Subscribe to the IHARE Blog

The NPS Imperiled Promise: Recommendations to Eliminate the Peril – Is Anybody Listening? (Part III)

After all the surveying and analysis as described in two previous posts, the authors of the study Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service turned to the recommendations to alleviate the situation. As one might expect they called for the NPS to recommit to history as one of its core purposes and to adhere to the “best available sound history scholarship as a standard of quality for the NPS history.

They proposed 12 approaches to historical research to be discussed nationwide throughout the NPS.

  1. Expand interpretive frames beyond existing physical resources

Any physical site including its physical resources is only a remnant of a disappeared past. Furthermore historical research may uncover stories not directly represented among the physical objects which by chance happened to have survive. Tell the big story.

  1. Emphasize connections of parks with the larger histories beyond their boundaries

No site is an isolated island whose stories are limited to the physical space set aside by law. Learn the connections and include them in the story of your site. I will add that tourists may already make such connections in their itineraries whereby they visit multiple locations during their vacation.

  1. Highlight the effects of human activity on “natural” areas

Integrate nature and culture. Natural areas or landscapes may have been shaped by human activity. I will add that representations of natural areas also may obscure the human activity which shaped. Human activity shaping the landscape did not begin with European settlers. Leave the two-dimensional clichés to Disney. Tell the stories of real people.

  1. Acknowledge that history is dynamic and always unfinished

For example the male white (English) Harvard New England historians of the 19th century tended to privilege the role in the American Revolution of male white New Englanders in their writings and scholarship. Both New York and the South were shortchanged as well as other ethnicities, races, and genders. In another example, ten years ago how many high school students had even heard of Hamilton? The more people want to be part of the story of the American Revolution, the stronger the United States becomes. I don’t know if every immigrant to England, France, and Germany connects with William the Conqueror (or King Arthur), Charlemagne (or Napoleon), Frederick the Great (or Bismarck), but every American can connect with some figure in the American Revolution. History grows when it is alive and part of our journey as a country.

  1. Recognize the NPS’s role in shaping every park’s history

Those who tell the story become part of the story because of what they choose to tell. I will add, should every guide at a single site tell the same story? Given that not everything can be communicated in a single tour, why should every tour be the same? The visitors too have different interests. For example as part of two conferences, I recently visited the Oriskany Battlefield twice. We had the same NPS Ranger guide. For the American Revolution in the Mohawk Valley conference, he spoke about the battle; for the Erie Canal Bicentennial conference, he spoke about the stones from the nearby canal being used to construction the monuments at the battle site. Let’s recognize the different aspects of the story at a site and allow visitors to have some control over what they will experience.

  1. Attend to the role of memory and memorialization at historical sites.

“Rather than freezing an event depicted at a park or site as something that happened in the past, history interpreters should acknowledge and investigate the diverse and changing ways (and reasons) that people have remembered and assigned significance to that event or place (up to and since the when the park itself was designated “historic”). I will add, fossils (of dinosaurs) do have an appeal, but an immersion into history provides a more vibrant memory for the visitor.

  1. Highlight the open-endedness of the past

“Rather than cloaking historical outcomes with a gloss of inevitability, history interpreters might pry open past events to reveal the many viable alternatives a multitude of past actors faced as they struggled to solve actions, take actions, and frame horizons.” I will add, suppose William Johnson had lived throughout the American Revolution instead of dying in 1774? Suppose slavery had been the deal-breaker that prevented the United States from constituting itself as a country in 1787, then what?

  1. Forthrightly address conflict and controversy both in, and about, the past

Scholars disagree. Do visitors know that? For the NPS with its many Civil War sites, this admonition can be a real challenge especially with all the talk today about memorials, statues, and street names.

  1. Welcome contested and evolving understandings of American civic heritage

This recommendation seems like a variation of the previous one. The civic aspect is crucial.

  1. Envision “doing history” as means of skills development for civic participation

Tours tend to teach details not skills. Tours tend to provide small-bore facts that are quickly forgotten. Quick, which painting is of the second son of the patriarch and what is name of the woman he married on the painting next to him? As I worked my way through this list of recommendations, I realized, as you readers may have, that many of these recommendations are more suitable for a classroom, i.e., an air-conditioned setting where people are sitting down for up to 30-45 minutes as in a public lecture, than to an outdoor or non-airconditioned indoor setting where people are standing and on the move. Perhaps it should be no surprise that the consultants, professors obtained through the auspices of the Organization of American History, would tend to recommend replicating the ideal classroom setting without taking into account the practicalities of the visitor logistics and expectations.

  1. Share authority with and take knowledge from the public

Again this recommendation seems like a variation on a theme and one more appropriate to the classroom than the guided tour. If these conversations are to occur in an academic setting such as a ranger attending a history conference, then such exchanges are worthwhile and one of the purposes of a history conference. If these conversations are to occur during a guided tour then it seems more reminiscent of having a discussion with a loudmouth know-it-all who could dominate the tour if left unchecked.  Exactly what are the venues where these conversations with the public are supposed to occur? Typically guided tours are not conducive to such exchanges with the general public but can work with a controlled group such as teachers.

  1. Better connect with the rest of the history profession and embrace interdisciplinary collaboration

By this the authors specifically mean NPS historians should have ongoing relationships with public history sites, academia, and k-12 education. I interpret this to mean in part attending the national and state history conferences of various organizations, attending the history conferences about related subjects, attending social studies conferences.


Collectively, these recommendations certainly present a positive vision of history at history sites. My questions and concerns are where the rubber hits the road. Exactly how are these recommendations to be implemented? What do they really mean on the frontlines where the worlds of the tourist visitor and the Park Ranger intersect? Since historic sites are not cookie cutter facilities, what do they mean in the different settings? How are Park Rangers to be trained to do what the recommendations suggest?

Ironically, the tourist visitor already has implemented some of these recommendations. When tourists plan a vacation trip, they select the places they intend to visit. In other words, they are positioning an historic site within a host of places in their one-week vacation. In so doing, they are making connections to other venues, not all necessarily historic, as they schedule their trip.

Sometimes the geographic range of the associated sites to a NPS historic site may be quite extensive. Think of the Civil War battlefields as the most obvious. Sites also may be connected to state, county, local, and private sites as well in the event covered or the person/people who lived at the NPS site. This means cooperating and collaborating both within the NPS especially across thematic lines and with external organizations. Is there a mechanism to do that?

There are a wide range of facilitates within the NPS umbrella. Some would find it easier to comply with these suggestions than others. For example in New York, there is a giant FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt complex in Hyde Park including grounds, multiple structures, a presidential library, and a visitor center thanks in part to Friends with Benefits. I have conducted week-long Teacherhostel/Historyhostel at the site combing NPS and non-NPS presenters, tours, and walks. People can spend a day there on their own and the site has its own cafeteria. This site has the size to implement the recommendations if it hasn’t done so.

On the other hand, there is nearby St. Paul’s Church, scrunched into a now-commercial area in Mount Vernon. The site is owned by the NPS but operated by a private group. Its friends group doesn’t begin to compare to that of the Roosevelts. It lacks the space of the larger Roosevelt site. Its lectures are in the unairconditioned church itself where we sit in the colonial church pews. Quite a different experience. Although I park often by Grant’s Tomb by the Hudson River near Riverside Church in Manhattan, its setting in a plaza makes it a stop on the gazillions of bus tours “doing Manhattan.” It really is a tomb. People take their pictures and then it is on to the next non-NPS site which has nothing to do with Grant. How should these sites implement the recommendations?

Before continuing to exam Imperiled Promise, I suggest certain actions to be taken which would benefit not only the NPS but the history community in general.

1. Workshops on recommendations of Imperiled Promise to be held in the primary NPS areas in New York such as New York City, Hyde Park, Saratoga, and Rome.

2. The workshops to be open to non-NPS sites including the NYSOPRHP sites. As an example, the NPS has a site at Fort Stanwix in Rome, it operates the aforementioned Battle of Oriskany site for the NYSOPRHP which owns it. NYSOPRHP also owns and operates nearby the home of the commander of the American force, Palatine General Herkimer (but without a site manager). Then there are related non-government sites like Herkimer’s Church and the Shako:Wi Cultural Center of the Oneida who supported the American side in this America Revolution battle. The division of the Haudenosaunee into competing sides for one tribe fought another had lasting effects to this very day. Look how much is missed if only one site is visited or if the separate sites do not function together.

Imperiled Promise isn’t only a wakeup call to the NPS to get its history act together, it’s a call to the entire history community. Is anybody listening?

Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service Part II

This post is the second in a series investigating Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, an NPS-commissioned study with implications for the NPS historic sites in New York, the state counterpart with the NYSOPRHP historic sites, as well as for historic sites in general. For Part I, click here.

Imperiled Promise, proposes “a new vision of history” designed to “lift history out if its often marginal state” by stressing its place as a core activity.

So positioned, history can help the NPS better guard the precious resources in its care, and propel the agency toward greater relevance to American civic life….to fulfill its promise of creating an inspired, informed, and thinking citizenry.

The deliberate use of the word “civic” signifies the commitment to the vision of local/state/national history as in integral part of the social fabric of the community, a fabric that is being unraveled even more so today than in 2011 when the report was written. The ongoing controversies about Confederate memorials testifies to the power of historical memory to the present and of the need to bring it out into the open and see the light of day. Since many NPS sites are military battlefields, it should not be surprising that the NPS also is on the frontlines of the cultural battlefields as well. Similarly many other sites, especially colonial, have had the experience of re-evaluating the lives and events of the people associated with the site. Engaging the public in a discourse is fraught with danger and not something all historic sites are equipped to do. But ignoring the past is no solution either.

The authors of the study sent out over 1500 survey forms to NPS staff with history as part of their job description. The positions included rangers, historians, and curators and some archivists and archaeologists based on the government employment codes. Retired people were contacted, parks were visited, and group sessions were held at the annual meetings of the Organization of American History (OAH) and National Council on Public History (NCPH). It should be noted that former New State Historian Bob Weible had been head of the NCPH and that City of Rochester Historian and APNHYS board member Christine Ridarsky has become more involved with NCPH in the last few years. Marla Miller one of the authors who presented at the workshop in 2014 prior to the NYS History Conference is now the Vice President and she informed me at the Massachusetts History Alliance meeting in June at Holy Cross, that the annual NCPH conference would be in our area in 2019.

The Introduction to Part I of the report paints a dire picture. The actual word used by the authors is “distressing.” There appears to have been “a decades-long decline in the relative investment made in ensuring that history scholarship and interpretation remain sound and robust.” One source described the study as “a renewed reminder of the historical staffing crisis that has been growing like a noxious weed in the National Park System over the past decade.” The place of history within the organization is not good:

Even when the consequent attitude toward history is not outright disdain, there is a dreadful tendency to view historic sites as somehow emasculated by the absence of geysers, waterfalls, granite grandeur, and genuine law enforcement challenges.

This blunt and bleak assessment highlights the enormous obstacles confronting any serious attempt to elevate the status of history within the organization.

To gain a better understanding of what is really happening on the ground, the authors examined the history staff of the NPS. They found that these individuals “are dispersed and often only loosely connected.” Even the 182 individual “historians” by job title out of 22,000 total staff including seasonal and temporary don’t necessarily do “history” as someone outside the bureaucracy would understand it. One respondent wrote that history in the NPS is “sporadic, interrupted, superbly excellent in some instances and vacant in others.” A critical shortcoming identified is one which will resonate with the New York history community: “neither the chief historian’s office, nor any other single entity within the service, clearly speaks on history’s behalf or has responsibility for overseeing all history work throughout the NPS.” Gosh, I wonder how that situation could exist or be a problem. I am shocked. Shocked to find out that no one is in charge here.

The authors, who themselves are historians by training and profession, recognized that there is a problem across all history organizations including museums, colleges, universities, schools, and public programs. The challenge they identify is to make history, historical thinking, and historical training relevant and intelligible. As an example of critical thinking, suppose a President of the United States claimed that a certain Secretary of State was the worst one in American history and that America has been a loser in all the treaties it has signed (so we are going to return Alaska to the Russians, thank you very much Secretary of State William Seward of Florida and Auburn, New York for that folly!). On what basis was that historical conclusion reached? On what basis can it be challenged?

The authors bemoan the popular perception of history as “either a boring recital or memorized facts or a series of arcane and tedious debates about esoteric subjects.” To those one might add that contrary to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, people are entitled to their own facts. In this environment when people have the right to alternative facts it is difficult to make the case the NPS should encourage and foster critical thinking skills as part of a park visit. Of course, the report was written when there was a former professor in the White House. Times have changed. What do you as a ranger when confronted with someone who prefers an alternate universe? Rangers don’t have the option to change the channel.

The author’s discovered some ingrained institutional issues that compromised the position of history within the NPS. An internal divide is expressed through the shorthand of “nature” and “culture.” Within the culture realm there is another division, this time between:

Cultural resources management or the preservationists who protect the physical remains of the past, and interpretation or education-oriented processes aimed at fostering public appreciation for the resources and introducing larger narratives of the American story.

According to the consultants, the past 40 years of the NPS has been a confining of history, historical research, and history programs to preservation. The story began in 1935 with the passage of the Historic Sites Act. Suddenly a nature and scenery organization had thrust upon it responsibility for historic sites (just as happened to the Office of Parks in New York). There already was an NPS Chief Historian beginning in 1931 tasked with an education mission for the nature sites. As it turned out, the Chief Historian had an academic history background and he envisioned the history sites as classrooms for the teaching of history. Therefore he needed a history staff. Since all this was happening during the Depression, he was able to hire Ph.D.’s in history and soon had a staff of 60. But the marriage of history preservation behind the scenes and history presentation to the public was a tense one.

By the 1960s, the preservationists had won the battle. Broad historical themes were out and targeted messages conveying specific information about the specific site one was in. With the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the new National Register of Historic Places operated under the umbrella of the National Park Service. The result of various shifts in department organization and practices was according to one survey respondent that NPS historians are “buried under compliance and a variety of bureaucratic mandates.” Instead of practicing the craft of history, the NPS historian survey respondent wrote: “Much of our professional talent in the cultural resources disciplines spends the bulk of its time on resource management” and not applied research. Furthermore, there is a gap between history or what passes for it in the NPS and the best professional, scholarly practices in history. That discrepancy is part of the reason for this study through the Organization of American Historians. That discrepancy is part of the reason why professional historians were asked to conduct the study. That discrepancy is part of the reason why professional historians with an emphasis on public history were asked to conduct this study.

With this background in mind, we can now turn to:

1. What was recommended?
2. How does it applies on the state level to government owned and operated historic sites.
3. What are the lessons for non-federal and non-state history museums and societies?

To be continued.

Are You Authorized to Teach Teachers?: The CTLE and You

In a previous post, I reported that the New York State Education Department (SED) had established new procedures to regulate the teaching of teachers for professional development credit. The change was due to the abuses of the old system by teachers and school districts. The new system called Continuing Teacher and Leader Education (CTLE) was featured at a workshop at the Museum Association of New York (MANY) conference. I attended the workshop and consider it to have been the most important session of the conference.

The presentation was by Kathryn Weller and James Jenkins of the New York State Museum (NYSM) with the assistance of Ann Jasinski (SED). The State Museum had to apply for CTLE authorization itself so the staff could speak from direct personal experience. The PowerPoint presentation is available free. For it or any questions contact:

Kathryn Weller:
James R. Jenkins:

Copies were sent to attendees and I am writing this post based on my notes from the session and the PowerPoint.

By statute, CTLE is defined as follows:

Activities designed to improve the teacher or leader’s pedagogical and/or leadership skills, targeted at improving student performance, including but not limited to formal continuing teacher and leader education activities.

It applies to:

Teachers with a Professional Certificate in the Classroom Teaching Service
 School leaders with a Professional Certificate in the Educational Leadership Service
 Teaching Assistants with a Teaching Assistant Level III certificate.

 CTLE does not apply to new teachers. Once teachers have received their professional certificate the requirements are:

each 5 year registration period, an applicant shall successfully complete a minimum of 100 hours of continuing teacher and leader education, as defined by the Commissioner.

 The issuer of CTLE credits must be authorized to do so by the SED. Some entities automatically qualify as a CTLE provider: schools, teacher centers, and BOCES. Then there is another category called “Other prospective sponsors.” This category includes museums and/or historical societies. There is a $600 application fee for 5 years coverage. Technically the $600 is for the evaluation of your application so if your application is declined you are out the money, there is no refund. There is no indication if a rejected application can be resubmitted without an additional $600 fee based on feedback from SED or even if SED will provide feedback. My impression is this one of the areas that requires finetuning.

To download the application as a PDF go to

Some of the items for the application are similar to what you may already do for grants. The key items in the application process are:

1. Copy of Charter or Certificate of Incorporation
2. Copy of mission statement or purpose of the organization
3. Sample CTLE Activity and all relevant documents – this is the only time a proposed CTLE activity needs to be submitted. You are not required to submit each time you present a program. Most likely history organization programs will be content oriented. You will be presenting information via a lecture, exhibit tour, grounds tour, etc.

One type of presentation not directly addressed is an activity many organizations do: a public lecture by an author/professor. We want teachers to attend such programs and have the opportunity to hear content information from scholars but the program is not a teacher program and would be offered even if no teacher attends. My impression is this is not the type of program SED had in mind when designing the form. However lectures are a common activity by historical organizations. Furthermore, after the lecture, there is not going to be a separate meeting with teacher(s) who attended the often evening lecture. Here is an example when some finetuning in the program may be needed.

CTLE may also be pedagogical. Typically the pedagogy follows the presentation of the content. Here is the information, now how will you use it in the classroom?

The application form provides guidelines on what is to be submitted as a sample CTLE activity.

1. title, description and outline of the program
2. subject/topic of the CTLE activity, learning objectives and its target audience (classroom teachers, school leaders, teaching assistants or any combination of these)
3. names, curriculum vitae and qualifications of the presenter(s) for each lecture or subject/topic
4. a course syllabus and copies of any handouts or materials
5. costs, refund policies, cancellation policies and proposed location(s)
6. a description of the teaching methods to be used
7. advertising materials, brochures and/or information about how the CTLE activity will be marketed and
8. the length of the CTLE activity in contact hours.

Again, please keep in mind that you only have to submit this information once and with one example. It does however indicate the information you will need to keep on file for each program that you offer. See Section 2 CTLE Activities below for more detail.

1. Description of the organization’s procedures to identify, design and evaluate CTLE activities
2. Organization’s procedures and criteria for selecting instructors
3. Description of the organization’s procedures to evaluate effectiveness
4. Plan to maintain records – good old-fashioned folders for each class were recommended although it can be done as computer files too.
5. Financial resources documents
– Attach a brief description of the financial base upon which the organization’s CTLE activities are funded.
– Attach a description of all physical resources (e.g., offices, buildings, etc.), administrative organization, employees, student services, and any other resources available to facilitate CTLE objectives.

One should note that fees can be charged to participating teachers seeking CTLE credit. Still there are some issues. Not all organizations have physical resources. Not all organizations have employees. Not all organizations have a financial base, meaning some programs have to pay for themselves through the registration fees to at least cover the out-of-pocket costs of the program. For the smaller organizations, CTLE may be more of a burden than a help.


What are the CTLE activities that SED wants history organizations to fulfill? Here is some sample jargon. The CTLE activity:

1. will expand educators’ content knowledge and the knowledge and skills necessary to provide appropriate instructional strategies and assesses student progress;
2. is research-based and provides educators with opportunities to analyze, apply, and engage in research.

In some cases, it may be useful to complete the application with the aid of a teacher or someone familiar with the k-12 social studies guidelines.

Sample lesson plan templates used by the NYSM are included in the PowerPoint presentation.


Sponsors are required to use instructors who are qualified to teach the CTLE activities. For museums and history organizations the requirement more likely refers to content specialists than education specialists.  Curators and historians are two prime examples. Educational specialists refers to people who know how to use different types of resources as evidence or can create experiences that embrace the Enquiry Arc of the Social Studies Framework.

The applying organization must certify that standards for the selection of instructors will be maintained. One needs to maintain job descriptions that demonstrate that the individual instructor is qualified by training and/or experience to teach the CTLE activity assigned to them. Typically this would be the CV of an invited speaker. In addition, the organization must maintain and use written procedures to evaluate instructors’ performance. Once again, these requirements do not mean that each and every time you offer at CTLE program you have to submit to the SED the job descriptions and evaluations of each instructor, but that you are required to maintain the supporting documentation m for the program for up to eight years. These records are subject to audit when the participating teacher’s record is up for review.  There are sample forms available and the suggestion was to keep them in hard copy filed by class or program.


Similarly with the assessment of learning, there must be a documented method and record to measure the extent to which the CTLE objectives and educational methods were met in the program. These assessment methods could include:

participant evaluations
activity monitors (a component of a larger assessment)

The NYSM created a participant questionnaire you can copy. It evaluated:

What the participant learned
How they will apply the information learned

The PowerPoint presentation includes a sample of the form used by the NYSM. Some short responses questions are:

Additional comments about the presenter(s)?
How did you learn about this workshop?
What did you learn today and how will you use that information?
What was the most useful part of this workshop? Why?
What was the least useful part of this workshop?  Why & how could we change it?
What future workshop topics would you be interested in?

Again the question here is what about teachers attending a public content program, meaning a lecture? There really isn’t time after the lecture to meet with the attending teachers. Often there isn’t beforehand either. How exactly to handle this will require some trial and error to see what actually works.


As mentioned, records are to be maintained for eight years. The required information to maintain includes:

the date and location of the CTLE activity;
the name and curriculum vitae of the instructor/presenter;
the objectives and learning methods of the CTLE activity;
the outline of the CTLE activity, the assessment methods used, and the number of contact hours of the CTLE activity;
a summary of any evaluation of the CTLE activity;
copies of all promotional materials used in a CTLE activity;
any evaluation of the need for the CTLE activity; and
the list of certified professionals in attendance, including each attendee’s first name, last name, last four digits of their Social Security Number and their date of birth.

Upon completion of the program, the CTLE provider then can issue a certificate to the participating teacher. The certificate is to include:

1. the CTLE institutions name;
2. the name of the participant as it appears on the TEACH website;
3. the last four digits of the participant’s Social Security Number;
4. the participant’s date of birth;
5. the date and location of the CTLE activity;
6. the CTLE activity title;
7. the educational area (e.g., pedagogy, content, English language learning);
8. the number of CTLE hours;
9. the Approved Sponsor Identification number;
10. the sponsor’s contact email address and phone number;
11. the name and signature of the Authorized Certifying Officer and a statement indicating that the organization is recognized by the New York State Education Department’s Office of Teaching Initiatives as an approved sponsor of CTLE for Professional Classroom Teachers, School Leaders and Level III Teaching Assistants.

Obviously there are confidentiality issues in the required information particularly with the date of birth, Last 4 of SSN, and Email/contact.


What does all this mean for an individual history society and museum? If you are a local organization only providing programs to teachers in the school district where you are located, probably not much. The local school district, teacher center, or BOCES will issue the CTLE credit. Your only responsibility will be to certify to them that you are in compliance. That may mean submitting CVs of the instructors in the program. Most likely the school will provide the forms it wants you to use for evaluations, lesson plan, certificates which you will complete and return to the school.

If you are involved with multiple school districts and promote your programs to a larger audience, then you need to become an authorized CTLE provider. At the workshop the NYSM and the Albany Institute of History & Art both in attendance are authorized. Since the workshop, I have noticed that the New-York Historical Society and Teaching Hudson Valley (NPS) have become authorized providers as well. Obviously these organizations offer programs covering wide geographical areas, they want to be in control of their own programs which they initiate, and they have the staff to complete the application.

One possibility raised at the workshop, in response to my own comment, was whether one organization could function as the recordkeeping organization for another. The answer was yes. This means, for example, that the Albany Institute of History & Art could be the one official CTLE authorizer in Albany (city and/or county) and would maintain the required records for eight years. So rather than smaller organizations going through the formal application process, it could simply contact the Albany Institute of History & Art and send its program forms there. This would enable a smaller organization in Albany to offer a program to multiple school districts without being a CTLE provider itself.

Although the program originated in 2016, it is still brand new to the history community. At the time of the workshop there may only have been the one non-government CTLE provider, the Albany Institute of History & Art with additional applications in the pipeline. There are some improvements which would be helpful:

1. Clarifying how the “parent” relationship would work so smaller societies can offer CTLE activities without having to pay the $600 evaluation fee or spending the time to prepare the application.

2. Clarifying how teacher participation in public programs with content value would qualify such as a lecture series during the school year, conferences such as the recent American Revolution in the Mohawk Valley, and the routine types of walks, tours, talks, historical organizations present during the normal course of operation or for designated days like the Ramble in the Hudson Valley or the Path through History.

3. Recognizing that not all history providers have physical offices, resources, or staff, especially municipal historians and volunteer organizations.

4. Providing a list of the most common guidelines and standards in the curriculum relevant to history organizations especially for content.

The CTLE represents an important step in potentially reducing the abuses of the previous situation. Still there should be no underestimating the determination and ability of school districts to game the system. It is important for the history community to learn the language of the CTLE process so it can be proactive by saying to the schools : “We know what you have to do to comply with the CTLE requirements, here is how we can help.”

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

The State of New York State History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frederick Douglas embraced the Exodus too….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Commissioner of Education and the NYS Historian

At present the position of the New York State Historians lies deep within the bowels of the state bureaucracy, starved for resources, and scarcely able to see the light of day through all the bureaucratic levels above it.

Formerly, the State Historian reported to the Director of the New York State Museum, who reports to the Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Culture and Education, who reports to the Executive Deputy Commissioner of Education, who reports to Commissioner of Education, who answers to the Board of Regents.

But what does that mean? Continue reading “The Commissioner of Education and the NYS Historian”

The New York State Amistad Commission: Do Black Lives Matter?

“In 2005 [during Governor Pataki’s administration], New York’s Legislature created an Amistad Commission to review state curriculum regarding the slave trade. All people should know of and remember the human carnage and dehumanizing atrocities committed during the period of the African slave trade and slavery in America and consider the vestiges of slavery in this country. It is vital to educate our citizens on these events, the legacy of slavery, the sad history of racism in this country, and on the principles of human rights and dignity in a civilized society.”

This excerpt comes from the website of the Amistad Commission which is part of the Department of State in the organization chart of New York State (

The legislation authorizing the commission is New York Arts and Cultural Affairs Law, Article 57B (57.51-57.54). It provides the historical background for the importance of the subject:

1. During the period beginning late in the fifteenth century through the nineteenth century, millions of persons of African origin were enslaved and brought to the Western Hemisphere, including the United States of America; anywhere from between twenty to fifty percent of enslaved Africans died during their journey to the Western Hemisphere; the enslavement of Africans and their descendants was part of a concerted effort of physical and psychological terrorism that deprived groups of people of African descent the opportunity to preserve many of their social, religious, political and other customs; the vestiges of slavery in this country continued with the legalization of second class citizenship status for African-Americans through Jim Crow laws, segregation and other similar practices; the legacy of slavery has pervaded the fabric of our society; and in spite of these events there are endless examples of the triumphs of African-Americans and their significant contributions to the development of this country.

It calls upon our civic and moral responsibility to remember what happened.

2. All people should know of and remember the human carnage and dehumanizing atrocities committed during the period of the African slave trade and slavery in America and of the vestiges of slavery in this country; and it is in fact vital to educate our citizens on these events, the legacy of slavery, the sad history of racism in this country, and on the principles of human rights and dignity in a civilized society.

It declares the policy of the State to fulfill this responsibility through the schools.

3. It is the policy of the state of New York that the history of the African slave trade, slavery in America, the depth of their impact in our society, and the triumphs of African-Americans and their significant contributions to the development of this country is the proper concern of all people, particularly students enrolled in the schools of the state of New York.

Finally, it authorizes the establishment of a commission to act to fulfill that policy.

4. It is therefore desirable to create a state-level commission, which shall research and survey the extent to which the African slave trade and slavery in America is included in the curricula of New York state schools, and make recommendations to the legislature and executive regarding the implementation of education and awareness programs in New York concerned with the African slave trade, slavery in America, the vestiges of slavery in this country, and the contributions of African-Americans in building our country. Such recommendations may include, but not be limited to, the development of workshops, institutes, seminars, and other teacher training activities designed to educate teachers on this subject matter; the coordination of events on a regular basis, throughout the state, that provide appropriate memorialization of the events concerning the enslavement of Africans and their descendants in America as well as their struggle for freedom and liberty; (emphasis added) and suggestions for revisions to the curricula and textbooks used to educate the students of New York state to reflect a more adequate inclusion of issues identified by the commission.

Section § 57.52 establishes the unfunded Amistad commission of 19 people with details about the composition, duties, and term of office. The commission includes as one would hope the Commissioner of Education and the Department of Education is called upon to provide technical assistance for the completion of the task as needed.

Section § 57.53 details the duties and responsibilities. The commission has a very broad mandate and scope truly national in perspective.

1. to survey and catalog the extent and breadth of education concerning the African slave trade, slavery in America, the vestiges of slavery in this country and the contributions of African-Americans to our society presently being incorporated into the curricula and textbooks and taught in the school systems of the state; and, to inventory those African slave trade, American slavery, or relevant African-American history memorials, exhibits and resources which should be incorporated into courses of study at educational institutions and schools throughout the state.
2. to compile a roster of individual volunteers who are willing to share their knowledge and experience in classrooms, seminars and workshops with students and teachers (emphasis added) on the subject of the African slave trade, American slavery and the impact of slavery on our society today, and the contributions of African-Americans to our country; and
3. to prepare reports for the governor and the legislature regarding its findings (emphasis added) and recommendations on facilitating the inclusion of the African slave trade, American slavery studies, African-American history and special programs in the educational system of the state.

On paper, this clearly is a major undertaking.

Turning now to the commission in charge of fulling this mission, one does indeed note the listing of the Commissioner of Education as part of the team. However, the name of the Commissioner listed is John P. King; he, of course, has not been the Commissioner for over a year. This raises the question of whether or not the Amistad Commission is a viable entity. Surely if it still functioned, the new Commissioner of Education would be listed. It is reasonable to conclude that this Commission is defunct and has been for years but lives on only on the New York State website.

The website has a tab for upcoming meetings. When I first checked it several months ago, none were scheduled. That is still true as of the writing of this post. The Commission does not appear to be functioning and hasn’t for a long time.

Need more documentary proof? Under a listing of current exhibitions at the New York State Museum, one finds:

An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War
Saturday, September 22, 2012 – Sunday, September 22, 2013
Exhibition Hall
For more information:

I Shall Think of You Often: The Civil War Story of Doctor and Mary Tarbell
Saturday, March 30, 2013 – Sunday, September 22, 2013
South Lobby
For more information:

Is it necessary to point out that is hasn’t been 2013 for several years now. The Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region conference for 2014 is listed but the one from 2015 is not. This is a website that needs serious work.

However, someone is still adding items to the Amistad Commission website under Resources. There is a notice about one event for the 2016 Martin Luther King Day holiday. There is a listing for AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY OF WESTERN NEW YORK which when clicked takes you to the Department of Mathematics at the University of Buffalo. There is a link to the SCHOMBURG CENTER FOR RESEARCH IN BLACK CULTURE which does seems appropriate and does work. Then there is a link to the Governor’s announcement in November, 2015, of a new Path through History website which is of questionable relevance to the purpose of the Amistad Commission. Several additional conferences, exhibits, and events from 2015 are listed so evidently some effort was spent to stay current. One should note that these are not events created by the Amistad Commission but items listed by the Commission somewhat like the Path through History listing events without creating them either.

Finally, let’s return to the emphasized items above in the legislation.

the development of workshops, institutes, seminars, and other teacher training activities designed to educate teachers on this subject matter; the coordination of events on a regular basis, throughout the state, that provide appropriate memorialization of the events concerning the enslavement of Africans and their descendants in America as well as their struggle for freedom and liberty;

roster of individual volunteers who are willing to share their knowledge and experience in classrooms, seminars and workshops with students and teachers

prepare reports for the governor and the legislature regarding its findings

While other organizations do things in this subject area, I did not locate any information on the website listing the rooster of these individuals, any programs the Amistad Commission has developed, any evidence that it functions as a coordinator for such events, or any reports that have been submitted. Perhaps if the Governor can be persuaded to call a history meeting in Albany as recommended in my New Year Resolution post, a decision can be made to fish or cut bait with something that at present only exists on the web and not in the real world.

Historic Hamilton and America’s Future

Alexander Hamilton is boffo at the box office. The heretofore unsung Founding Father best known for losing a duel is the subject of over two hours of song and dance in the new musical Hamilton. The Off-Broadway show is packing people in to rave reviews and reactions and is expected to move to Broadway this summer. Hamilton has become a bit of a phenomenon that has taken Manhattan by storm.

Hamilton also is of critical importance to health and future of this country. While that might seem like an over-the-top assertion, it isn’t. Continue reading “Historic Hamilton and America’s Future”

NYS History, The Common Core, And Social Studies

The Common Core continues to be in the news, so recently I attended “Uncommon Approaches to the Common Core 2: Inquiry-based Learning Access across the Disciplines” held August 12-13 at the Office of Education in Albany.

One session included 10 breakout groups by geographic area. In the Mid-Hudson discussion group there were about 13 people, double that number in New York City including 10 people from the Queens Library who were not on the attendance list, and over 60 people at the Capital Region group. Some of the other regions were even less attended than the Mid-Hudson group. Continue reading “NYS History, The Common Core, And Social Studies”

Remembering America’s Fallen In Every Community

There is a special group of people who are remembered by a society. These are the fallen, those who die in battle on behalf of something larger than themselves. In the Bible there is an infrequently used term “nephilim” from the verb “to fall.”

Based on the archaeological evidence, the Nephilim appear to have been part of group who were remembered in Canaanite societies in the Middle and Late Bronze Age (second millennium BCE). These fallen warriors were remembered in feasts and stories just as warriors who have fallen in battle are still remembered today. It’s part of the human experience. Continue reading “Remembering America’s Fallen In Every Community”

Legislation Would Create A NYS History Commission

Recently I wrote about my lobbying experience in Albany and offered a number of suggestions about what needed to be done. Those posts generated responses on the difficultly of lobbying and the need to have an agenda.  The likelihood of the history community organizing around a single agenda seemed slim.

I am pleased to report however, that there is proposed legislation in the New York State Assembly which would mark such a giant leap forward. It’s so good, I can scarcely believe it exists. The legislation is from Steve Englebright (D- Setauket).  Continue reading “Legislation Would Create A NYS History Commission”