an immature child have been legitimately elected President? We will never know.

At times like this one certain adages come to mind. For example, think of the frog and the boiling water. If a frog is placed in a pot of boiling water, it will immediately jump out. However, if the frog is placed in a pot of water at room temperature and the water is gradually brought to a boil, it will die.  What will happen today? No one knows yet but we will.

Will removing a President solve the Democrats’ problem? If Dear Leader is replaced by an acolyte, what will happen? Would it end the turmoil or simply continue it at a more intense level? How much time would the new President have before he had to face the voters first in the Republican primary and then, if he won, in the general election?  What is the situation of the frog today?  We don’t know yet what actually will happen, but eventually we will.

My Birthday and the Day I Was Born Are the Same Day: Previewing the 2020 Election (Part 1)

Lincoln Memorial Courtesy GalleryHip

Once upon a time more years ago than I care to count, my sister had an epiphany. Suddenly discrete data packets in her brain coalesced into a vision of breathless clarity and intense emotion. She was effused with the joy and happiness that only one who has seen the truth possesses. Overcome with the intensity of the experience she stood up and proudly exclaimed:

I JUST REALIZED THAT MY BIRTHDAY AND THE DAY I WAS BORN ARE THE SAME DAY!

For all she knew, she was the one and only person on the planet who had attained such knowledge.

How old do you think she was when she had this moment of understanding?

I was reminded of this bit of family lore when our immature child President announced to the world that in the eighth decade of his life, he had suddenly learned that Abraham Lincoln had been a Republican…and that not many people knew that. He apparently was quite proud of himself for now being the possessor of such obscure but important knowledge.

His moment of insight suggests that prior to this learning experience he had thought, along with most others, that Lincoln had been a Democratic President. Instead of simply making fun of him for being a blithering idiot, one should inquire as to how he came to think that Lincoln has been a Democrat.

Certainly it was not something he had learned in school.

Certainly it was not something he had read in a book.

Certainly it was not something he had learned from Fox where Lincoln never is mentioned.

So how then did he come to think of Lincoln as being a Democrat?

He may have presumed that since the former party of Lincoln now is a Confederate party of malice, that Lincoln therefore must have belong to the opposition party.

He may have presumed that since Steven Spielberg had produced a movie about Lincoln that therefore anyone who was a hero to La La Land liberals must have been Democratic.

He may have presumed that since New York State Governor Mario Cuomo had been a big admirer of Lincoln that therefore Lincoln must have been a Democrat as well.

He even may have been vaguely aware of Martin Luther King standing at the Lincoln Memorial at his “I have a dream” speech and since all Middle-Passage blacks are Democrats, therefore Lincoln must have been one too.

In short, we will never know for sure how it came to be that he thought Lincoln was a Democrat only to just recently discover that he was in error.

This eureka moment of understanding raises two critical issues. First, it calls into question his vaunted skill on not needing to be prepped, of not needing to read, of not needing to know anything in advance because he is so smart he can quickly size up the moment, understand the players, and determine the correct course of action. By now we are all in awe of his perceptive ability to make sense of health care, Korean-Chinese history, and taxes and to realize how easy the job of being President of the United States of America is for him even though he had no relevant experience and little knowledge going into the job. After but 100 plus days in office, the job is old hat to him, even boring since it is so easy. Unlike with his predecessor, there is no drama to his administration where everything runs like clockwork in a well-oiled smoothly humming machine.

Secondly, his Lincoln-as-Republican realization calls to mind what else he didn’t know about Lincoln besides his political party. For example, Lincoln concluded his second inaugural address with the famous words:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Is malice towards none a characteristic of our current Republican president?

Is charity for all a characteristic of our current Republican president?

Is binding up the nation’s wounds characteristic of our Republican president?

Does Lincoln having been a Republican have any meaning to people who claim to be Republicans today?

In Lincoln’s annual message to Congress, he referred to America as “the last best hope of earth.” Such thoughts continued the tradition begun by John Winthrop even before there was a United States. They were proclaimed most recently and prominently by Republican President Ronald Reagan who declared our country to be a shining city on a hill that the eyes of the world are upon. The America of Winthrop to Reagan and even beyond had a special role in human history. Even the Politically Correct acknowledge America’s special role in human history. True it is as the Great Satan but that still is a pretty impressive global role in human history.

Where is the vision today? In a world where everything is transactional, where everything is about the deal, where everything is about making money, there is no vision to inspire the world in a journey to a better tomorrow. So he now knows that Lincoln was Republican, so what?

Does Lincoln having been a Republican have any meaning to people who claim to be Republicans today?

Are there any ramifications to America’s abandonment of its role as a city on hill that the eyes of the world are upon? Certainly Turkey is happy about it. So is the Philippines. And Venezuela would be too if its autocrat prevails in the battle against democracy there.

Former Deputy Director of the CIA David Cohen warned of the danger to America of a purely commercial policy. He drew on his own experiences working with undercover agents from other countries. They were people who put their lives on the line for America precisely because it stood for everything our immature child president rejects. The values of the city on a hill that the eyes of the world are upon offered an alternative to the life they knew in their own country. They dreamed of living the American dream.

Cohen writes: “that image of the United States as the ‘last best hope of earth,” proclaimed by our leaders for decades, is an enormously effective recruiting too…” He goes on to tout the value of “the American idea” in promoting our interests. As he put it: “Tarnishing the idea that America stands for something uniquely good makes it harder for the C.I.A. to recruit spies.” Cohen concludes his op-ed piece with a ringing endorsement of America’s role in human history in starkly immediate terms for the safety of the country: “relinquishing America’s place as the shining city on the hill will do real and profound harm to our national security.” Our immature child president genuinely lacks the mental necessities to understand this reasoning. What about the former party of Lincoln?

Speaking again of Lincoln, let me conclude with one other area where his vision and that of the party that he belonged to differ – immigration.

In a debate with Stephen Douglas on July 10, 1858, in Chicago, the future President redefined how one was to define an American in a way those who are ignorant of Lincoln have not yet learned. Suppose one wasn’t a Son or a Daughter of the American Revolution? Could one still fully celebrate July 4? Listen to Lincoln’s answer:

In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations. But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men-descended by blood from our ancestors-among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe-German, Irish, French and Scandinavian-men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.

For Lincoln, one did not need to be a blood-descendant of the American Revolution to be one with the spirit of the event. Through adherence to the principles of the Declaration of Independence every American stood as one with those who had fought and died for America’s birth. The new Republican Party that Lincoln had joined was the immigrant party (except maybe not so clearly the party of the Irish), the party whose political interests were served by reaching out newly arrived and would-be Americans. By disavowing immigrant restrictions it succeeded in holding on to a fair share of the foreign-born vote, especially among younger Protestant voters. These immigrants from Scandinavia, France and Cornwall, among other places, supported Lincoln, Union and America.

Learning that Lincoln was a Republican should be the first step and not the only step for the president of the former party of Lincoln. If he is having trouble learning what it means to be an American, perhaps there are some Russians who can help him.

Amanda Anisimova
Scott McIntyre for the NYT

Konstanin Anismov, Russian immigrant and father of Maria Anisimova who graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and of Amanda Anisimova who will represent the United States as the youngest player in the French Open since 2005, on his immigration to America:

We really like Spain, but then we recognized when we visited America that everyone who comes here is going to feel like home. In Europe, you always feel like a foreigner because it is a completely different culture. America is a united country where people come from all over the world, and after a couple of years, they feel this is home. (“Only 15, but Ready for Her Grand Slam Debut” NYT 5/27/17).

If only the former party of Lincoln or the party of identity politics believed that. Is there no Lincoln in American politics today?

 

The Battle for New York State History: Representative Paul Tonko versus Governor Andy Cuomo

The State of New York State History

On April 12, 2015, Representative Paul Tonko received the Legislative Leadership Award from the Museum Association of New York (MANY). He was a co-winner with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of the inaugural award by MANY.  The award recognizes exemplary leadership in support of museums and cultural institutions in the state. These two elected officials were cited for their work in Congress in support of funding the Office of Museum Services within the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Representative Tonko appeared in person in Corning to receive the award at the annual MANY conference. During the reception in the glass-blowing exhibit area, he spoke to the attendees. Unfortunately, I took no notes and did not record what he said. In general terms, I was impressed with what he had to say, with his vocabulary and choice of words on behalf of local and state history. As I recall, he never once mentioned them in conjunction with economic development or job creation. It was all about the civic and social importance of local history in the community.

On April 2, 2017, Representative Tonko was present in Saratoga Springs at the MANY conference when Regent Roger Tilles was the award winner. As a member of the Culture sub-committee, Tilles deals directly with the state Archives, Library, and Museum. He received the award due to work in support of the Museum Education Act. During the reception, Tonko addressed the audience. This time I paid more attention to his words. At times he seemed to be channeling my blog. I do not know him and I doubt he has read them, nonetheless one couldn’t help but wish when it comes to local and state history that he was governor. He is well aware of the of the importance of a sense of place, a sense of belonging, a sense of community and the importance of local history to the social fabric and civic health of a municipality. Once again, there was no mention of economic development or job creation as primary responsibilities of local and state history organizations.

It is hard to imagine Governor Cuomo ever winning the MANY Legislative Leadership award unless it was a crass political move as a quid pro quo in his quest to be President. Let’s look at some of the key actions which have occurred during his tenure.

1. Member items have been eliminated. Given the chronic corruption in the state government, one might easily applaud this attempt to rein in the endemic misuse and abuse of taxpayer money. Unfortunately, the action threw out the baby with the bathwater. Many small non-profits seeking comparatively small sums of funding turned to their local legislator and/or senator (as I did) for support. Larger scale funding often was a bureaucratic challenge. Starlyn D’Angelo, executive director Albany Shaker Heritage Society and current MANY Board of Director, raised this very point at the History Roundtable chaired by State Legislator Steve Englebright on May 29, 2014 with Regent Tilles in attendance (see Report from the NYS History Commission Roundtable). It was Devin Lander’s last day as a legislative aide before becoming executive director of MANY, his position before becoming State Historian.  While there is some funding in Republican Senate districts as Fort Niagara availed itself of, there is no state-wide mechanism to address the small-scale needs of the history community (see January History News).

2. REDC funding has now begun a new cycle of funding application for the 2017 awards. To some extent, the funding simply includes the types of funding that history organizations directly applied to NYSOPRHP and NYSAC for in the past. In general terms the local history organization has no place in this process. The Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) are interested in economic development and job development. Imagine if the local library had to request funding based on those standards…or the police department!

The game is rigged against the history community. At the recent MANY conference, Ross Levi, Marketing Initiatives for Empire State Development for I Love New York and the public face of the Path through History, spoke in the “Partnerships for Progress: Museums and Tourism” session.  The theme of the session was the ways in which museums and cultural institutions can partner with I Love New York to promote their organizations. I will more to say about this in future posts taking into account the Tourism Advocacy Council, the plenary address at MANY, and related materials.

In the meantime, I wish to report on a question asked from the audience to Ross about the local tourism representation. At the second Women’s Suffrage conference last October 7, (see Women’s Suffrage Centennial), Rick Newman, Seneca County TPA, distributed a list of the Tourism Promotion Agency (TPA) from every county. By law, I Love New York works through these agencies and not directly with local history organizations. Ross suggested that the local history organizations contact the TPA in their county. These TPAs could be an advocate for the history community in the REDC funding process.

I take Ross at his word. While I do not know him well, I think he genuinely believed what he was saying was sound advice with real world application. Here we have a classic example of the disconnect between the Albany-Manhattan bubble and that real world. While I can only comment anecdotally, I have heard multiple incidents from people in the history community about TPAs who don’t give them the time of day. TPAs are interested in wineries, recreational tourism, and sites that bring head to beds. TPAs often are non-government organizations, that is, chambers of commerce, working to do what is best for its members. The members rarely are small non-profit history organizations and are even if they were or became members, they are not likely to carry much weight. There is nothing wrong with Chambers of Commerce actively promoting economic development, but once again it means the history community is left high and dry with nowhere to turn in the funding process.

3. Speaking of nowhere to turn, let’s turn to the great failure itself, the Path through History. It will celebrate its fifth anniversary on August 28, 2017. What does it have to show for itself? I attended the kickoff meeting for the HV region on January 25, 2013 (see A Fork in the Road on the Path through History).  Of the ten regions originally created and recipients of $100,000 grants from the State, how many of those regions are still functioning? If they are functioning, what do they do? If they aren’t functioning, what replaced them? Was there ever any additional funding?

Historic sites are ranked by revenue/budget for tourist purposes. Within the Hudson Valley region where I live, there are five over the $1,000,000 threshold I Love New York uses to calculate the crown jewels for tourism. I don’t know what they are in this region but some possibilities include Historic Hudson Valley (multiple sites including Kykuit), Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt library and homes run by the National Park Service and National Archives, and the Culinary Institute. Approximately 70% of the organizations in the region are under $50,000 in revenue meaning they are below the radar where anyone in the state gives a dam about them.

In my blog after the initial meeting, I recommended that the $100,000 be used to hire people who would create paths. Years later, I recommended that there be funding through the REDC process to hire PATHFINDERS who would create the paths that the TPAs and I Love New York would promote (see Create Pathfinders in Your Region). One region tried and it was rejected – there is no place for cooperation and collaboration no matter what jargon terms are used at conferences and meetings. Once again the history community is left high and dry.

As it turns out there are people at the grassroots level who can and have created paths through history. Generally these are conjunction with a conference. I will be writing about these examples in a future post. Of course, these are created without state support or promotion.

The cost to New York State of the failure to respect the Tonko model is enormous if difficult to quantify. The stakes for the country are even larger. It goes to the heart of what it means to be an American and resident of one’s community. In a recent op-ed piece entitled “America’s Political Disunion” by Robert P. Jones (NYT 5/2/17), he cited British writer G. K. Chesterton’s observation after he had visited the United States that unlike European countries we did not rely on ethnic kinship or cultural character to create a shared identity. People of any race, any ethnicity, any religion can and have been American. Once upon a time in New York, German Palatines, the English, the Dutch, the French both Huguenots and Catholics, Scotch-Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics, were people of different “nations” and types. Today they are all Americans and lumped together as white. And anyone who thinks all the Haudenosaunee nations live together in a two-dimensional kumbaya relationship as one Native American people should think again or think for the first time.

We are a storytelling species. We’ve lost that story feeling. We’ve lost the narrative. Can we tell a shared story of our history at the national level, at the state level, at the community level? Can we tell a narrative that unites us around a common multigenerational project that gives an overarching sense of meaning and purpose to our history? What is our shared narrative in our community? What is our shared narrative in our state? What is our shared narrative as Americans?

For most of the past 400 years, America did have an overarching story. It was the Exodus story.

The Puritans came to this continent and felt they were escaping the bondage of Egypt and building a new Jerusalem….

During the revolution, the founding fathers had that fierce urgency too and drew just as heavily on the Exodus story….

Frederick Douglas embraced the Exodus too….

The successive immigrant groups saw themselves performing an exodus to a promised land…

In the 20th century, Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders drew on the Exodus more than any other story (David Brooks, “The Unifying American Story, NYT 3/21/17).

There is a unity in the story from long ago in lands far far away to boldly going where no one has gone before.  There are stories to be told in every community throughout the land from Ice Age to Global Warming about the people who lived there and the people who do live there. There are stories to be told about how all the different peoples of the Mohawk Valley became part of We the People. There are stories to be told about how all the peoples who arrived at Castle Garden became part of We the People. There are stories to be told about how all the peoples who arrived at Ellis Island became part of We the People. There are stories to be told about how all the people who arrived at JFK Airport became part of We the People.

There are stories to be told if We the People are to survive as a nation, to long endure, to not become Syria, to not become Yugoslavia, to not become Iraq. We don’t even celebrate the birthday of our state or the anniversary of when we constituted ourselves as New Yorkers.

Brooks ends his op-ed piece with a call to leadership for We the People.

What’s needed is an act of imagination, someone who can tell us what our goal is, and offer an ideal vision of what the country and the world should be.

Neither of the candidates provided such a vision in 2016. They didn’t even try. Will anything be different in the 2020 rematch? Maybe Tonko should run for president instead of Cuomo.

 

Trump versus Star Trek: The Battle is Engaged

We the People Live

Once again Star Trek has proven itself as an accurate predictor of our present. Nearly 50 years ago an episode of the original Star Trek series predicted the meltdown we just witnessed in the abortive effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. By perhaps no coincidence whatsoever, the very day that the effort went down in flames the episode was shown on TV. May the Force be with us.

Last August, before the presidential election, I wrote a post Empire State Presidential Elections (1944-2016): A Day in Infamy. The post reviewed the State of New York’s history and the presidency. New Yorkers had become president. New Yorkers had run for president and lost. New Yorkers had run for a party nomination and lost. And New Yorkers had dithered over whether or not to run. All in all, from the time New York became the Empire State with the completion of the Erie Canal into the 20th century, New York has played a prominent role in the story of the American presidency.

Typically these New Yorkers were governors. Typically the people who took the leap into national politics at the highest level had honed their skills and made a name for themselves through being the governor of the Empire State. They had executive political experience. They had participated in the making of the sausage. They had engaged in the horse trading. So when they made the leap to the next level they were ready or as ready as one could be without having been a successful general. The epitome of this preparation occurred in the 1944 election when the candidates of both major parties had New York State gubernatorial experience.

The tradition died in 2016. Once again there were two New Yorkers running for national office. Since the loser of the race is not the issue here, I will refrain from any comments about her. As for the winning candidate, here is what I wrote in August months before his victory:

Our two Empire State presidential candidates are not identical. Since everything you need to know you can learn from Star Trek, it is appropriate to turn there for insight. In the episode, The Children Shall Lead, the children on an outpost are rendered orphans but display no trauma over the horror of losing their parents. The cause is a beast called “Angel” by them and named Gorgan. The richly costumed sleekly haired human looking monster is skilled in exploiting their pain to service his gain. He dominates them and in the ways of science fiction takes control of the Starship Enterprise.

Not to worry. Kirk’s dedication to the spirit of Star Trek prevails. His hero and role model is, after all, Abraham Lincoln. He takes back his ship. He takes back his crew. He returns the Enterprise to its rightful path. He defeats the monstrosity that has temporarily commandeered them. In the final showdown between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, Kirk calls on the deceived children to see the ugliness of the monster who led them astray. He tells them:

Without you children he’s nothing.
The evil remains within him.
Look how ugly he really is.
Look at him and don=t be afraid.

With each phrase, the children see more and more of the truth and the image of the monster becomes uglier and uglier. In the end, Gorgan is revealed as the grotesque monster he always was underneath his superficial exterior. As befitting his debased nature, when exposed for the disgusting ugly incarnation of evil that he is, his parting words to his former admirers who now spurn him are:

Death to you all!
Death to you all!
Death to you all!

Perhaps the first person on the international scene to see the truth of our President was the Russian leader. It is easy to understand why our immature child President would want Macho-Macho Man to be his BFF but how long could he deceive the Russian strongman? During the presidential election, a question about the nuclear triad had stumped the future President. In a phone call between Macho-Macho Man and the immature child president, the Russian raised the issue of START, he wanted to negotiate the terms for a possible extension of the strategic arms treaty. Naturally, he was unable to do so since he was conversing with a person as ignorant then as he had been earlier. Instead Macho-Macho Man witnessed a blithering idiot babble about how America is a loser in all treaties. This was the moment of truth. This was the moment of revelation. This was the moment of eyes being opened. Our immature child President may still be of use to Macho-Macho Man, but not as an adult leader.

For Republicans in Congress, the moment of truth occurred during the horse-trading in the vain effort to resuscitate the doomed Trumpcare bill. This was a time of governing not campaigning. All the slogans from the professional political wrestling arena, all the hissy-fit tweets in the wee hours of the morning, all the simpleminded solutions were no longer sufficient. What worked on the campaign trail where one speaks in “poetry” proved useless when the need arose to govern in “prose.” The Republican representatives observed first-hand, up close and personal that the immature child president had nothing to offer. He had no vision. He had no ideas. He had no skill in negotiating. He had no ability to make a deal. He was useless. Sad.

This experience calls to mind the analysis of Jonathan Rauch in an article entitled “Amateur Hour” (The Atlantic, November 2015), from a year before the election. He wrote that Americans did not want as president “people who had zero elective experience.” He opined that a real break with the existing pattern would be the election of someone with no political experience at all. He noted Obama’s very limited political experience and that of the candidates only Ted Cruz could “match Obama’s exalted standard of unpreparedness.” Rauch expected amateurs to self-destruct.

That being said, Rauch recognized that this time around, the situation was different. He wrote:

That said, there has never been a tantrum quite like the one that ensued when a pompadoured, potty-mouthed billionaire shot to the top of Republican polls without being a Republican in any meaningful sense, and without possessing political experience in any sense at all, and without saying anything coherent or even intelligible, and without having any chance of winning the presidency.

With hindsight, we can easily observe the shortcoming of his analysis. Rauch was exactly right in his description of our immature child President and exactly wrong about what Americans wanted, especially given the shortcomings of his second-tier opponent foolishly extolled as the best prepared candidate ever. The American people did not yet see the truth.

Rauch continued with a ringing declaration that “the Donald is not, in fact, going to be president of the United States.” I recall reading one smugly silly Electoral College forecast just before the election where the learned voice-of-reason columnist sought to calm concerned people by confidently asserting there would be another Democratic victory comparable to the two triumphs of Obama. The blue states were a lock, many of the battleground states would be won, and some red states might even flip blue. The well-educated can be ignoramuses too. I confess that I too anticipated a meltdown which has yet to occur.

Rauch concluded his article with the claim that:

amateurism is a much better qualification for The Apprentice than for high political office. Being [a] fresh [candidate] is one thing. Half-baked is another.

Rauch’s prognostications for the election proved false but his depiction of our immature child president is spot on. In another article in the same issue of The Atlantic, Adam Goodheart writing about the Salem Witch Trials, offered this unexpectedly sage insight into the presidency today:

Almost anyone who has ever been 11 years old still knows how it feels to dwell in a world where…whole empires of fantasy are built amid the geography of the everyday…and where the ultimate prize is getting a crowded roomful of adults to pay attention. A preteen has little sense of the consequences for herself, much less for another person, let alone an entire village or province. What she does have, though, is an acute appreciation of the struggle for power―and, quite often, a well-honed skill at manipulating those who hold authority.

When our immature child president was an unruly disruptive 13-year old class smart-aleck-dumb-aleck, he was sent to military school in the vain hope that he would grow up. We live with the consequence of that failure. He remains skilled in manipulating We the People who hold authority. Not a majority of We the People, not a plurality of We the People, not even as many as Mitt Romney won after running the worst presidential campaign ever (how would he even know that?), but enough in the right places to win.

The question for the American people is at what point will We the People learn what Macho-Macho Man and the Republication representatives have seen for ourselves? At what point will the American people realize that Trumpcare targeted us for Worsecare? At what point will the American people realize that the Trump budget targets us for God-Awful Government? At what point will the American people realize that we have been flimflammed, conned, hustled, and slicked by an immature child whose dual goals are to be the center of attention and make rich people richer? Has the moment of seeing the ugliness of the Gorgan finally arrived? Probably not; after all, there is no Kirk to offer an alternative and no Lincoln either.

 

Image from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065234/mediaviewer/rm3937245440

Should Andrew Jackson Have Banned Catholics?

Field of Dreams in the City on a Hill

For centuries the City on a Hill has been buffeted by the tides of religious strife threatening to undo the realm that the eyes of the world are upon. We all remember the dread experienced by the Puritans when confronted by the quaking Quakers. These fearsome advocates of all that is unholy challenged the Visible Saints to stand guard to protect what God had rendered. And what about the Baptists, the Methodists, and Lord only knows what other religious monstrosity would invade our defenseless shores? It’s a wonder the City on a Hill even survived the religious onslaught to come.

Worst of all were the Catholics. Wave after wave of Catholics washed up to undo the work of the Elect of God. The demise of the America can be traced to the failure of Andrew Jackson to stop the encroachment of Catholics when he had the chance. Now we all pay the price for his ineptitude starting right here in New York.

Samuel F. B. Morse was upset, very upset. The Hudson Valley was being overrun by the wrong kind of people. Everything he hoped to accomplish was being threatened by the new immigrants who were overwhelming the natives (who now included Dutch and Germans as well as English) of good stock. Here is how the painter and future inventor of the telegraph described the situation in Foreign Conspiracy against the Liberties of the United States (1835) based on a series of articles he had written for the New York Observer:

Foreign immigrants are flocking to our shores in increased numbers, two thirds at least are Roman Catholics, and of the most ignorant classes, and thus pauperism and crime are alarmingly increased. . . . The great body of emigrants to this country are the hard-working, mentally neglected poor of Catholic countries in Europe, who have left a land where they were enslaved, for one of freedom. . . .They are not fitted to act with the judgment in the political affairs of their new country, like native citizens, educated from their infancy in the principles and habits of our institutions. Most of them are too ignorant to act at all for themselves, and expect to be guided wholly by others [the priests].

Morse’s ire against a supposed great papal conspiracy was, if not a majority opinion at the time, very popular. And we recognize the idiom he used as well:

If Popery is tolerant, let us see Italy, Austria, and Spain open their doors to the teachers of the Protestant faith. The conspirators against our liberties . . . are now organized in every part of the country; they are all subordinates, standing in regular steps of slave and master . . . the great master-slave Metternich, who commands and obeys his illustrious Master, the Emperor [of Austria-Hungary]. . . . It is a war, and all true patriots must wake to the cry of danger. They must up and gird themselves for battle. It is no false alarm. Our liberties are in danger. The Philistines are upon us.

Morse’s song is still sung today. His words have been updated to our words: “If Popery is tolerant (today we would say “If Islam is a religion of peace”), let us see Italy, Austria, and Spain (today we would say “Syria, Iran, and Libya and four others”), open their doors to the teachers of the Protestant faith (today we would say “if they want to build a mosque”).

Morse was not finished: “Where Popery has put darkness, we must put light. Where Popery has planted its crosses, its colleges, its churches, its chapels, its nunneries, Protestant patriotism must put side by side college for college, seminary for seminary, church for church.” Morse called for naturalization laws to prevent the lifeboat of the world from capsizing: “Our naturalization laws were never intended to convert this land into the almshouse of Europe.” Morse didn’t want Europe’s tired, its poor and its enslaved masses incapable of being free-he didn’t want the Catholics and he certainly didn’t want the Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Jews of Eastern and Central Europe whose odyssey to American shores had yet to begin in earnest in the mid-1830s. Don’t send your wretched refuse to me. Instead, he wrote that,

we must have the [naturalization] law so amended that no FOREIGNER WHO MAY COME INTO THIS COUNTRY, AFTER THE PASSAGE OF THE NEW LAW, SHALL EVER BE ALLOWED EXERCISE THE ELECTIVE FRANCHISE. This alone meets evil in its fullest extent.

At the time Morse and others were writing such things there was a great concern in the land that the Mississippi Valley, not yet the heartland, and America in general were under siege. The papal minions were fanning out across the country spreading their pagan ways among God-fearing Protestants and they had to be stopped. America had to be saved from the clutches of this global religious conspiracy of people not capable of freedom and liberty and slaves to their overseas master.”

“War must be fought” is Morse’s title for chapter 9.

As already noted, Morse by no means was alone in his views about the threat to America. The Know-Nothing Party arose in large part out of anti-Catholic bigotry, and it had non-trivial support in its day. But it also had its detractors, and against these Morse also took aim. Writing in 1835, Morse characterized the media for saying his chosen war was “the fruits of an intolerant, bigoted, fanatical spirit, and the revival of ancient prejudices,” but he would have none of it: “We have fallen on strange times, indeed, when subjects of the deepest political importance to the country may not be mooted in the political journals of the day without meeting the indiscriminating hostility and denunciations of such journals.”

In the decades to follow, another wave of Catholics swept across America irrevocably changing the realm until the field of dreams was no more and all was nightmare. Consider these reports from Iowa.

The report of one of the Methodist Upper Iowa districts at the 1883 Conference contained the following concern about events in its district:

Upon the river borders Catholicism and German rationalism press upon us.  Rum and Rome and Rationalism practically coalesce while Protestantism, pressed into the minority, instinctively “rises and retires.”

In the Upper Conference, as Methodist districts were known, the battle against foreign elements resumed with gusto in 1885.  The Conference resolved to support the Evangelical Protestant Association in its efforts to evangelize the foreign population amidst the large cities of the country:

Whereas, the growth of Romanism and its efforts to obtain power, demand that active exertions be made to preserve our institutions from its insidious attacks; and

Whereas, the most successful method of awakening the power of Romanism is the conversion of its followers …

 Resolved 1st.  That we cordially endorse this evangelistic agency and pray that it may become more and more efficient in reaching the foreign Romanish population in our land.

The missionary activity stressed by the Upper Iowa Conference in 1887 was domestic not foreign in scope.

Throughout a wide area on either side of the Mississippi river, a foreign immigration has been steadily driving out our native population and has so weakened our Churches as to make it impossible in some cases and difficult in many, to maintain our existence.

The threat of Romanism and infidelity loomed large on the Midwestern plains.

According to the 1890 census, Iowa was divided between 40% pietist (Protestant) and 29% liturgical (Catholic) with 31% nonmembers, a clearcut sign that the battle waged to protect America was being lost.

The battle against Catholicism at the local level in the Upper Iowa Conference region can be tracked in the annual report of the districts.  For example, in 1892, Decorah reported an heroic effort against the depletion of its eastern borders: it was fighting the good fight to hold the territory for Protestant Christianity.  Dubuque Methodists declared than even in the midst of a Roman Catholic population, it was not dead.  This conflict was no idle matter to the people who had settled the prairies only a few decades before only now to find themselves fighting for their cultural and religious life in the land they regarded as home.

The 1899 Conference report from the Davenport district asks the question:

Am I in the United States of America, or Scandinavia, or the Emerald Isle, or Germany?

Now these alien immigrants from Scandinavia and Germany among elsewhere continued to overrun the land threatening the Methodist and therefore American way of life.

The Decorah district in 1902 reported a disturbing trend in the once-Methodist lands:

the stranger has got possession of the gates, and the native American Methodist farmer seems, and feels himself to be, a stranger in the new surroundings.  Germans, Scandinavians, Bohemians and Irish are buying the farms all the more easily, because the American early settlers have reached years when they wish the rest they have earned and the advantages of town life and have the means to gratify the desire.  The new occupants bring with them Romanism, Lutheranism, or hatred of all churches, and whatever the form it is in the antagonism to Methodism.  Notwithstanding, we are still optimistic, because we believe in God, the gospel go-ahead-itiveness, which last is a synonym for Methodism.

The Pope had designs on Iowa as Decorah reported.

The principal embarrassment to our work, as all well know, is the outgoing of our original New England and Middle States’ people and the incoming, principally of people from the countries of Europe and alien to our Methodistic type of Evangelical religion.  Those people who are Protestant are of the state-church type of Lutheran sacramentarians.  The major part of them are however, papists.  Rome evidently has designs on fair Iowa.

First the City on the Hill had been swept away by the incoming flood of Irish Catholics. Then the field of dreams had been plowed under due to the incoming flood of German Catholics. How much more indignity could the American people endure?

Little did they know that Italian Catholics were about to arrive. “Why have you come, Joe DiMaggio?” sang the anthem of the beleaguered Americans. Those Italian Catholics will never sing to “My Way.” They will only sing to their way. Can anyone even imagine at Yankee Stadium, the great stadium to America’s national pastime at the city at the center of the universe, that Italian Catholics could sing the praises of New York New York?

Woe is us. Even as I write these words the Irish American Heritage Museum is hosting a Governor Martin Glynn Symposium on February 18 in honor of New York’s 40th Governor and its first Irish American Roman Catholic Governor. What’s next? A Catholic President? Catholics on the Supreme Court? Papal Law becoming the law of the land, our Constitution in tatters, people eating pizza?! American is undone all because Andrew Jackson lacked the right stuff to do what is necessary to protect the country from the threat from abroad. We should all be on our knees in prayer giving thanks that our President today will not make the same mistake Andrew Jackson did when he allowed those religious aliens to settle in our country and establish foreign rule even in Middle America!

 

Portions of this post appeared in “The Methodist Upper Iowa Conference: From Wilderness Settlement to Middle-American Melting Pot,” Methodist History 2009 47/4:226-241 and “The Immigrant Experience in American History: Who Is an American?” American Interest, June 27, 2012, http://www.the-american-interest.com/byline/peter-feinman/.

January History News

What's the News across the Nation? We have got the information.

Image from Who Was Walter Cronkite

During the month of January, a number of history-related actions occurred that may be of interest to the larger history community. Below are brief notices about these items including the topics of:

    • Funding
    • Training
    • I Love NY Signs
    • State Museum
    • County Meetings: Saratoga and Putnam Counties
    • Indian Paths in Manhattan

 

1. Funding

 The Fortress Niagara newsletter for December (which I received in January) contained an important funding notice. Thanks to State Senator Rob Ortt, Old Fort Niagara received a check for $10,000 to assist the fort in its educational programs. Six other museums in the county received state funding through the auspices of the State Senator as well.

What made this notice fascinating was that the funding occurred outside the REDC process. Since there are no more Member Items, I was curious as to how the State Senator was able to procure such funding for the 7 museums. The answer is that Republican senators, since they are the majority, have access to a funding pool which may be apportioned at their discretion. In effect, it works a little like Member Items. So if you are a museum or historical society in need of some funding and have a Republican State Senator, now is the time to contact that person as the budget process begins.

2. Training

In a previous post, I wrote about the need for training of municipal historians starting at the county level. I suggested a week long program in Albany involving various state agencies and a culminating reception with the Governor in the Executive Mansion. I received the following comment from one eager county historian:

When will the week-long session be given?

I am definitely interested.

Take a survey and use the numbers to advance your splendid idea.

Joseph P. Bottini
Oneida County Historian

Here is an area where it is possible to begin to develop a history community advocacy agenda. Are municipal historians interested in a state-funded training program to be held in Albany and to include the state Archives, Education, Historian, Library, Museum, Parks, I Love NY, and REDC departments so everyone knows what a municipal historian is supposed to do and the person has been trained to do it?

3. Follow-up on I Love NY Signs

Since my original post in December, there have been new developments in the SAGA OF THE SIGNS. In December the Albany Bureau of USA Today Network which had been spearheading the investigation in to the controversy, filed a FOIL with the State Comptroller’s Office for the relevant contracts entered into by the State. The documents were received last week.

The update article was published in various newspapers throughout the state. Reporter Jon Campbell’s lead sentence reads:

The state Department of Transportation used emergency highway contracts and paid out thousands of dollars in overtime to install hundreds of I Love NY highway signs ahead of July 4 weekend last year.

Normally “emergency” means “urgent highway repairs.” According to Mike Elmendorf, president and CEO of the state Associated General Contractors, this usage was “’not typical.’”

The documents reveal that the costs of the project substantially added to the almost $2 million cost for the signs themselves. For example, in the Rochester area, the cost to install the 14 signs was $300,000. In Broome, Tioga, and Otsego, $200,000 was paid but the number of signs was not provided in the documents received.  In Long Island the cost was $448,153. The multi-colored signs of complex graphics cost $5,800 apiece with the smaller signs only costing $2,825.

Part of the expense was due to the rush to installation requiring weekend work.

That drew questions from Susan Malatesta, a contract management specialist with the Comptroller’s Office, who directed her staff to ask why the extra costs were necessary.

“Why pay more to get these signs up fast?,” she wrote in September 21 email.

Ultimately, DOT told the Comptroller’s Office the extra spending was to ensure the Long Island signs were up by the summer travel season. The Comptroller’s Office signed off on the spending request. Cuomo, who has been an outspoken supporter of the signs, likely got a first-hand look that weekend: He spent July 4 in the Hamptons, according to his public schedule.

Elmendorf’s words bear notice. He is a critic of the signs and said the money could have been better spent.

I think the bigger concern is using capital dollars for something that certainly has no benefit to infrastructure and, I think you could argue, has negligible benefit for tourism, because they don’t really tell you anything.

Exactly right. Cuomo has paid millions to market the Path through History concept but no money to create actual paths through history. For a person who wants to be president of the United States in a time of great national division, it is astonishing that he would engage in alternative facts and be so dismissive of the local and state history that helped make America great in the first place.

4. “NEW YORK STATE’S GREAT PLACES AND SPACES” PROGRAM AT THE STATE MUSEUM ON JANUARY 14 

Representatives from state historic sites and cultural institutions provided educational hands-on activities, unique artifacts to explore, and information about upcoming events during the annual “New York State’s Great Places and Spaces” program at the New York State Museum. Participating institutions included the Adirondack Museum, Albany Institute of History & Art, Albany Pine Bush, Burden Iron Works, Civil War Round Table, Crailo State Historic Site, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum, Historic Cherry Hill, Guilderland Historical Society, Johnson Hall State Historic Site, Knox’s Headquarters State Historic Sites, New Windsor Cantonment, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, Olana State Historic Site, Saratoga National Historical Park, Saratoga Racing & Hall of Fame, Schenectady Historical Society, Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site, U.S. Grant Cottage Historic Site, and U.S. Naval Landing Party.

This event is an annual one in State Museum. In previous years, I have worked with Bob Weible, the former New York State Historian, to create a Teacherhostel/Historyhostel through this event. Bob and some invited speakers would talk about New York State history in the morning. In the afternoon, there would be a guided tour depending on the exhibits on display and a chance to meet with the people from the various historic organizations which had display tables. My recommendation is that such a program be done on an annual basis in combination with the general public program.

5. County Meetings – Roundtables 

    a. Saratoga (Champlain Canal Region)

Lakes to Locks Passage, a nonprofit organization with the mission to inspire people to discover, honor, celebrate and share the stories that connect our lives and foster vibrant communities for future generations, called the meeting held at the Saratoga Town Hall. Historians, museums, libraries, cultural groups, political leaders and community members were invited for a roundtable discussion on “Social Reform Movements of the 19th Century in the Champlain Canal Region of New York.” Stories gathered at the roundtable are to be used to design public humanities programs on themes related to social reform movements during the Industrial Revolution.

The roundtable discussion highlights how the Industrial Revolution reshaped the fabric of society as rural communities transitioned to industrial societies with technological, economic and political repercussions. The cultural disruption triggered social reform with statewide and national impacts as voices were heard in the Champlain Canal region calling for workers’ rights, women’s suffrage, abolition, the Underground Railroad, and new religious communities emerged. The discussion was facilitated by two humanities scholars, John Patterson, former Associate Professor of American Studies and History at Penn State Harrisburg, and Robert Weible, former State Historian and Chief Curator of the New York State Museum.

Unfortunately I was not able to attend this meeting. Several thoughts came to when I read this notice of it.

1. Similar meetings on that topic certainly seem appropriate for the Hudson Valley and the Erie Canal Corridor.

2. It would be useful when county and regional meetings are held, if the organizers would prepare a write up about the meeting perhaps for New York History Blog or a list serve for the New York State History community.

3. What are the programs which are to be developed as a result of the meeting? The odds are similar programs would be beneficial elsewhere and/or may already have been instituted or are in progress. Unless we share what we are doing everyone will always have to reinvent the wheel. There definitely are some conference venues where such sharing is possible.

    b. Putnam County

The Putnam County Historian’s Office invited the local historical community to attend a collaborative Roundtable to discuss plans for commemorating the Centennial anniversaries of Women’s Suffrage and the US entry into WWI. Sarah Johnson, the now-fulltime County Historian, reached out to all town historians, historical societies, museums, local libraries, and civic organizations to share resources collaboratively and jointly organize cultural offerings in cooperation with one another to make our collective resources go further and avoid duplicating efforts.

I was able to attend this meeting. We discussed in particular the use of local materials including in the collections of the historical societies and the family collections in the community of material related to these topics. Questions were raised regarding offering public programming about these topics, individually or as part of a county-wide or regionally-wide effort, host local outreach efforts to gather oral histories, and public history days to collect scans of archival material from your local community. One possibility to draw high school students was to tell the story of what happened in their own community or residents of their communities serving overseas. These performances would strengthen the civic bonds necessary for a healthy social fabric across the generations.

6. Indian Paths in Manhattan

In response to my post on New York State Indian Paths through History, a Greenwich Village reporter wrote:

Hi, do you have information on Indian paths in the Downtown / Village area of Manhattan? Basically, anything below, say, 34th St.?

I forwarded the query to Mike Misconie, the Manhattan Borough Historian who sent the following:

I would refer Lincoln to the Welikia Project (formerly known as the Mannahatta Project), the brainchild of Eric Sanderson of the Wildlife Conservation Society. The project digitally recreates the flora, fauna, and landscape of the NYC region of 1609. Eric has done extensive research, gathering information from far-flung historical and scientific sources, to reach his conclusions. I suggest you visit welikia.org to learn more about Eric’s work.

The project’s companion book “Mannahatta” has a chapter (number four) on the native inhabitants of today’s Manhattan, their settlements, and trails. In fact, page 105 shows a map of the Lenape trails.

The data from the project has been loaded into a website of OasisNYC, so you can see the trails (and a LOT of other stuff) without buying the book. Here is how to see the trails:

Go to this webpage: http://www.oasisnyc.net/ .
Click the link labeled “1609 Mannahatta imagery” in the text of the second bullet-point paragraph.
A map will appear. To the right of the page is a list of menu headings with check boxes. Uncheck all the boxes that are already checked (under the menu headings “Transit, Roads, Reference Features” and “Parks, Playgrounds and Open Space”). The map should now be essentially blank except for a satellite-style image of pre-colonial Manhattan.
Open the menu heading “Historical Land Use.” Then check the box marked “1609 Lenape Trails.” The trails will appear on the map.

If you wish to contact Eric, here is his e-address: esanderson@wcs.org .

As you may know, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian is located in downtown Manhattan. They may have more or better information on this topic, but I’m not sure. You may want to contact them if Eric’s data prove inadequate.

I recognize that these six items do not encompass all that has occurred in January that would be of interest to the larger New York State Community. But they do highlight the need to better disseminate what people are doing or want to do since the odds are there are others throughout the state with similar interests and concerns.

Now what we need is a New York History podcast!