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Graphic by America 250.

As we approach the three year countdown to July 4, 2026, it is an appropriate time to provide an update on what had and has not been going on with American Revolution 250th. The last time I wrote about it was July 1, 2022 (Controversy at the United States Semiquincentennial Commission). Regrettably, it does not seem as if the situation is much improved since then judging by an advocacy notice I received on May 12, 2023, from the American Association for State and Local History AASLH). That organization that has been quite active in promoting the event to its members and interested history people.

AASLH Members and Friends:

As a valued member of the history community, we are reaching out to you to ask for your support in commemorating our nation’s upcoming 250th anniversary by asking your Members of Congress to join the Congressional America250 Caucus. We need your help to encourage Members of Congress to join this important caucus.

With the 250th just three years away, your efforts are urgently needed. We would like you to contact the members of your Congressional delegation and encourage them to join and support the activities of the America250 Caucus in the United States Congress. We have provided a draft email for your consideration below in the event it is helpful.

 As a member of the America250 Caucus, lawmakers will work together to commemorate this significant milestone in our nation’s history and promote national unity and civic engagement. The Caucus will provide a forum for members of Congress to collaborate on ways to engage their constituents, support local events and activities, support the work of history museums and other history organizations, and highlight the importance of our shared history.

 Please take a moment to contact your Congressional delegation and ask them to join the America250 Caucus.

 Thank you for your support in helping to commemorate America’s Semiquincentennial.

 Sample Email

 Dear Representative / Senator _______,

 I hope you’re doing well. On behalf of (Insert Organization Name), I respectfully request that Representative / Senator (Insert Name) join the bipartisan America250 Caucus, chaired by Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ). With the 250th anniversary of our nation’s founding rapidly approaching, we want to ensure that we do not miss out on the opportunity for Americans to learn and reflect on the themes and ideals that unite all of us, including liberty, freedom, and civic engagement. Please contact Laura Titus ( with Representative Robert Aderholt or Brad Korten ( with Representative Watson Coleman to join the caucus.

 Thank you for your consideration.

Reading between the lines, I perceive this plea as a recognition that all is not right with the world of the American Revolution 250th. There is a need to act at the federal level. Since the federal organization is geared towards Philadelphia on July 4, 2026, any funding to support events at the local level will need to be distributed well before then. All such funding will be through the state 250th organizations.


Drilling down from the national level, there are events in Virginia worthy of interest. One should keep in mind that it was Virginia which advertised on the AMC show Turn (AMC Mocks the Path through History August 28, 2016) about the spy network in New York (which did not advertise on the four-year series). In addition, I attended an online meeting about Virginia’s activities on the 250th and summarized the meeting in the blog The 250th Anniversary: A Commonwealth of Virginia Case Study February 1, 2021, over two years ago.

Now Virginia continues to move forward. It convened a meeting held in March which Johanna Yaun, the Orange County historian (full-time position) and chair of the Orange County 250th Commission. The following are excerpts from the report she wrote about the meeting.

A Common Cause for All: A Convening of States on the 250th Anniversary of the call for Committees of Correspondence A Signature Event of the Virginia American Revolution 250 Commission


The Virginia American Revolution 250 Commission invited representatives from across the Nation to participate in a three-day planning meeting of Semiquincentennial stakeholders. From March 10-12, 2023, attendees from 34 states met for “A Convening of States” to mark the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the call for Committees of Correspondence on March 12, 1773. After a reading of the 1773 resolution, state representatives affirmed a new resolution “of mutual support, collaboration, and partnership, signaling the beginning of the Semiquincentennial.” (Although we in New York State beg to differ since we declared the beginning of the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Golden Hill anniversary at Fraunces Tavern on January 19, 2020, See Post). The inclusion of delegates from many states made the ceremony particularly impactful.

These comments highlight the fact that the American Revolution already was underway 250 years ago. There are anniversary events which could be commemorated now. One also wonders why it was a state which convened the meeting and not the national commission. Actually one does not wonder – the federal commission is not functioning.

The pinnacle moment of the weekend was an announcement made by Virginia Senator Thomas K. Norment that the state government was investing $8 million dollars to support the 250th anniversaries and facilitating another $1 million in a donation from Dominion Energy for the same. These investments were made with the expectation that such an investment in civics resources would yield over $1.5 Billion in heritage tourism revenue and support more than 22,000 jobs. These estimates were based on the economic boosts seen during the 1607/2007 and 1619/2019 anniversary periods, focused on the founding of Historic Jamestown.

This is serious money. These comments reflect what was true at the meeting I attended online in 2021. Virginia is committed to making the anniversary a big deal. And like New York, Virginia knows that the story doesn’t cease with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It also shows that the state is prepared to commit resources to make the anniversary a success. The logical question then what is your state you doing besides waiting for the federal commission to get its act together and be relevant at least before its expiration in 2026.

With one third of the battles of the Revolutionary War taking place in New York State and 81 Revolutionary War museums in the state, many concentrated conveniently in the heavily touristed New York City, Long Island and Hudson River Valley region, this begs the question, why not us?

Some of the blame for this is on the shoulders of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission and non-profit arm America 250 who have failed to meet any tangible goals since their founding (and funding) in 2016. When America 250 dropped the bomb in January/February of 2023 that they had laid off most of their staff and were “embarking on an organizational realignment” which essentially pushed all responsibility to the individual states, the disparity between the prepared and the unprepared, widened. But as for New York State specifically, I’ll refrain from providing any insight while we wait (and hope) to see if Governor Kathy Hochul’s budget will address this issue by the end of the month.

But while New York State thus far waits, Virginia has stepped in to offer leadership and benefit from economic gain of providing the venue for stakeholders to convene. Hosted by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation at the Williamsburg Lodge, 300 public historians and government officials were treated to programming and social events aimed at fostering partnerships and communication on the eve of the commemorative period.

This deterioration at the federal level led to the letters from two New York State elected officials (future blog). It also shows that there will be no effort at the national level to craft a new national narrative for the 21st century. History organizations are not going to fill the void either.

President of the Association of State and Local History, John Dichtl, set the tone by presenting two opportunities that the Semiquincentennial period offers. The first is that by popularizing and showcasing “the full sweep of our shared history,” the Founding period can be used as a starting point to attach new meaning for people and groups who have advanced “towards justice” over the past 250 years. He mentioned that 86% of the America public agrees on fundamental ideas about National history and that a Semiquincentennial that both celebrates our strengths and addresses our fallacies is essential to fostering inclusion, relevance and belonging.

The second opportunity he highlighted is that this exploration of America at 250 is a chance to reinvigorate the history profession and bring new support to historical societies and museums. An interesting statistic that was presented was that 35-40% of all history organizations were created in 1966–1986 time frame, a decade before and a decade after the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1976. The hope is that the 250th will be another moment of reflection for the Nation and a recognition that we should never stop fighting over our past nor the direction of our future.

There are two problems not addressed in these comments by Dichtl as reported by Yaun:

1. The people who formed these new historical organizations after the Bicentennial are now up to 50 years older. Anyone involved in local non-profit volunteer organizations is aware of the trials and tribulations in attracting new members, finding people willing to serve on Boards and getting people to actually do something. Just think of the technological changes which have occurred since the Bicentennial – we are living in what may be considered science fiction times to the people of 1976 and who still are in charge.

2. The local history organizations are likely to focus on local events about what happened in their community and not the full sweep of our shared  national history. Quite possibly at the local level, if there is an effort to go beyond that there will be a replay of the current squabbles over 1619, CRT, and divisiveness. It will be interesting to see how Virginia spends the money it has allocated for the 250th.

Next, Susie Wilkening of Wilkening Consulting offered remarks on her demographic research and how it relates to 250th planning. She discussed intersections of patriotism and identity and looked at what concepts and words divide vs. unite likely museum-goers. She found common ground in that the majority of people expressed that “history is valued and important,” but that it needs “to be engaging” while still maintaining a relaxing tone. The majority of people “feel good about learning” but express that they prefer “hands-on, interactive, living history” to keep their interest.  Respondents ranged along a spectrum from wanting patriotic programming to focus on “the 3 F’s, food, fireworks, family” to a focus on critical thinking about the Nation’s strive for “a more perfect union…”

That last sentence is critical. While there are people and organizations that are concerned about the 250 year effort to strive for a more perfect union since the Revolution, many people are content with the Bicentennial approach particularly at the local level of patriotic food, family, fireworks and parades with nary a woke person in sight.

Yaun described the conference activities in the rest of her enewsletter. In the next blog I switch to the topic of education, both academic and k-12, highlighting Virginia.

State History Advocacy: A Report from the Frontlines

Who knew there actually was an Office of Advocacy!

The legislative sessions this year have been far from normal to say the least. Some actions were undertaken earlier this year before the lockdowns occurred. While much is now on hold, it is useful to catch up on what was done or planned.

My main advocacy blog was posted May 3, 2020:  History Advocacy Advisory Alert. It was geared towards the federal level. There is an annual conference in Washington by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) in partnership with the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH). Then there was the special Covid-19 funding advocacy. The annual day is great for those who participate. My recommendation was and is that more would participate if there were local advocacy days in each Congressional office one week prior to the national meeting. The same considerations apply to state advocacy efforts.

The following examples are not meant to be complete. They reflect what I am aware of based on the newsletters I receive.

Maine Advocacy

Speak up for your museum, meet your legislators, and help us celebrate and advocate for all museums! Join the Maine Archives & Museums and NEMA for an informal reception in the Hall of Flags, show off your museum’s unique resources and achievements, and hear from government and museum representatives about the importance of public support for Maine’s cultural treasures. We encourage museums, museum staff, students, and supporters across the state to attend. This event is free.

The day’s schedule will be as follows:

11am-noon       Maine State Archives – Advocacy Training – discuss current issues and practice your advocacy story with representatives from the New England Museum Association.

Noon-2pm       Maine State House – Meet Your Legislators – Make appointments to meet with your legislators to discuss the issues relevant to your organization.

2pm-4pm       Hall of Flags, Maine State House – Reception – Exhibit your organization (register here at no cost to members of MAM and NEMA to reserve table space) and/or meet with folks from other collecting institutions while enjoying refreshments and inspiring speakers.

One question I would ask is “What are the specific actions being requested of the legislators?” In other words, what if any new legislation is being suggested or what existing legislation is being supported or what funding levels are being requested? The odds are these types of issues are the same across state lines with some changes based on the organizational structure in each state.

Massachusetts Advocacy  

Over the past few I years I have attended and written about the annual conference of the Massachusetts History Alliance (History Advocacy: Lessons from the Massachusetts History Alliance Conference). One focus has been its fledgling efforts to develop an advocacy program. To the best of my knowledge, the organization has not reached the point where it has a state advocacy day for history organizations or participates in one for museums. If that information is not correct, please let me know. It looks like I will not be able to catch-up on recent events at the proposed conference for June 1 this year. Instead, I have copied some relevant information from the Alliance’s website.

Advocacy for Non-Profits: the rules

We are frequently asked this question: We are a non-profit, doesn’t that mean we cannot lobby for our interests at the Statehouse or to our Town? What are the rules that govern these activities?

The MHA Advocacy Team has done the research and reports out:

  • Advocacy is not the same as lobbying. Lobbying is one form of advocacy that often involves persuading legislators to enact or vote down a bill.
  • Lobbying can be undertaken by tax-exempt organizations, with no risk to their 501(c)3 status, as long as it is not a substantial part of their organization’s activities.
  • “Substantial” is generally considered to be more than 5% of the organization’s total activities or more than 20% of its expenditures.
  • Individuals advocating on their own and not as representatives of tax-exempt organizations face no penalties.

Advocacy efforts that do not present a risk to an organization’s tax-exempt status include:

  • Educating policymakers and the public about broad social issues
  • Organizing communities, encouraging people to vote and educating voters about candidate positions.
  • Attempts to make an administrative agency of the government change its policies, rules or regulations should be presented as educational efforts, to avoid being considered lobbying.


Under Construction

MHA has advocacy priorities in three areas: advocacy for public history to the legislature, advocacy to the public history field, and advocacy for public history to the general public.

  • The MHA advocates for legislative initiatives that fund local and public history efforts in the Commonwealth. This includes the provision of opportunities that make it easier for smaller organizations to survive, such as grant opportunities or tax credits.
  • The MHA promotes the message that a vibrant history community is good for local businesses and contributes to our state’s economic vitality.
  • The MHA advances the idea that an awareness of local and public history is an essential component of civic engagement.
  • The MHA endorses the funding of regional networks and collaborative efforts that positively impact local and public history in Massachusetts. It encourages the development of greater communication between the numerous and distinct history organizations across the state.
  • The MHA supports entities that encourage the preservation of historic buildings, objects and documents.
  • The MHA advocates for the continued funding of its Annual Conference.

All these objectives are worthy. Now notice the difference. Three are funding-based while two are conceptual and one may be geared towards specific preservation-related matters. One presumes that behind the three funding objectives are specific legislative actions the History Alliance wants the legislators to take. By contrast two others might involve having events or inviting legislators to attend them. Preservation is separate category and in fact I attended a preservation advocacy day in New York which will be the subject of its own blog.

New York Advocacy

MANY Executive Director Erika Sanger speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, March 11 with Assembly Member Pat Fahy, NYS Senator Jose Serrano, Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell, and museum and education advocates call for the passage of the Museum Education Act’s inclusion in New York State’s final budget.

Advocacy in New York is spearheaded by the Museum Association of New York (MANY). The organization has a lobbyist on retainer. It is a museum organization and many of the members are history organizations. It is very active in the national advocacy by AAM. Below is a newsletter from February when MANY expected to have its annual conference at the end of March. While that did not happen, readers should note the advocacy actions planned in conjunction with the conference. Such actions can be replicated in other states.

Making the Case for New York’s Museums

If you’ve attended a MANY program in the past couple of years, you have heard me ask you to reach out to your local, state, and federal legislators to let them know what resources you need to serve our communities, preserve and share collections, and sustain and grow the unique power that museums have to transform lives. I know some of us find it difficult to speak up and get loud enough to make a difference. Many museum professionals identify as introverts, while others may be uncomfortable speaking with people they don’t know.

One member of our museum community, the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) has just experienced a disaster that we all dread— the potential loss of a collection to fire. MOCA’s social media campaigns, calls to city officials, outreach to emergency management offices, and help from members of the community made a difference. Their announcement on Thursday, February 27 that the building on 70 Mulberry Street that housed the collection will be hand-demolished and that most of the collection remaining will be salvaged will help them continue to tell the nationally significant stories embodied in the collections.

At MANY’s annual conference in Albany on Monday, March 30th at 1:00, a group of museum professionals will share how communities and museums responded to the impact of Hurricanes Sandy, Irene, and Andrew and how shared exhibitions and programming effected change in their communities. Coming together, speaking out, and communicating our needs to our representatives is how we will effect positive change for New York’s Museums.

In Albany we have been working hard with NY State Senator Serrano and Assembly Member Fahy to advance the Museum Education Act A.9695 (Fahy)/S.6819 (Serrano). I am pleased to report that it has passed out of the Tourism Committee in the Assembly and the Cultural Affairs Committee in the Senate but we need you to step in, speak up and get loud now. We have received an outpouring of support in both houses, but we need you to tell your legislators how your museum does essential work in your community and ask them for their support now. Please send an email and follow up with a phone call to your State Senators and Assembly Members as soon as possible to ask for their support to include the Museum Education Act (A.9695 (Fahy)/S.6819 (Serrano)) in the one house budget bills at $3.5M. You can find your Assembly Member’s contact information by clicking here and your New York State Senator by clicking here and MANY’s memo of support here. Please feel free to borrow freely from this email and our letter of support when contacting your legislators. There is more advocacy information about the MEA on our website:

If you are planning to join us at our 2020 annual conference in Albany (it is going to be amazing), please invite your legislators to join us at the “Power of Partnership” 2020 Annual Conference Opening Reception on Sunday, March 29th in The Rotunda of the New York State Education Department Building from 4:30 – 6:30 PM. You can find a pdf of the invitation here. With budget negotiations underway, I am sure they will appreciate a break and a chance to speak with and enjoy refreshments with their constituents.

With thanks and hopes to see you in Albany!

Here you see the opportunities available when having a state conference at the state capitol when the legislature is in session. Obviously the coronavirus will only amplify the need for dialogue with the legislative and executive branches.

Rhode Island Advocacy

Speak up for your museum and make the case for all museums to your elected officials. Perfect your elevator speech and learn the basics of advocating for the field that you love.

Enjoy light refreshments and the company of your colleagues while we celebrate the contributions of Rhode Island’s vibrant museum community.

Museums large and small throughout the state, join the fun and show your support!


Advocacy Training: 11 am  – Noon, State House Library
Brown-bag Networking Lunch: Noon – 1 pm, State House Library
Exhibit table set-up: 12:30-1:30 pm, Rotunda
Reception, speaking program, and refreshments: 2-4 pm, Rotunda
Legislator encounters: 3:15-4:15 pm, House & Senate chambers

You may notice some similarities between and the Maine and Rhode Island programs. That is probably due to the New England Museum Association (NEMA)’s involvement in both instances. It’s big on the “elevator speech” as I wrote about last year (Massachusetts History Alliance conference).

On a personal level, I can say my own advocacy efforts for New York State to create a Freedom Bicentennial Commission to recognize the anniversary of the legal end of slavery in New York is on halt. The legislation has been written and I last met with the State Senate staff at the end of February about the proposal being made this session. I have not pursued the matter since then and will wait to next year.

History Advocacy Advisory Alert

History Advocacy Advisory Alert

The report on the Organization of American Historians conference is interrupted to bring you information about national history advocacy. The following notice was received from the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH)

AASLH Conversations

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented crisis in our local communities, country, and world. Many are seeking answers and guidance during this time, and AASLH has been listening to the concerns from the history community. In response, we are developing more online content for our colleagues working from home. While no one has all the answers, we hope these topic-focused webinars will provide a space for history practitioners to share ideas and learn from each other collectively to help us all keep moving forward. We know many organizations are facing financial strain due to the pandemic, so we are developing this new AASLH Conversations webinar series with that in mind. We have dramatically reduced the registration fee and are also providing a special promo code to waive the registration fee completely. Recognizing that this is a time of crisis that affects the whole field, AASLH included, we appreciate anyone who is still able to contribute to AASLH’s efforts either through the reduced registration fee or a donation.

Webinar Description

Now more than ever, museums realize the value of working in partnership with governments and advocating for policies that benefit museums. National museum organizations’ advocacy programs have been largely targeted to the Federal government, while state and regional museum associations have mostly focused on working with state governments.

Museums miss out if they don’t also work with local government – county and municipal organizations. Many laws and regulations that directly affect museums originate at this level, from zoning to long-term cultural planning and everything in between. Local governments also offer grants which can be life-changing for museums, especially smaller institutions.

This webinar will help demystify local government, help you identify your local government officials, and offer tips to get you started on making your case with government officials closest to the people with the power to help.

Registrants will receive a copy of Technical Leaflet 288: Advocating for Your Organization with Local Government written by webinar speaker Sean Blinn. 


DATE: May 7, 2020

TIME: 3:00 – 4:00 pm EASTERN (Remember to adjust for your time zone)

COST: $5 AASLH Members / $10 Nonmembers/ Free for anyone by using promo code below

PROMO CODE: If you or your organization is facing financial strain due to COVID-19, please use promo code FREEWBR20 to waive the registration fee for this webinar. We appreciate anyone who is still able to contribute to AASLH’s efforts through the registration fee or a donation.

ACCESS: You will be provided with instructions on how to access the live event upon registration.

Learning Objectives

After attending this webinar, participants will:

Gain a basic understanding of the structures of local (municipal and county) government
Understand how local government can help museums
Learn how to identify and build relationships with local government officials

Recording and Closed Captioning

We will record this event. Access the Recorded Webinar in the AASLH Resource Center after the event has passed. Registrants of this event receive complimentary access to the recording in their Dashboard. 

Closed captioning is provided for the live event. A transcription of the closed captions is provided with the recording.

History advocacy is a weakness of the history community. That shortcoming has been the subject of multiple blogs. In general the community suffers from the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Get” approach. In part this is a reflection of the absence of effective statewide organizations willing and able to promote history advocacy at the state level where funding and education decisions are made. In part it is a reflection of the absence of an agreed upon agenda upon which to rally the history community. Historic preservation tends to be an exception to these conditions. Museums and libraries both of which involve local history also are active in state-wide lobbying efforts. Teachers lobby but not on issues of local and state history or even civics.

At the national level, there is an advocacy effort for museums which often includes history museums but is not limited to them. This action is led by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). I am not aware of a similar initiative by AASLM although it does partner with AAM on this annual event in February. AASLM also works with the National Coalition for History (NCH). That organization has promoted the development of a Congressional History Caucus (see History Agenda for the New Year (January 6, 2019). It would be beneficial to have a national history advocacy day with just that group of Representatives to begin with.

In the meantime, below is information about the advocacy program held in February in Washington for museums. In many ways, it provides a template for what could be done at the state level just for local and state history.

Museums Advocacy Day 2020 – Feb. 24-25

Legislative Agenda / Issue Briefs

The key here is to identify the present sources of funding of the history community. The goal in these advocacy efforts is not to have a philosophical discussion on the value of the history…with one exception. The goal is to maintain or increase funding in the government programs that history museums, organizations, and scholars use right now. Sometimes such funding is funneled through state organizations, something it is directly from the federal government. Either way, even though the funding is not limited to history, the history community has a stake in the amount of the funding and in the types of programs to be funded. These are areas where the history community can advocate at both the federal and state level. The exception on philosophical discussions can occur is in education where changes to the curriculum including civics are discussed.

The AAM program has additional information about the people identified for the advocacy effort and the packets to be left with them.

Here are some of the highlights of the program which occurred in February.

Issues Forum (Optional Program)

What issues, including federal, state, and local, concern you and your museum? All advocates are invited to participate in the discussion.

What to Expect at Museums Advocacy Day (Optional Program)

We invite new and returning advocates, including student advocates, to join us for a special briefing highlighting the unique and important elements of Museums Advocacy Day.

Then there are the meetings with the different organizations relevant to the museums:

Inside the Office of Museum Services at IMLS
National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman
Inside the National Park Service
Inside the National Endowment for the Arts
Inside the National Science Foundation.
Historic Preservation and Funding and America250

So for example to use New York State where I live as an example, a History Advocacy program would include meetings with

New York State Archives
New York State Canals
New York State Council on the Arts
New York State Division of Tourism
New York State Education Department
New York State Historian
New York State Library
New York State Museum
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation

As you can see, the list alone means a logistical challenge as well as the need for a two-day program since it doesn’t even include the Governor’s Office or the Legislatures. While there is no organization in New York to undertake such an ambitious challenge, there may be in smaller states.

At this point, the AAM conference turns to the advocating of elected officials. There are some preparatory sessions on how the budget process works, the specific agenda items, and how to do this.

Making the Case for Museums – A Chief of Staff’s Perspective
Preparing for Capitol Hill – Setting the Stage and Understanding the Budget Process
Preparing for Capitol Hill – Key Issues and Asks

The final and day of the AAM program is spent meeting with elected officials capped with a reception. In New York for example, 55 participants visited 30 elected officials. I presume that required some planning as well as not all 55 people meet with all 30 Representatives and Senators and/or their staff.

MANY Executive Director Erika Sanger leading the NYS contingent

This program is one that members of the history community from around the country can participate. It certainly would be beneficial if your state was represented and to hear about what happened. I mean not just to the members of that state organization that took the lead in organizing the participants from the state but to the larger history community and the general public via the press.

Finally, let me offer as a reminder of another possible way to advocate besides meeting at the state and national capital – lobby at the local level. Take the AAM conference as an example. Suppose the week before there were meetings in New York with those 30 elected representatives in their local offices in New York State. I suspect far more than 55 people would have participated. Or for example, consider the preservation advocacy day I attended in Albany (subject of a future blog). Suppose the week before, people had met with the assembly members and Senators in their home districts. Again, think of how many more people would have been involved. Such efforts are time consuming to organize and implement especially when there is no state history organization to do it. Still, it shows how advocacy for state and local history can be brought to the local level and the lessons learned from the AASLM webinar can be applied.



This August 28-31, the joint American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) and International Coalition of Sites of Conscience Annual Meeting will convene in Philadelphia to learn, engage in fellowship, tour, and address this year’s theme, What Are We Waiting For? Depending on the work at hand, this theme serves different purposes. It is a call to action, a challenge to embrace difficult work now. It is also a cautious whisper, a reminder to slow down and get it right. Although different issues warrant different responses, consideration of the question is essential in light of the challenges our field, communities, nation, and planet are facing.

I am unable to attend this conference. However, I was able to review the abstracts of the sessions online. (Again, it would be nice if all conferences did this.) Below are some of the sessions which I think to be of interest. This list excludes workshops, tours, plenary talks, and networking sessions. For additional information on both the organization and the conference go to

I. Civics

One of the more unusual activities for a history conference was the not so usual opportunity to witness a naturalization ceremony offsite. Probably by coincidence, some of the sessions related to this very subject as well as examples of what historical organizations can do in their own communities.

Naturalization Ceremony

AASLH’s Law and Civics Affinity Committee has arranged for Annual Meeting attendees to observe a naturalization ceremony at 10:30 am in the Ceremonial Courtroom at the James A. Byrne United States Courthouse, located one block from Independence Hall. Approximately 100 applicants for citizenship from 40 different countries will be naturalized. The presiding judge and special guests, including one of the new citizens, will make remarks. New citizens will be greeted with American flags and voter registration forms. Naturalization ceremonies are very moving occasions and mark one of the most important days in a new citizen’s life. AASLH appreciates the willingness of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in making space available for AASLH attendees.

Naturalization ceremonies are not a daily occurrence and are not performed in every community. And the history conference organizers do not select the day of the ceremony. Still it is something to consider for history conferences which do occur in metropolitan areas to at least inquire about such ceremonies at that locale. Sometimes a history organization can take matters into its own hands as these two presentations show.

From Polling Places to Naturalization Ceremonies: A Practical Guide to Civic Engagement

Looking for ways to engage your community and attract new audiences? Consider hosting major civic events, such as nat­uralization ceremonies, or serving as a polling site! Panelists will discuss how-to questions while exploring the benefits that civic partnerships have brought their organizations.

Chair: Doria Lynch, United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis, IN; Charles Hyde, Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, Indianapolis, IN; Kerry Sautner, National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, PA

Make Your Museum a Gateway to Citizenship

The New-York Historical Society has successfully launched The Citizenship Project, preparing over 1,000 legal perma­nent residents annually for naturalization. Museums across the nation are perfectly positioned to engage with their local immigrant community and become a gateway to citizenship. This session offers guidance in launching citizenship educa­tion utilizing museum collections.

Chair: Samantha Rijkers, New-York Historical Society, New York, NY

Many communities have birthday celebrations. Wouldn’t that be a great time to welcome newcomers into the community with a naturalization ceremony? Include the current citizens as well. Why limit naturalization classes to immigrants? How about providing an opportunity for current citizens to renew their civic vows as Americans by participating in an annual civic event…to be followed by a bus and/or walking tour of the historic sites in the community!

Related to this civic duty of naturalization is linking the new citizens of the municipality to the old.

Bringing the Past into the Present: Immigrant Storytelling through Museum Tours

The Global Guides program hires immigrants and refugees to interpret artifacts while sharing stories about life in their home countries. Staff will discuss program implementation, while guides will demonstrate stories and describe tours. Attendees will gain insights on supporting guides with lived experience to share cultural stories that help to decolonize the museum.

Chair: Ellen Owens, Penn Museum, Philadelphia, PA; Yaroub Al-Obaidi, Penn Museum, Philadelphia, PA; Moumena Saradar, Penn Museum, Philadelphia, PA; Kevin Schott, Penn Museum, Philadelphia, PA

“Decolonize” is a politically correct term that is best avoided unless you want to unnecessarily risk antagonizing people or are speaking in a politically correct context. On the other hand, “sharing” is a far more productive and constructive term to use without making moral judgements if your goal is for the immigrants of today and the immigrants of the past to become part of a single community.

II Cooperation and Collaboration

Everybody talks about organizational cooperation and collaboration but no one does it. Here are some examples of organizations that did. These examples should serve as a guide for what can be done elsewhere. One example consists of a 48-organization effort to promote tourism in a single county. A second refers to the challenge of overcoming the “silo” syndrome of go-it-alone because there is no time to do anything else. A third refers to collaboration. These sessions illustrate the benefits of attending the conference in person. That way one can hear first-hand how these organizations actually did it, asks questions, and speak with the presenters privately perhaps even while breaking bread.

More Sustainable Historic Sites through Heritage Tourism: Case Study Camden County, NJ

Learn about a new effort in Camden County, NJ, to orga­nize forty-eight historic sites and history organizations for a regional heritage tourism effort. Help us problem solve about motivating historic sites to promote and thus sustain sites for visitation and inspiring volunteer-led sites to open for regular public hours.

Chair: Donna Ann Harris, Heritage Consulting Inc., Philadelphia, PA; Bonny Beth Elwell, Camden County History Alliance, Camden, NJ; Dorothy P. Guzzo, New Jersey Historic Trust, Trenton, NJ; Dr. Jack O’Byrne, Camden County Historical Society, Camden, NJ; Linda Shockley, Lawnside Historical Society, Lawnside, NJ

The Whole Really Is Greater than the Sum of Our Parts: How History Organizations Collaborate to Expand Impact

While we may value the concept of collaboration, many of us continue to operate our organizations in silos—view­ing colleagues as competitors and considering neighbors’ requests a distraction from “our” mission. Join our panelists to explore how to increase your organization’s impact, com­munity engagement, visibility, diversity, and sustainability through strategic collaboration.

Chair: Karen L. Daly, Dumbarton House, The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America, Washington, DC; Gretchen M. Bulova, Historic House Museum Consortium of Washington, DC, Alexandria, VA; Tuomi Forrest, Historic Germantown, Philadelphia, PA; Catherine Nuzum, The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America, Washington, DC

Small Museums, Big Aspirations: Engaging Community, Co-Creating, and Collaborating

Directors of several small museums, including an Underground Railroad site and a traditional historic house museum, will share how their organizations revitalized their sites and increased their public reach. From curating an ambitious exhibit to changing to a women’s history center, each used collaboration to achieve their goals.

Chair: Brian J. Failing, Aurora Regional Fire Museum, Aurora, IL; Jillian Allison, Center for Colorado Women’s History at the Byers-Evans House Museum, Denver, CO; Alison Costanzo, St. Charles History Museum, St. Charles, IL; Sarah Richardt, Lombard Historical Society, Lombard, IL

III Issue Sessions

By “issue sessions,” I am referring to specific and unique presentations within the conference about a particular topic that is not part of the typical history organization activity.

In the first example, the invitation-only session is to plan for the American Revolution semiquincentennial. At some point, sooner rather than later, every history organization conference should address this anniversary.

250th Anniversary Meeting

AASLH’s U.S. 250th Anniversary task force will be convening a meeting of its sub-committees for a half-day retreat at the Friends Center. Over the past several months, five commit­tees have focused, respectively, on how the field can use the 250th anniversary in 2026 as an opportunity to advance the relevance of history, diversity and inclusion, collections, funding, and education at history organizations. This con­vening will offer committees an opportunity to share their preliminary findings and begin charting next steps. For more information, contact John Marks, Senior Manager, Strategic Initiatives, AASLH,

The following session on slavery is one that should be of interest to many history organizations. There should be no doubt that how an organization handles this topic as it relates to its own organization and community will become increasingly important. Again this is a session where the abstract is insufficient. One wants to know how the presenters do what they do and to speak to them in person.

No Time Like the Present: Engaging Descendant Communities in the Interpretation of Slavery

Does your museum confidently discuss slavery? Does your site have meaningful relationships with descendants of enslaved people associated with it? The National Summit on Teaching Slavery presents a rubric of best practices for addressing slavery and engaging descendants that’s grounded in three principles—multi-disciplinary research, positive relationships, and integrated interpretation.

Chair: Shawn Halifax, Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, Charleston, SC; Christian Cotz, James Madison’s Montpelier, Orange, VA; Brent Leggs, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, DC; Ahmad Ward, Mitchelville Preservation Project, Hilton Head Island, SC

A third example involves dealing with American Indians or more specifically the Indian Nation that once may have resided on the very land where your museum is now located. Previously I have written about the programs on the Stockbridge Indians now located in Wisconsin who periodically return to Stockbridge, MA where they once resided. How to promote collaboration between these tribal cultural centers and distant historic museums is a challenge that has to be addressed on the local level. For example, if you interested in the Battle of Oriskany in New York preceding the Battle at Saratoga, it would be beneficial to visit the Oneida and Seneca Nations sites since they participated on opposite sides of this bloody battle as they remember to this very day.

A Discussion of Tribally Driven Research and Programs

This session asks attendees to consider the need for and benefits of truly community-engaged scholarship and pro­gramming with American Indian tribes. What does it look like when research and programming is driven by and for American Indian tribes? How can we shift away from call-and-respond engagement wherein museums or universities drive the need and ask for tribal response or blessing? How are sustainability, collaboration, audience impact, and learn­ing changed when tribal communities see a community benefit every time they work with our museums and his­toric sites? Come and hear from representatives who have engaged in projects that have benefited and seated power with tribal communities.

Chair: Natalie Wadle, Shawnee Tribe Cultural Center, Miami, OK; Ben Barnes, Shawnee Tribe, Miami, OK; George Ironstrack, Miami University, Oxford, OH; Shannon Martin, Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways, Mt. Pleasant, MI

At some point, historic sites may need to come to grips with global warming. I am referring to climate change not as a global phenomenon but as to what it might mean in your own community. Obviously, the circumstances will vary by location. It may mean growing certain plants in your garden will become difficult, the bugs you have to deal with will change or be around longer, land may be at risk, artifacts may require more care if exposed, etc. One may anticipate more and more sessions on this topic in the years to come.

Helping Your Community Decide Which Historic Places to Protect From the Impact of Climate Change

Share your ideas about how historical organizations can help their communities come to grips with the prospect of losing valuable historical resources to the impact of climate change, and ensure that decisions about what to protect and what to let go are made in a fair and equitable manner.

Chair: David Glassberg, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA

 IV Imperiled Promise

 A few years ago, the National Park Service (NPS) commissioned a study on history within its organization. That study entitled “Imperiled Promise” became the basis for a series of blogs. In those blogs, I noted that similar concerns affect state-owned sites as well. Since the publication of the report, little has been to address the issues raised. The NPS is more in a survival mode than a development one. Perhaps that situation will change. In the meantime, all the issues raised in the report apply to state, county, and municipal owned-sites especially when the needs of recreation trump those of history.

History In Our Parks Roundtable

Many parks and recreation agencies manage museums and historic sites, and still others hold rich cultural and historic resources within nature centers or other facilities. How do park staff meet the challenges of caring for these resources while operating within a system that is not geared towards heritage preservation? This roundtable will discuss AASLH’s formation of a History in Our Parks Task Force to address those unique needs. AASLH members who are interested in serving on the task force are especially encouraged to attend.

Chair: Shawn Halifax, Cultural History Interpretation Coordinator, Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission, Charleston, SC


This somewhat lengthy overview previews some of the sessions which will be offered at the AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR STATE AND LOCAL HISTORY 2019 CONFERENCE beginning August 28. If any of you are attending, please considering reporting on the sessions that you go to.