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Queen Elizabeth and the American Revolution 250th

It's not a movie or TV series. It's the real thing. (USA Today)

Queen Elizabeth dominated the news for several days if not longer. For a brief moment, the world saw Great Britain at its best. We saw its palaces, churches, and chapels. We watched its processions. We witnessed its people stand patiently in astonishingly long lines for hours on end for their turn to glimpse and pay their respects to their Queen. Truly it was an inspiring series of days that highlighted the good with which people are capable. Perhaps once could say it was Great Britain’s finest hour since its last finest hour in far more troubling times.

Simultaneously, I was attending two history conferences in New York State with sessions devoted to the American Revolution 250th. The first was in Buffalo where the annual national conference of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) was held partially in person with a separate on-line conference to follow. The second was the annual state conference of the Association of the Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS) held this year in Kingston.

During the American Revolution, Kingston was a settlement burned by the British as part of the ill-fated campaign of John Burgoyne to sever the states. At that time, Buffalo was located beyond the range of American colonial settlement. The Seneca who lived there were allies of the British even to the point of fighting their fellow Haudenosaunee Oneida who were America’s first ally. As part of the conference, I signed up for an optional tour of the OnÖhsagwË De’ Cultural Center better known in English after the English name of the famed Roman orator.

The unexpected juxtaposition of these events provided an opportunity to think historically and politically about them.


Obviously during the American Revolution, the British were our enemy. Even as we honored the life of the British Queen at her death, we remember that here in New York, an iconic symbol of the American Revolution is the toppling of the recently-installed statue of King George III at the Battery in lower Manhattan.

We also recall the prison ships offshore in the Hudson River where arguably more Americans died at the hands of the British than did on the field of battle.

We remember the city where we were meeting as a city the British had burned. The burning of this one-time capital of New York State was a preview to the burning of the national capital in the next round of conflict between the two countries.

We remember that for seven years, the British occupied the city of New York. They continued to do so throughout the war even past the fighting at Yorktown. The reason George Washington spent more time during the American Revolution in New York than in any other state was precisely because of his fear that the still-present British might try something. We should remember Benedict Arnold in that context.

And finally we remember when at last after seven years, the British evacuated the city on November 25, 1783. Loyalists including Africans who had fought on behalf of the British left for Canada. The day would be become a holiday enthusiastically celebrated in New York City into the 20th century.

Eventually, of course, the United States and the United Kingdom became friends and allies. Their culture became intertwined with our culture. From Sherlock Holmes to 007 to the Beatles to Middle Earth to Harry Potter, it often became difficult to determine where one culture began and the other ended. (Americans would not wait patiently for hours on end without a squabble for anything yet alone a funeral procession.)

One driving force in this new-found friendship was the sharing of a common enemy – Germany in World War I, Nazi Germany in World War II, and the Soviet Union in World War III, the Cold War. In this face of common enemies that threatened us, the bloody differences of the American Revolution and the War of 1812 become secondary, part of the past we could move beyond. Now the same issue faces the members of the British Empire now Commonwealth.


In the United States, Frederick Douglass famously asked what the Declaration of Independence should mean to him. Yet despite the horrors of slavery in the United States, he never abandoned his American identity. A similar situation arises now for individuals and countries which once were part of the British Empire but are no more or which have the British monarchy as the nominal head of state but contemplate leaving.

Prince Charles recently experienced some of this feelings in his own visits to the lands/islands of the British Empire. Undoubtedly, once the hoopla of the Queen Elisabeth funeral fades, as King Charles III, he will have to face the new world order within the lands once ruled by Great Britain. He will have to deal with the human cost of imperial rule. The numbers vary tremendously from the 18th-century conflict with the United States and the 19th and 20th century conflicts with the global colonies. The differences in firepower from the former to the latter and between the British and their foes led to the deaths of far more people than in our American Revolution.

Similarly, there was a vast difference in the economic relationships. Back in the 18th century, the United States had little to plunder in comparison with other parts of the Empire especially the sugar from the Caribbean. The opportunity for exploitation was limited.

So today when individuals and countries challenge the British legacy, they have ample grounds to do so. We are at the beginning of a process that may or may not end in healing. As king, there are limits to what Charles III can do. Even beyond his institutional power, he lacks the international appeal of his children and their spouses. Nonetheless, collectively they have an opportunity to re-cast the relationship between the countries of the former British Empire. Whether they will try and whether they will succeed if they do try remains to be seen.


As the United States entered the global arena, it found it had shared interests with the Mother Country. Those interests continued to develop and strengthen over the course of the 20th century. It reached the point that one took for granted that the American President would attend the funeral for the Queen whose country fought us twice.

A new enemy may bring together the countries of the British Empire in ways no one anticipated. Pakistan was part of the Crown Jewel of the Empire, the Indian subcontinent that caused the Suez Canal to be built. Unfortunately, Pakistan has been in the news for all the wrongs reasons in recent weeks as well. The unimaginable damage and destruction from flooding makes sheer survival the number one challenge for country. Other parts of the former British Empire especially islands similarly are facing catastrophes on an unprecedented scale.

Truly it may be said in a time of climate change, we are all in this together. While not everyone has heard and absorbed the message, the high temperatures, droughts, and floods make it increasingly necessary for people both to live in the real world and to work together. Just as We the People learned to live with and become partners with our former adversary, so too it will become necessary for the countries of the former British Empire to learn to work together. I predict that when we celebrate the declaration of our independence from Great Britain, the latter will participate in the ceremony just as the President of the United States did in the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. One hopes that in the face of this new global threat, the same will be true for the lands Britain ruled and the country that ruled them.

Current Events and Local History

Historians Investigating the Coronavirus Pandemic

What is the purview of history museums? Some history organizations are event or person specific. Battlefields and homes are an example. Some organizations have the name of a municipality as part of the organization name. My position has been municipal societies have the responsibility to tell the story of where their area from the Ice Age to Global Warming. That covers all the people who have lived in the area now defined by the municipality, a roughly 12,000 year period or more. Generally historical societies ignore the first 11,600 or more years of that time period. That is the domain of science museums or natural history museums not history organizations. Technically based on the definition of history as beginning with writing, that omission is reasonable – the prehistoric times including people are for other organizations.

However, history organizations aren’t so good on the last 100 years either. There may be a lot about the colonial era, the American Revolution, the Civil War, industrialization, and even up to World War I. But after that things begin to peter out. If someone a century from now examined the records of your organization would they know that any one from your community had participated in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan? Sure the names of the people from your community who died in those wars might be listed on a monument or memorial somewhere in your community, but what information would you have about these people in your museum? What about the people who lived including on the home front? What records to you have?

How can something that happened during your lifetime be historical? It’s current events. Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated? “Kennedy was shot” is the answer in “Harry Met Sally” from the non-faked orgasm scene. Suppose you are in your 70s, a not unusual age for someone in a history society. That means you were born in the 1940s. That means you may have heard from grandparents and parents what happened in the Depression and World War II; you remember the 60s and Vietnam. Why should there be any information about them in your history society? That’s current events.

In general, history societies aren’t good at current events. By that I mean, even if you interview someone it might be about why that person or family emigrated to your community. Maybe you documented the responses and actions after 9/11 or Superstorm Sandy. Quite possibly not. That’s for the newspaper to do if you have one in your community. Collecting letters, diaries, and newspaper articles can be difficult when information is communicated by the internet and there is no local paper.

On April 2, 2020, in The New York Times (print), there was an article entitled “Using Their Inside Voice: Quarantine diaries, compiled using words and drawings, are a first draft of a mass confinement’s history.” The article states that future historians writing histories about life during the coronavirus pandemic will be interested in first-person accounts. Jane Kamensky, professor of American History at Harvard said, “They’re among the best evidence we have of people’s inner worlds. History isn’t usually told by the bigwigs of the era, even if they are some of its main characters. Instead it is often reconstructed from snapshots of ordinary lives.”

Here is an example from a history organization that is not a municipal one but person specific but is aware of documenting current events in local history. The Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation sent an email with the following:

We are living through a dramatic change in our lives; each day the numbers grow. Our children and grandchildren will one day ask us: “What was it like?” “What did you do each day?” “How did you feel?” These are the things we wonder about those who lived through the Pandemic of 1918-1919. Imagine finding a journal your grandparent left about that experience! Why not journal your experience and leave it for the generations to come?

The Gage center has the perfect way to do it: a new purse or pocket-size notepad that makes a great portable journal. It comes with a pen equipped with a stylus top that tucks into the elastic band that closes it. It measures 4″ x 3″ x 1/2″. Get one for yourself or the whole family and each night spend 10 minutes all journaling your day. Not only will it be a keepsake, it might also be a remedy for cabin fever!

Putting aside the retail aspect of this notice, it does highlight how such journals might not become family heirlooms but also historic artifacts in a museum along with diaries, letters, and journals from the 17-20th centuries.

In Europe, there curators and researchers who have as their responsibility documenting events and crises as they occur “Museums Strive to Bear Witness to the Pandemic,” NYT 4/7/20, print). That work is undertaken with knowing exactly the data they collect will be used. However they do so because just as people today draw on similar data from the past to understand those time periods, so the historians of the future will want to have information about our present and tourists will want to the artifacts of our present. How often can you take photographs of empty streets in daylight? How often can you see all the “closed” signs in a row of stores? The news networks constantly interview medical personnel about what is happening in their hospitals, testing facilities, supply chains right now. History societies and museums have members (and their email addresses). What’s going on with them? Help create the history record for the future.

Besides these personal expressions, what is going on in your community?

What has your mayor, your town supervisor, your county executive done?

What has you school superintendent done?

What did teachers do?

How about restaurant owners? Barbershops? Dry cleaners?

What can you do as an historical to reach out into your community to preserve the record of what is happening now?

With that in mind, below is a notice I received from the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS). Its words apply to history organizations as well.

As local government-appointed historians, it is our duty to document not just the past but the present. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event in all our lives; it is imperative that we record the impact on our communities and how our citizens respond. The Association of Public Historians of New York State suggests that you immediately begin documenting your community’s response and offer the following guidelines and suggestions:

Remember! Health and safety are your number one priority. Documenting your community’s response does not include risking your own health or that of your family and friends. Please follow all rules for social distancing and any quarantines that have been established.

Keep a diary. Beginning today, record your memories of local events and reactions to COVID-19 at least since the beginning of March. Continue to update that journal as we move forward: What are you doing, what are you hearing and seeing, and how is the response to COVID-19 affecting your normal habits? Encourage the public to do the same. This can be done by in a variety of ways. Individuals can keep handwritten or computerized diaries, write blogs, record video or audio diaries or use whatever creative venue appeals to them.

APHNYS has developed a form that historians can use to collect stories from throughout New York State. Once the crisis and the collecting period have ended, APHNYS will share the responses with historians throughout the state Please share the Google form widely within your community and via social media and encourage participation:

Be a witness to history! Share your COVID-19 experiences

We are living in a historic moment in time! The COVID-19 crisis is reshaping our daily lives and our communities. In the future, others will look back and learn from our experiences. This is why it is so important to begin recording the history of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on New York State’s people and communities. What is happening to us right now must not be forgotten! We need to document our experiences so that they can inform the response to future crises.

The Association of Public Historians of New York State and New York’s 1,600+ government-appointed historians want to record your witness-to-history experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please use this form to tell us what you are experiencing. How are you feeling? What are you hearing and seeing around you? What are you doing, and what effect is this having on you, your family, your neighbors, and your community? How is your life different now than it was before the pandemic? Please answer only those questions that are pertinent to you and that you wish to answer. Be creative in your responses. You may reply with written text answers or you may respond with poetry, artwork, video diaries or something else. We also want to see photographs of what is happening around you, in your home, and in your community. You will be able to upload images and artwork at the end of the survey.

With your permission, we will preserve these responses in our archive and in the archives of your local government historians and/or historical societies where they will be shared with researchers and the public now and in the future. Thank you for participating!


Conference Reports: National Council on Public History


Public historians come in all shapes and sizes. They call themselves historical consultants, museum professionals, government historians, archivists, oral historians, cultural resource managers, curators, film and media producers, historical interpreters, historic preservationists, policy advisers, local historians, and community activists, among many many other job descriptions. All share an interest and commitment to making history relevant and useful in the public sphere. The vast array of positions available can be seen on our Jobs page, updated weekly. [from the NCPH website]

The National Council on Public History held its annual meeting in April in Indianapolis. I did not attend but New Yorkers did. Most prominently Christine Ridarksy, the City of Rochester historian and Association of New York State Public Historian (APHNYS) board member, presented at the conference. She reported on the NCPH at the annual APHNYS conference including the creation of a mini-NCPH conference to be held in conjunction with the annual APHNYS conference in 2018 in Rochester.

Below are the relevant sessions from the review of the program. You will notice that some require an additional payment.

Public History Educators’ Forum – Ticket – $25

This annual event is an opportunity for faculty to share ideas about running graduate and undergraduate public history programs and to talk about university, departmental, and a wide variety of other issues. The discussion is always lively. Organized by the Curriculum and Training Committee and co-sponsored by The American West Center, University of Utah and Amherst College American Studies Department.


States of Incarceration Traveling Exhibit Opening Reception (Evening)
FREE and Open to the Public [with the development of a museum at Sing Sing this topic may be of relevance here in New York]

States of Incarceration, a project of the Humanities Action Lab, is a traveling exhibit representing the efforts of over 500 people in 17 states to document and explore the past, present, and future of incarceration in America. Teams of students and community partners across twenty cities, including Indianapolis, collaborated to explore incarceration in their hometowns. In April, coinciding with the NCPH conference, the exhibit will make its local debut at the Central Library. Indiana-specific content was designed by public history and museum studies students at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, in partnership with the Indiana Medical History Museum and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. NCPH attendees are invited to attend the reception, which will include a viewing of the exhibit, a program, and light refreshments.

Strategize Me! Personal Career Planning for Mid-Career Professionals
Ticket – $55
Facilitators: [New Yorkers] Anne Ackerson, Leading by Design; Linda Norris, Independent Consultant

The one thing that can be almost universally said about people who work in public history is that we’re here by choice—but once you’re in the profession, what then? “Strategize Me! Personal Career Planning for Mid-Career Professionals” is a participatory workshop that invites mid-career public historians to re-energize their career aspirations by giving them tools, ideas, and the space to bring a fresh focus to shaping the next stage of their career. Co-sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Amherst. (Limit 60 participants)


Shared Authority, Edited Stories: Wikipedia GLAM Experiences in Nashville

This session explores how GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museum) institutions in Nashville have collaborated to train Wikipedia editors and build a growing community of diverse editathons across the city. Each participant brings questions about the uses of digital formats like Wikipedia as teaching tools, how collections objects can tell neglected stories on Wikipedia, how specific collaborations to build citizen-historian-editors worked, and connections between Nashville and the African American art scene in the early 20th century.
Facilitator: Mary Anne Caton, Vanderbilt University
Participants: Glenda Alvin, Tennessee State University Clifford Anderson, Vanderbilt University
Deborah Lilton, Vanderbilt University, Rebecca VanDiver, Vanderbilt University, Amber Williams, Nashville Public Library


Doing Prison Public History: Examples and Challenges

How are the histories of prisons, criminal justice, and mass incarceration conveyed to the public? Prison history is integral to, yet strangely invisible in, the history of the United States, internationally notorious for its penal system. From public historians’ role in the media regarding contemporary prisons, to interpreting incarceration in museums, to revealing the ubiquity of prison labor, this panel will examine how prison is intertwined in American history, life, and culture.
Facilitator: Clarence Jefferson Hall, Jr., Queensborough Community College (CUNY)
Developing Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration at Eastern State Penitentiary, Annie Anderson, Eastern State Penitentiary [THE ROLE MODEL FOR THE SING SING MUSEUM]
Made in the USA: Prison Labor and the Invisible Foundation of Philadelphia, Joanna Arruda and Holly Genovese, Temple University
Doing Prison History in Prisonland: The New York Experience, Clarence Jefferson Hall, Jr.
Interpreting Incarceration: Penal Tourism at the Museum of Colorado Prisons, Julie Peterson, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Podcasts and Public History: A Roundtable

Podcasting gives historians an opportunity to engage with the public in their everyday lives, yet questions remain about why, when, and how to create a podcast. In this roundtable, public historians who have created and managed podcasts will discuss strategies, tips, methods, and reasons why podcasting is a powerful tool to connect multiple fields of history to larger audiences.
Facilitator: Robert Cassanello, University of Central Florida
Participants: Beth English, Princeton University
T. Evan Faulkenbury, State University of New York at Cortland
Edward T. O’Donnell, Holy Cross College
Lesley Skousen, Southern New Hampshire University

At present we have at least two radio history shows in the Mohawk Valley and Rockland County with the broadcasts then being made available as podcasts. I have advocated for a state history podcast and my understanding is the state historian is looking in to it (not necessarily because I suggested it; I am hardly the only person to be aware of them)

Stepping Out of the Reading Room: Public Historians in Libraries

Libraries often exist at the crossroads of communities, acting as a place for research, study, meetings, and much more as the diversity of services offered by libraries continues to expand. As interlocutors between the public, scholars, and authors, staff at libraries often find themselves at the intersection of multiple roles, including librarian, archivist, public historian, and event planner. Drawing from their experiences working in public and academic libraries, each panelist will discuss the diverse ways in which they act as public historians in their libraries. This includes planning lectures, exhibits, and workshops, as well as archives work and engaging in community projects and partnerships. Panelists hope to demonstrate the diversity of public history work being done in libraries as well as inspire the audience to implement new or strengthen existing programming and outreach initiatives at their own institutions.
Facilitator: Hannah Schmidl, Princeton Public Library
Panelists: “They’re Just Like Us”: Using College Archives in Documentary Research Classes to Increase Student Engagement and Transliteracy, Susan Falciani, Muhlenberg College
Engaging and Educating Citizens throughout the Commonwealth and Beyond: Outreach Programs, Projects, and Partnerships at the Library of Virginia, Catherine Fitzgerald Wyatt, Library of Virginia
Primary Sources before Primary School: Introducing Primary Source Literacy to Pre-Kindergarten Patrons of Chicago Public Library, Johanna Russ, Chicago Public Library
Connecting Community and Humanities: NEH Challenge Grant at Princeton Public Library, Hannah Schmidl

Many of our municipal historians are librarians. I consider the local library to be the ideal setting for the municipal historian. It has more extended hours than the municipal hall and is more accessible to the public. It often has space for books and objects the municipal hall lacks. We should be encouraging the library to be the home of the municipal historian. Remember Mary Bailey was a librarian in the alternate reality and she would have become the Bedford Falls archivist in the sequel after George returned to the real world.

Caught in the Middle: Public Historians, the Government, and the Public

As historians serving the state and public, we often feel “caught in the middle,” navigating between governmental aims and our professional goals to actively engage the communities we serve. As a roundtable of government-affiliated public historians, we will discuss case studies from all levels of government, successes and lessons learned, helping one another problem solve this sometimes-tenuous relationship and brainstorm best practices for effectively engaging the community while upholding the goals of our governing agencies.
Facilitator: Sue Hall Nguyen, City of Huntington Beach Historic Resources Board Emily McEwen, Orange County Parks
Participants: Thomas King, Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites
David Pfeiffer, Johnson County Museum of History
Christine Ridarsky, City of Rochester, NY
Kelly Spradley-Kurowski, National Maritime Heritage Program, NPS

In addition to the annual conference the NCPH is an advocacy organization. The following comes from its website.
NCPH participates in a variety of advocacy efforts, as outlined in the NCPH Advocacy Policy, to represent the interests of public history practitioners and promote historical understanding, which is of essential value in civil society.

The NCPH Board of Directors speaks out on behalf of the membership by:

• Developing partnerships and relationships with other organizations, professions and professionals, and communities;
• Engaging our many publics in conversation about the relevance of history;
• Being a strong advocate for the interests of public history practitioners in service to the public; and
• Supporting history education with a public historical perspective at all levels.

These sessions provide some insight into current issues among public historians. They are especially relevant here where we pay lip service to the idea that every municipality should have an historian. The sessions highlight the need to work more closely with the librarians in the state both by attending their conference and their attending the APHNYS one.

County Clerks/County Historians: A Match Made in Albany?

As the year winds down, I am trying to catch up on the conference reports from the time when I switched to an electronic newsletter and new website. During that period I fell behind and haven’t caught up. So here goes.

On October 14, I attended a conference in Albany between the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) and the New York State Historian. Devin Lander initiated the contact as part of his reaching out after he became the state historian in May. In the current APHNYS newsletter, Devin wrote:

A Message from the New York State Historian

As an action item, and in partnership with APHNYS, the Association of Counties (NYSAC), and the Association of County Clerks, I was able to coordinate and host a day-long training meeting for county historians and county clerks in Albany on October 14. It is my hope that this meeting was a pilot program for further annual training opportunities for Local Government Historians that can be expanded for 2017 and beyond.

During his earlier career as a legislative aide, he had the opportunity to interact with numerous state organizations. In his new job, he contacted NYSAC about working together. The result was this conference which by all accounts people the participants want to be an annual event moving forward.

NYSAC represents the 62 counties of the state. According to its website

As the voice of county officials throughout New York State, NYSAC is steadfast in communicating the needs and recommendations of our members to State and Federal lawmakers. Local government is at the heart of New York State, and we are proud to represent New York’s counties and their elected and appointed officials.

NYSAC represents New York counties and their taxpayers before Federal, State and local officials on matters germane to county governments.

NYSAC informs our membership and the public at large on issues of importance to county governments.

We educate, train, and provide research on public policy to Federal, State and Local officials and to members on issues important to counties.

We advocate for our 62 counties, including the City of New York, to the legislative and executive branches of government at the State and Federal levels.

I am particularly interested in two items NYSAC mentioned: the education and training it provides for its 62 members and its advocacy role in Albany on their behalf. It will conduct a three-day legislative conference in Albany from January 30 to February 1 and I presume this event is annual. In other words, at the beginning of the legislative session, NYSAC makes its presence known to the powers that be.

The organization has a staff of 13 people. By contrast APHNYS has none as a volunteer organization although we might consider Devin to be one. However, he is a government employee so it is not quite the same. MANY has a staff of two by way of comparison. The Executive Director and host for the conference in Albany is Stephen J. Acquario. I occasionally send him and his staff some of the New York History posts I write when I think it appropriate to his organization. He was kind enough to inform me of a name to add to my distribution list when there was a staff change at NYSAC. Would that the history organizations were so considerate.

Theoretically the conference audience could have consisted of 62 county clerks, 62 county historians plus administrative staff and public guests such as myself. In fact, attendance was fairly evenly split between the two groups based on a show of hands. I identified 14 county historians in the audience and there probably were a few more. They tended to be from the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys as one might expect with distant visitors all the way from Wyoming and Staten Island.

Although in principle there should be 62 county historians, everyone knows the state law is routinely violated with no penalty. Travel budgets for education or professional development similarly are minimal or non-existent. Even when there is paid-government county historian, that position is not necessarily secure. Consider the example of attendee Putnam County Historian Sarah Johnson, in a part-time government position she would like to make full-time. I received an email from a Putnam County legislator sent to a county history list serve. The message is reproduced below:

To all Fellow Historians;

Please call the Putnam County Legislature Office 845-808-1020 or e-mail name your legislator & show support to make the Putnam County Historian a full time position. Sarah Johnson is a very competent educated person & is doing a great job. The financial impact of this is minimal & there are about 5 misinformed residents who have the ear of the Legislature in stopping this. Some want to completely eliminate the position. Sarah will be able to help us with grants, tourism and of course archival preservation. Putnam County goes back to the beginning of our Republic. If we forget our past we will not know our future.

It is unlikely that any of NYSAC’s members have a similarly precarious position. Of course, it is unlikely that any county doesn’t have a county clerk at all. The position is mandated by state law and all counties apparently adhere to its stipulations.

Bill Cherry, the NYSAC President and Schoharie County Clerk gave the welcome. The Schoharie County Historian was in the audience. By contrast he has a day job to pay the bills; it happens to be in the history area unlike say the day jobs of county historians in Rockland and Sullivan but at least there is a position unlike Otsego and Westchester among others.

Gerry Smith, APHNYS President delivered the first presentation in one of his last acts before stepping down. He distributed a handout entitled “But What Am I Supposed to Do?” One of my favorite sessions at the annual APHNYS conference is the new historian session which I have written about before. As Gerry noted in his presentation, there is no training. The situation is very different than with county and municipal clerks. In the Q&A, the suggestion was made that the county clerk training provided by NYSAC should include a session on the importance and role of the county historian.

I would like to take this opportunity at the end of the year to reiterate my New Year’s resolution of year ago for this year: a one-week training program in Albany to be required for all county historians to include a day with:

New York State Archives
New York State Library
New York State Museum
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
New York State Education (on local and state history in the k-12 curriculum).

The training would conclude with a reception at the Executive Mansion with the Governor. Such a training program would include familiarizing historians with the REDC process and cultural heritage tourism. It would alert the county executives that the county historian position is one which should be taken seriously.

To emphasize the former importance of the historian position, a copy was distributed of an annual report submitted in 1927 to the state historian from a small town historian who went on to be elected president of the United States four times. But he never became a county historian!The Q&A and breakout sessions proved most informative since they provided people the opportunity to interact, learn from others, and commiserate. Some key items worth following up on from these discussions include:

Unfunded mandates by the state
Public programs
Developing a media presence
Getting local historians who have day jobs or who don’t drive at night to be more involved in county, regional, and state meetings.

As it turns out the NYSAC legislative advocacy agenda for its upcoming meeting includes:

Local Government Finance and Tax Relief

Urge voters to approve a constitutional convention so that delegates can consider ending the imposition of unfunded state mandates on counties and other local governments.

By law, New York State votes every 20 years whether or not to hold a state constitutional convention. In 1997, the voters voted “no.” The pace is likely to pick up on the 2017 vote once the new year begins and much preliminary work has done already for “ConCon” spearheaded by The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that the lunch speaker was Bruce Dearstyne. He writes repeatedly on behalf of New York State history and on how much we have to celebrate. Perhaps NYSAC can help the history community deliver this message to the Governor and the Legislature in a meaningful way.

All in the all, this hopefully inaugural conference was a good start to what should be an ongoing relationship between the county clerks and the county historians.

Colorado Hires a New State Historian: Is New York Next? Apply by March 16!!!!!!!

History Colorado Center
NYS Museum







In January, Colorado hired a new state historian. When I saw the notice, it prompted me to examine what being a state historian in Colorado meant and what that might mean for New York. As it turns out, although the title is the same, there are significant differences in how the two states operate. Technically the Colorado state historian will be part of History Colorado which according to its website is a twenty-first-century historical society. Its mission is:

Inspiring generations to find wonder and meaning in our past and to engage in creating a better Colorado

History Colorado is a private organization:

Established in 1879, History Colorado is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and an agency of the State of Colorado under the Department of Higher Education. We offer public access to cultural and heritage resources of Colorado, including statewide museums and special programs for individuals and families, collection stewardship of Colorado’s historic treasures, educational resources for schools, students and teachers, services related to preservation, archaeology and history, and the Stephen H. Hart Research Library.

As a private organization it operates under the authority of the State Department of Higher Education so there are immediate differences with New York.

The additional areas of responsibility according to its website are:

History Colorado’s statewide activities support tourism, historic preservation, education and research related to Colorado’s rich western history, offering the public unique opportunities to interact with Colorado history through its network of museums [9] which offer engaging exhibitions and special programs for adults and children.

Through our education programs, we work with schools across the state to provide classrooms and teachers with important resources and curriculum related to Colorado history, and offers local communities resources that help them to enrich historical-related community based programs.

Through the State Historical Fund historic preservation grants program, History Colorado has awarded millions in competitive grants to all 64 counties across Colorado, which has resulted in a more than $1.5 billion impact on Colorado’s economy.

As the State Historic Preservation Office, the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation handles the processing and documenting of statewide archaeological and historic preservation related projects.

These functions exist in New York as well but are not concentrated in one area.

In his recent post to New York History Blog on the state of the state historian

former state historian Bob Weible wrote that New York moved its State Historian from the Governor’s office to the newly formed Department of Education in 1911. According to Bob, after World War II, besides increasing support for the state’s many historians, historical societies, and history museums, the newly revitalized Office of State History took on the weighty responsibility for managing thirty-two state-owned historic sites. This configuration more closely matches what Colorado does today with the primary difference that one is a private 501(c)3 and the other a state entity.

To push the comparison further, Bob reports that:

a blue ribbon commission appointed by Nelson Rockefeller would even recommend the elevation of the State Historian position to assistant commissioner status with responsibilities for overseeing historical research, the state archives, a state history museum (separate from the existing, scientifically oriented State Museum), field services, and historic sites.

Clearly nothing like that exists with the current dysfunctional organization.

Bob went on to report that attempt to create something substantive did occur recently:

SED’s Office for Cultural Education, which oversees the State Archives, Library, and Museum, presented a 2011 strategic plan to SED’s Board of Regents that included the reinvention of the Office of State History [This link is to a site which can not be found.] And the Regents approved. The plan for State History was supposed to have been initiated in 2013 however, and it wasn’t, thanks principally to the Museum’s bureaucratic foot dragging.

The Legislature did get involved in its own way to no avail. When Assemblyman Steve Englebright chaired the committee on Governmental Operations, he sought to consolidate the history operations into something more closely resembling what the blue ribbon commission had recommended, the Regents had approved, and what Colorado now has. That effort went nowhere. He subsequently sought to create the equivalent of a history steering committee encompassing the disparate history functions scattered among the state bureaucracy. I attended and wrote about such a History Roundtable meeting held in May 2014. That effort went nowhere either.  New York continues to remain dysfunctional with no end in sight. The silos rule.

One change is happening. Bob became the state historian after the position had been vacant for seven years. However when he did so, technically he was not hired as state historian regardless of the press release to contrary. As far as the state payroll system was concerned he was the Chief Curator of History at the New York State Museum. In practice the majority of his time was spent as the curator of history exhibitions at the museum in Albany who occasionally would be allowed to leave the premises to attend statewide conferences such as APHNYS and NYSHA. He really did not have the staff, funding, or time to operate as a true state historian providing leadership to the history community in the state.

As goes the state, so go the counties. The situation in the history community involving the public historians is one where the state law continues to be flouted similar to the seven-year vacancy on the state level. Although officially the state takes pride in requiring all municipalities and counties to have an historian the requirement is disrespected by either not having one or not providing resources to make the position effective especially at the county level. In the recent APHNYS newsletter, President Gerry Smith who is a county and municipal historian who has a day job in a library where he actually can earn a living, wrote:

One initiative that we will work on in 2016 is a push to have every vacancy filled for every community. We will also be trying to ensure that those vacancies are filled by individuals and not museums, historical societies, etc.

Good luck with that effort. Worthy as it is, what incentive do mayors, town supervisors, or county executives have to comply with the law when New York State history is such a low priority in Albany?

As previously reported in a post by Orange County Historian Johanna Yaun, I said in a county history at Sullivan County, that I knew of only two full-time county historians in the state and they were in the audience: Johanna and Will Tatum of Dutchess. They thought there were a few more so I contacted a few people I knew who answered for themselves and some others they knew. So while this is not state survey here are the results:

Fulltime County Historians
Dutchess County Historian Will Tatum
Livingston County Historian Amie Alden who was once the subject of a post to New York History Blog
Orange County Historian Johanna Yaun
Wyoming County Historian Cindy Amrhein

Part-Time County Historians
Cayuga County 3 people
Putnam County Historian Sarah Johnson and 3 people

Fulltime Government Employees as County Historian and Records Manager
Chautauqua County as per Aime Alden
Genesee County as per Aime Alden
Montgomery County Kelly Yacobucci Farquhar
Wayne County Peter Evans

Gerry Smith informed me that a survey will be taken in January of all the counties so it will be good to have that information. Such a survey was last completed in 2001 by the then temporary state historian. Don’t you think that the state historian should have a database of all the government historians. Perhaps we can suggest that to the new state historian.

Yes, there will be a new state historian. I was just contacted by:

Patricia Polan
Associate in Instructional Services
Office of Curriculum and Instruction
New York State Education Department
Telephone: 518-473-0741

She requested I disseminate a job posting for:

Position: NYSED::Senior Historian, SG-22

Salary: $64,302 to a maximum salary of $81,415 based on annual performance advances

Location: Albany

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) is seeking to fill the position of Senior Historian in the New York State Museum. This position will serve as the Historian for New York State. The State Historian will have broad researched based knowledge about New York State, conduct research, provide statewide coordination and leadership of the historical communities in New York, promote collaboration, and a scholarship that ensures a greater understanding of the history of the State. Under the direct supervision of the Chief Curator (History), duties of this position will include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Perform historical research about New York State;
  • Provide guidance and leadership to New York State academic organizations, institutions, and local government historians appointed pursuant to Arts and Cultural Affairs Law 57.07;
  • Review annual reports submitted to the Commissioner of Education by local government historians;
  • Advise and assist any state agency, board, commission, office, civil subdivision, institution or organization in the planning and execution of any commemorative, scholarly conference or other gathering event relating to the history of the Colony and the State of New York;
  • Examine historical material to determine its significance and validity; and
  • Publish information concerning the history of the State of New York and regarding collections of historical materiel for academic and popular publications and (media) outlets.


For provisional appointment candidates must possess a Master’s Degree in History, Public History, Art History, American Studies**, or Museum Studies**, and three years of professional experience in collections management and/or research OR a Ph.D. in History, Public History, Art History, or American Studies**.

**Including or supplemented with nine credit hours in history.

PREFERRED QUALIFICATIONS: Special consideration will be given to candidates who possess the following qualifications:

  • Doctorate in American History showing a concentration of research of New York State history.
  • Five years of experience in the university level lecturing about New York State history.
  • Evidence of published peer reviewed historical research.
  • Editing of publications about New York State history.

CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT: This will be a provisional appointment. Promotions and transfers may change appointees’ negotiating unit. Applicants should be aware that changes in negotiating units may affect their salary, insurance, and other benefits.

APPLICATION: Qualified candidates should send a resume and letter of interest by March 16, 2016 to (email applications are preferred). You must include the Box number (OCE-937/27442) in the subject line of your email to ensure receipt of your application.

If you are interested in the actual PDF which I received, please contact me. This job posting is a step in the right direction but let’s see what resources the new State Historian to actually function as the state historian the way the Colorado State Historian does. The Conditions of Employment suggest other changes may be in the works.

This person will report to the Chief Curator of History. To see that job description go to the state website.

That position went to Jennifer Lemak who had been filling in for Bob since his retirement last summer.

Bob Weible optimistically ended his post on the state of the state historian with:

Maybe something good will happen. Maybe not. Stay tuned.