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Conference Reports: National Council on Public History

WHO DOES 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.

QUESTION – HOW MANY COLLEGES IN THE STATE OFFER PUBLIC HISTORY PROGRAMS AND ARE THERE EVER SIMILAR SESSIONS TO THIS ONE HELD AT ANY OF THE STATE CONFERENCES?

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)

QUESTION – WHAT ARE THE CAREER PATHS AVAILABLE TO PUBLIC HISTORIANS IN THE STATE? ARE THERE ANY SESSIONS AT ANY OF THE STATE CONFERENCES THAT ADDRESS THIS ISSUE? NOT EVERYONE IN THE HISTORY COMMUNITY IS RETIRED OR HAS A SECONDARY JOB WHILE THE SPOUSE EARNS THE REAL MONEY AND HAD A CAREER.

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

QUESTION – IS THIS SOMETHING CITIES IN THE STATE COULD DO?

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)
Panelists:
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  putcoleg@putnamcountyny.gov 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
Training
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!!!!!!!

unnamed
History Colorado Center
NYSED
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
Patricia.Polan@nysed.gov
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.

MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS:

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 ocejobs@nysed.gov (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.