Subscribe to the IHARE Blog

History Agenda for the New Year

"A New History Year Is Coming! A New History Year is Coming!" Paul Revere postcard c. 1910 (

January marks the beginning of a new year for the legislators as well. Following the November elections there may be new people in office and new people in charge of the committees and subcommittees that affect the history community. Below are three items which can be considered for advocacy for the coming year.

Congressional History Caucus

The first item is one borrowed from the Federal Level. The National Coalition for History (NCH) has worked with the offices of representatives to create a Congressional History Caucus. These elected officials circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter to their fellow representatives urging them to join the caucus.

The caucus aims to provide a forum for members of Congress to share their interest in history and to promote an awareness of the subject on Capitol Hill. It is important for our community to be seen as a resource by Congress and we hope to build lasting relationships between Members of Congress and historians, archivists, teachers, students, genealogists, researchers, and other stakeholders in their respective districts. The History Caucus will increase NCH’s visibility and provide a network of supporters in Congress that we can reach out to when issues arise.

This mission statement could be adopted for the state level as well.

How exactly would the History Caucus achieve these goals? Some of the initial activities the History Caucus leadership has planned included:

1. Lectures by prominent historians and policy makers to provide historical context and perspective on current and past issues.
2. Promotion on the Hill of events and exhibits at the Library of Congress, National Archives, the Smithsonian and other historical institutions in Washington
3. Establishing relationships between Members of Congress and historians, the Architect of the Capitol, former Members of Congress, and historical institutions and history departments at academic institutions in their district.
4. Programs designed to increase awareness of history both here on Capitol Hill and among their constituents, especially students.
5. The creation of an annual award to be presented by the Congressional History Caucus members to an outstanding advocate for preservation of the past.

These specific activities may not all relate to state-level actions but are suggestive of what might be achieved. Exactly what has been done in practice since this initiative was launched is another matter.

Regardless of what has been achieved at the Federal level, my recommendations at the state level are:

1. Identify a statewide history organization willing to undertake such an initiative.
2. Identify legislators who have expressed an interest in history.
3. Have them write a “Dear Colleague” letter in support of the History Caucus to their fellow legislators.
4. Invite the legislators to an opening event during the legislative session.

As to where the event should be held: if you have a statewide history organization in the capital that can host it, it should be there; if you do not, then try to have one of the legislators arrange for a meeting within the legislative building.

As to what to once the kickoff session is held, here is where it gets tricky. Do you have an agenda for which to advocate? If not, then why not? The initial meeting can be a somewhat open fluid exchange about what the history community has to offer the state. It is quite likely that preservation efforts are the ones the best organized at present and already doing something. That still leaves open anniversaries, civics, funding, education, and tourism as a starter for topics to discuss.

If there already is a history caucus endeavor in your state, please let me know and I will be happy to share what are doing there with other states.

History Day

Each year National History Day selects a theme for the contest. Although you may select a topic on any aspect of local, regional, national, or world history, your project’s research and conclusions must relate clearly to the annual theme.

In a newsletter to the municipal historians in New York State, Devin Lander, the State historian, commented on the operation of the History Day program and where it could be improved.

A Message from the State Historian

I would like to see History Day grow and become more inclusive of students from all schools. I know that teachers are busy and that resources in some districts are slim and that having students participate in History Day amounts to an extracurricular activity in most schools. Which is why I would like to encourage those Local Government Historians who are not already involved to take part in their local and regional schools’ History Day programs, or work with their schools to start a program where there is currently none.

Despite how wonderful the projects were that I judged both at the regional level and at the statewide competition, I was struck by the fact that in all three categories there was only one project that dealt with New York history (the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire). This year’s theme, Conflict and Compromise in History, could have been filled with local and state history topics, as could any year’s theme. I think this presents Local Government Historians with an opportunity to work with their schools, teachers, and students to develop exciting, engaging, and fun local and state-based History Day topics. As a judge, I know that such topics would really stand out.

Local Government Historians are resource rich treasures of historical knowledge; you know where the good local stories are! If you are not already doing so, I encourage you to reach out to your schools and find out if they are currently participating in History Day and offer to help. Perhaps you could work with a teacher or teachers to help facilitate meetings of a History Day club after school at your office, the local library, or historical society.

History Day provides an existing framework through which high school students can be exposed to local and state history. It provides another way to strengthen the connection between the schools and the historical societies. The theme this year is “Triumph & Tragedy in History.” Of course, another possibility is to create a State History Day tied into to an anniversary in the state. The anniversaries of the ratification of the Federal or state constitutions are two such days that come to mind. It does not really matter, it is the engagement with the students that matters.

Arts and Cultural Districts

New York State Senator Jose M. Serrano has proposed an Arts and Cultural Districts Bill. The legislation would create arts and cultural districts throughout the state in order to promote the growth and development of the arts and culture sector. The State has an abundance of artistic and cultural destinations. These destinations are major economic engines for the local economy and greatly improve the quality of life for the surrounding communities. The legislation will create guidelines for state-certified “Arts and Cultural Districts”, allowing these destinations to receive technical assistance in applying for grants, marketing, increasing tourism opportunities, and other economic development opportunities. Whether it is a concentration of museums or historic sites with artistic or cultural value, many destinations throughout the state have untapped potential that can be further harnessed through this bill.

According to the proposed legislation, a district would be defined as follows:






This legislation has been kicking around the two chambers since the 2015/2016 session. Exactly how it would work if implemented remains to be seen. The point is here is legislation which affects the history community. If I may cite the musical “Hamilton,” does the history community want a seat at the table in the room where it happens? Does Senator Serrano know if the history community cares about this legislation or has anything to contribute?  Are there similar initiatives in other states?

As the new legislative year, let’s think about what if anything the history community would like to see happen and then what needs to be done to make it happen.


News from the New York State Historian


Devin Lander, the New York State Historian, is approaching his one-year anniversary in May. One of the changes he made since he attained this full-time historian position involves the creation of a State Historian website announced on September 16, 2016. In his message he wrote:

Find statewide history at your fingertips.

The idea for this website is to provide an online conduit for information exchange between the New York’s historical field and the work of the NYS Museum Office of State History.  The website includes links to various history related resources that provide information on grants, best practices, conferences, etc.  The website also provides information on what the Office of State History is working on related to exhibits, publications, lectures, research, and events.

The website also has a calendar of history-related events taking place related across the state.  This calendar seeks to present simple content (date, time, location, brief description) created by historians for their event and either sent to me for posting.  Types of events can include: historical celebrations, lectures, exhibit openings, fairs, festivals, meetings, reenactments, etc. 

Please email your events for posting to:

The website’s news and articles division also seeks content from the field.  My voice should not be the only voice heard.  My colleagues in the Office of State History will be writing entries describing the work they are doing.  I also hope to feature “guest” authors who will write about the work they are doing related to New York State History.  I am seeking article entries from Local Government Historians, academic historians, Federal Government historians, historians from other State agencies, and historical museums and society staff.  Please send me ideas!  The entries should be brief (1,200-1,500 words) and related to interesting work being done on New York State history.

The website is a positive addition for people interested in the state of New York State history but I confess I had not paid it much attention since its inaugural. It was there if you looked for it but how did you know if there was anything new to look at? Perhaps if Devin sent notifications of changes to John Warren, a former teacher of his and editor of New York State History Blog, it would help disseminate the information to a broader audience.

I was reintroduced to the website when I conducted a search for a canal barge program to be done by Corning Glass (subject of a future post). At that point, I noticed his admittedly belated New Year posting dated February 14. It contained information about the newly established History Advisory Group that was the subject of a recent post by me on March 13. My source for the post was public information from press releases but it turns out there was additional information from Devin’s post which deserves attention.

He wrote:

On December 6th, 2016, the NYS Museum hosted a gathering of the newly formed New York State History Advisory Group.  This Advisory Group was brought together at my request to provide guidance and suggestions to me related to the field of history in New York, including opportunities and challenges.  The group is purely advisory and volunteer in nature and includes representatives from various perspectives including local government historians, state agencies, the National Park Service, heritage areas, academia, historic preservation, and history museums.  The intent is for the group to meet twice a year and for the members to serve two-year terms to ensure a rotating diversity of viewpoints and perspectives.  The mission of the Advisory Group is to advise the State Historian on ways to strengthen the capacity of New York’s historical programs and history community to carry out the preservation, management, interpretation, teaching, learning, research, publication, study and use of New York’s state and local history and to elevate history as a field of endeavor at the national, state and local level.

After listing the members, Devin proceeded to reveal some of what the attendees actually discussed when they met, information not in the press notices I read.

At the December 6th meeting, there were several points of interest that were discussed by the group.  One topic discussed was updating the document “Duties and Functions of New York State’s Local Government Historians,” which is being amended and is now posted on the website.  It is a brief document that serves as a de facto “job description” for local government historians.  It can act as a guiding document for local government historians as the Association of Public Historians of NYS (APHNYS) works to create a comprehensive manual.

Another topic that generated much discussion was the possibility of changing NYS History month from November to a different, more accessible, month.  November tends to be a problematic month because so many historic sites that might host History Month programming and events close after Columbus Day.  The Advisory Group discussed what possible months may be better and suggestions included October (which is already Archives Month) and possibly April (which is the month when New York’s first Constitution was ratified).  April might run into some of the same issues as November with many sites not opening for their season until May.  To change History Month from November to another month requires an amendment to the existing law which would require an act of the Legislature.  Further input from the field is welcomed going forward.

The duties and functions of the municipal historian is a topic which has been discussed here on several occasions (for example, see, County Clerks/County Historians: A Match Made in Albany?  One of my favorite sessions at the annual conference of the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS) is the new historian session. Unfortunately the tale of woe remains constant: no training, and no guidance as people are thrown into the job. The lack of clearly defined specified responsibilities makes it easy for county executives, mayors, and town supervisors to dismiss, disregard, and diminish the position. A SUNY grad student composed guidelines in 1997. They need to be updated to take into account the new technologies. I have suggested a week-long training session for county historians in Albany with the various related state agencies. Based on the principle of “start at the very beginning, a very good place to start” and take it one step at a time, defining the position would be a major step forward in improving the status of the position throughout the state. Creating these guidelines and procedures along with the requisite training should be a top priority.

As for State History Month, a relevant question is “what are we trying to achieve with this month or designation?” We have a black history month and a women’s history month. What are the goals of these months and what needs to be done to achieve those goals? Does anyone think that without State History Month, Path through History weekends, and the other officially-designated time periods there would be no talks, tours, walks, events, or anniversaries? In fact many talks, tours, walks, events, and anniversaries occur at otherwise ordinary times that do not fall within the rubric of being part of an officially-designated time period. In baseball there is WAR or “wins over replacement.” It means what does someone contribute above over not being there. For example, George Bailey added a lot to the fabric of life in Bedford Hills by being present; subtract him and it’s a big loss to the community. How much of these specially-designated time periods are merely padding a resume for show without really adding value? Let’s use the issue of State History Month to seriously think about what we want to accomplish by highlighting a specific time interval and what are the ways to accomplish it.

Wouldn’t the annual conference of the Museum Association of New York (MANY) just held in Saratoga Springs have been an ideal venue to reach out to the history community to discuss this and other issues? If there could be separate discussion sessions for executive directors, collections and exhibit design staff, on programs, for students, and fundraising, why couldn’t there be a session with the State Historian? The same for the annual conferences of APHNYS and GHHN.

Just as I was preparing to write this blog, another change was introduced into the mix. Devin sent out an email about a listserv he has created:

Office of State History Newsletter


You are receiving this email from the Office of State History Listserv because of your interest or work within the field of New York State History. This listserv has been created by the New York State Historian as a way to communicate with the field regarding important events, news, or other information that will be made available on the Office of State History website at:

The listserv will only be used to direct your attention to updates to the website. If you are not interested in receiving these updates through the listserv, you may unsubscribe at any time.

If you would like to have public historical events or historical news items posted on the website, or if you have an idea for a more in depth historical posting, please contact

I am not sure exactly how one subscribes to the list if one is not already on it. Every municipal historian at the village, town, city, and county level should be a subscriber. Of course, that would necessitate a database of all such individuals. APHNYS strives to maintain such a file but it is a daunting challenge for a volunteer organization. One regulatory change I would support is for all county executives to annual certify the names and contact information of the historians for each of the municipalities in the county…starting with the county historian position.

In addition, I think all statewide organizations both private and public should include New York History Blog in the distribution so news isn’t simply restricted to one’s members. Certainly every county historian should do so as well…but then not every county has a county historian and even those that do don’t necessarily send out monthly or even quarterly messages to the history community of the county on what is going on. Now we are back at the beginning of the process whereby creating the guidelines for what municipal historians are supposed to do is the first step. Imagine if full-time Orange County historian Johanna Yuan’s monthly newsletter was available as a template for all counties to use simply by plugging in their photos, logo, and information so everyone wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Who really knows what is going on out there among the county historians, a subject for a forthcoming post.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Devin for being a dedicated reader of my posts and for the steps he has taken on behalf of New York State history so far, undoubtedly with more to come.

The New “New York State History Advisory Group”

AP  Ben Gorenstein credit  posted by News Channel 13

On June 2, 2016, I wrote “The New York State Historian Position: Creating the New York State History Advisory Coalition.” In my post, I noted the vacancy in the position for the Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Cultural Education. The Office of Cultural Education includes the New York State Archives, the New York State Library, and the New York State Museum which includes the New York State Historian. The position is still vacant. Normally, I do not send my posts to the New York State Regents, the entity overseeing the New York State Education Department which includes all these facilities. I did that time and received a reply from Roger Tilles of Long Island, the chair of the Regent subcommittee for the Office of Cultural Education. I will send the Regents this post as well.

In that post, I also referred to a letter written to Governor Cuomo by Ken Jackson, the founder and president of the New York Academy of History (NYAH). At the previous annual meeting of the Greater Hudson Heritage Network (GHHN) in October, 2015, Ken, Lisa Keller, a colleague at NYAH, and I had lunch and discussed the Path through History project. Ken had been on the now-disbanded history advisory of that project. Its disappearance was the subject of the post  “RIP The Path Through History Taskforce” a few weeks earlier on September 29, 2015.

Also as reported, during the summer of angst, another set of letter had been written by Judy Wellman and Carol Kammen, well-known scholars and advocates for state and local history, the Underground Railroad, and Women’s History Trail. Their open letters to the powers that be sought to raise issues of pressing concern for the history community. Their efforts may be considered advocacy on behalf of that normally voiceless community.

One suggestion made was the creation of New York State History Advisory Board. For example, there is a Tourism Advisory Council created by the Governor with state and non-state members. As far as I can tell, I am the only member of the public, meaning someone not on the agenda or in the tourist business, who has attended any of those meetings. The point here is there is no inherent reason why the Regents couldn’t create an official history advisory group it wanted to.

As to the members of such an advisory group, the NYAH has its own advisory board consisting of:

*Kenneth T. Jackson (Committee Chair), Barzun Professor of History, Columbia University
Carol Berkin, Distinguished Professor of History Emerita, Baruch College
Laurence Hauptman, SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History
*Lisa Keller, Professor of History, Purchase College SUNY
Susan Lewis, Associate Professor, Deputy Chair and Graduate Advisor, Department of History, SUNY New Paltz
Dr. Dennis J. Maika, New Netherland Institute.

Expanding on that list of concerned historians, the open letter of Carol and Judy was also sent to state officials:

*Rose Harvey, Commissioner, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
*Thomas J. Ruller, Archivist, New York State Archives
*Gavin Landry, Director, I Love New York

and to non-state government people:

*Amie Alden, Executive Chair, Government Appointed Historians of Western New York [and Livingston County Historian]
*Paul D’Ambrosio, President and CEO, New York State Historical Association
*Jay DeLorenzo, Executive Director, Preservation League of New York State
Carol Faulkner, President, Upstate New York Women’s History Group
Peter Feinman, Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education (blogger)
Lynn (Spike) Herzing, Director, New York Cultural and Heritage Tourism Network [and member Tourism Advisory Council]
*Carol Kammen, Historian, Tompkins County [and Fellow, New York Academy of History]
*Lisa Keller, New York Academy of History
Devin Lander, Executive Director, Museum Association of New York [now Erika Sanger]
*Sara Ogger, New York Humanities Council (subsequently renamed Humanities New York)
*Gerry Smith, President, Association of Public Historians, New York State
John Warren, New York History Blog
*Judith Wellman Director, Historical New York Research Associates [and Fellow, New York Academy of History]

I suggested in my post some additional individuals in the private sector with a statewide perspective to be considered for an advisory board:

Robert E. Bullock, The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government
*Bruce Dearstyne, former archivist and author/blogger/columnist
John McEneny, former municipal historian and state legislator
Bob Weible, former state historian

and representatives from the New York State Archaeological Association/New York Archaeological Council and New York State Council of Social Studies among others.

The names with the * mean those people or a deputy are now on the new New York State History Advisory Group.

At the conclusion of my post last June, I identified seven agenda items for discussion by the history advisory committee. I then asked: “Who is willing to host the first meeting? Who would attend?”

I did receive a reply from an upstate college willing to host such a meeting in August. Between 15-20 people agreed to attend including some on the list above. Others wanted to but were unavailable that day. We were very eager to have Devin participate as the new state historian. One advantage this proposed group had was since it was not part of the state government it could directly contact any government official. Once Devin declared his intention to form an advisory group through his position as State Historian, the meeting fell through and was not held.

Now we have an advisory group. As reported in New York History Blog:

The New York State Museum has announced the creation of the New York State History Advisory Group. The group is expected to meet, according to an announcement sent to the press, “periodically to advise the New York State Historian on issues related to the history field in New York State, including suggestions pertaining to local and municipal historians, academic history, historic preservation, and heritage tourism.” The Advisory Group’s suggestions and recommendations are “purely advisory in nature and are nonbinding” the announcement said.

The members of the advisory group are listed below by sector.


*Bruce Dearstyne, PhD Author and Historian Adjunct Professor, University of Maryland *Kenneth T. Jackson: PhD Jacques Barzun Professor of History & Social Science, Columbia University; Fellow, New York Academy of History
*Lisa Keller, PhD Professor of History, SUNY Purchase; Fellow, New York Academy of History
Monica Mercado, PhD Assistant Professor, Colgate University
Ivan D. Steen, PhD Director, Center for Applied Historical Research; SUNY Albany
*Judith Wellman, PhD Professor Emerita, SUNY Oswego; Director, Historical New York Research Associates; Fellow, New York Academy of History
Craig Steven Wilder, PhD Professor of American History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Fellow, New York Academy of History

For the non * people, I do not know Monica Mercado. Ivan Steen has been actively involved in the teaching of public history and attends various state conferences which I also attend. Former Jefferson County Historian Laura Lynne Scharer wrote a 275-page municipal historian handbook entitled “What Am I Supposed to Do?” (published in 1997) drawing on her work as one of his graduate students. Certainly it is time for an update.

I briefly met Wilder at the annual conference of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) last summer in New Haven. He spoke in a session on “Universities and the Legacy of Slavery.”  Although he teaches at MIT and therefore might not seem appropriate for a New York State History Advisory Group he is from Brooklyn and attended Columbia where his teacher was Ken Jackson. He is a member of Ken’s NYAH as are several of the advisory group members.


*Amie Alden, Executive Chair, Government Appointed Historians of Western New York [and Livingston County Historian] was the subject of a post on July 18, 2012
* Carol Kammen Tompkins County Historian; Fellow, New York Academy of History
*Gerry Smith, now the former President, Association of Public Historians, New York State [and still Broome County Historian and Binghamton City Historian]

Museums and Historical Societies

Melissa Brown Executive Director, The Buffalo History Museum
Marci Reaven, PhD Vice-President for History Exhibitions, New-York Historical Society; Fellow, New York Academy of History

I don’t know either of them although I do know people at the N-YHS. The Buffalo to New York combination is geographically inclusive. What’s missing is the voice for the smaller historical societies and museums such as from the Executive Director of MANY, Devin’s former job.


John Haworth Senior Executive, National Museum of the American Indian-New York City
Bob Radliff, Executive Director, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor
Amy Bracewell, Superintendent, Saratoga National Historical Park

The national representatives are a diverse group. John is part of the Smithsonian, in New York, and once participated in a social studies conference at my request. I was just at his site a few days ago for a program. My Saratoga Teacherhostels/Historyhostels were before Amy was there and she does get my posts. Bob is a dedicated reader of my posts and with the bicentennial of the Erie Canal coming up, this is the ideal time for him to be on the committee. I have been in contact with some canal people about a Wedding of the Waters re-enactment which I intend to write about in the future when/if the details are fleshed out.

I maintain an NPS email distribution list of 120 people with a response rate averaging 43%


*Jay Di Lorenzo, President, Preservation League of New York State
Alexandra Parsons Wolfe, Executive Director, Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities

I do not know these people and neither one reads my posts. I maintain a preservation email distribution list of 99 people throughout the state with a response rate averaging 22%.


* NYSOPRHP  John Bonafide, Historic Preservation Office, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation,
and Historic Preservation
* I Love NY   Ross Levi, Vice President of Marketing Initiatives, Empire State Development/NYS Division of Tourism
* NYS Archives James Folts, PhD Head of Researcher Services, New York State Archives; Fellow, New York Academy of History
Stefan Belinksi Community Historian The People of the Colonial Albany Live Here Website; Fellow, New York Academy of History [formerly New York State Museum]

Three of these people are members of representatives of their departments. One notes the absence of the NYS Library.

I maintain a tourism distribution list of 277 people including I LoveNY, the county TPAs, and various regional and private tour groups and operators with a response rate averaging 26%.

I maintain an NYSOPRHP and NYSED email list of 246 people with a response rate averaging 26%.

Interestingly, the heads of these departments do read my posts.


Eva M. Doyle Retired Teacher, Historian and Columnist

* Sara Ogger, PhD Executive Director, Humanities New York

I have attended various meetings of HumanitiesNY including in their Manhattan office, received funding from them, and have a good relationship with them.

Overall, the advisory group represents a diverse range of sectors within the history community including geographically. Some of the responses to New York History Blog expressed concern about the lack of representation from the North Country and the Mohawk Valley (save for the Erie Canal). One could also add the Hudson Valley. There are limits as to how many people an advisory group can have before it becomes unwieldly. It was a challenge to get people together to host the first meeting. Since it will be meeting only “periodically,” suggesting less frequently than monthly or quarterly and more often than annually, one can see the challenges ahead for this group even if it was an official one with actual responsibilities, duties, and funding.

I hope that there will be public dissemination of the results of the meetings. I hope that there will be statewide grassroots meetings so the history community has an opportunity to express concerns that will be communicated to Devin. Naturally I hope that the advisory group will be officially recognized by the Regents/Education Department. I pledge to do my share in spreading the word to the sectors identified above as well as to the thousands of people in the history community on my distribution list.

Note: Since this post was written Marck Schaming, Director of the New York State Museum, has been named the Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Cultural Education.