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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.

Imperiled Promise: History and the NPS (and OPRHP)

Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service is the title of a study commissioned by the NPS in partnership with the Organization of American History (OAH). Although first published in 2011, it was slow to see the light of day. In 2014, it was the subject of a pre-New York State History Conference workshop which I attended and wrote about during the NPS Centennial in 2016. I had intended to delve more deeply into the report itself which I downloaded but never quite got around to writing about it. In this post I wish to begin to address the findings of the study. As you will see, the comments are doubly important for New York State:

1. We have many NPS sites in the state
2. The issues raised frequently apply to state historic sites as well.

The findings also are related to the fledgling Massachusetts History Alliance’s efforts to forge exactly what the name says, a history alliance in Massachusetts. I recently attended its conference held at Holy Cross and will reporting on those developments in future posts.  There is a lot going on and it is difficult to keep up.

According to the Executive Summary of Imperiled Promise, history is at the heart of approximately two thirds of nearly four hundred national park units. At the time of the report, 182 NPS employees carried the job title of “Historian.”  However, the authors pointed out that people without the classification may do history-related work as well. I don’t know what the comparable figures are for the NYSOPRHP.

The attendance of the sites is part of the story. By way of perspective, a local news report in 2016 provided the following NPS attendance figures for 2015 in Dutchess County:

Vanderbilt Mansion drew 431, 961 visitors ranking 133rd of 368 NPS destinations but 6th for National Historic Sites. By comparison the White House had 526, 623 visitors.  Other NPS sites in Dutchess include, FDR ranked 11th and the related Val-Kill ranked 26th.  All these sites were outdrawn by Walkway over the Hudson, a state site with 448, 719 and some by the Dutchess County Fair with 394,422.

These numbers can be deceiving especially in a PowerPoint presentation. Vanderbilt Mansion on the Hudson River serves a community park much like Central Park. It is a lovely setting for painting, photography, dog-walking, jogging, and other park activities that just happen to occur on land which has an historic mansion. Similarly the Walkway over the Hudson River is another spectacular recreation setting. By and large both sites with free grounds access are day trips if not after-work visits. By comparison, the Grand Canyon drew an estimated 5.5 million people the same year. Besides the admission fees, people who visit it spend money on meals, souvenirs, lodging, and transportation. Attendance numbers need to be treated very carefully depending on what one is trying to prove or demonstrate. They also highlight a divide noted in the report between the recreational and historical sites managed by the same organization. As I recall at a preservation conference in 2016, even NYSOPRHP joked about the number of historical versus recreation sites under its umbrella. Obviously in New York, Jones Beach and Niagara Falls will outdrew any traditional historical site and that does affect the allocation of funding and management time.

Returning to the Executive Summary, the following observation bears notice. I know that my blogs can be very pointed but pay attention to what was reported in this NPS-commissioned study:

“[The NPS’s mission] has been imperiled by the agency’s weak support for its history workforce, by agency structures that confine history in isolated silos, by longstanding funding deficiencies, by often narrow and static conceptions of history’s scope, and by timid interpretation.”

Not exactly subtle or complimentary. Do these conditions apply at all at the state level as well?

Naturally, the authors of the study have recommendations to remedy the situation. The issue of whether or not these recommendations were implemented or whether the report was filed on the consultant reports  shelf as one NPS Ranger delicately phrased it will be deferred until after they are presented.

The first recommendation required a commitment by the NPS to history as one of its core purposes. That commitment required the NPS to “invest” which has the implication that at some point money is required to do what the report recommends is needed to be done. The investment should be for:

1. creating a robust place-based visitor engagement with history
2. connecting the history of the site to the histories beyond the boundaries of the site
3. forthrightly addressing conflict and controversy in history and its interpretation in the present.

To achieve this vision, the NPS would be obligated to overcome the legacies that undermined the effort.  The negative legacies included:

1. underemphasis and underfunding of historical work
2. artificial separation of cultural resources management from interpretation
3. artificial separation of natural resources interpretation from cultural and historical interpretation
4. overemphasis on mandated compliance activities
5. a misperception of history as a tightly-bounded fixed and accurate story instead of being an ongoing process of discovery with changing narratives and multiple perspectives.

To address these concerns, the authors proposed almost 100 recommendations (which I will not list).  They involve the management, workforce development, and funding. In general terms, one may say there is an issue of the “historian” function at an historic site. What is the training necessary to become an historian? How does one maintain competence in the field or engage with ongoing scholarship to remain current? Are there organizational meetings devoted to history that staff at historic sites should attend? How can existing state and regional organizations support history in addition to curating and exhibit presentation? Would some kind of history certification process be beneficial such as teachers have using professional development to increase their salary? How relevant is all this for the local often volunteer municipal historical society and museum?

Two items in the Executive Summary recommendations bear special notice. They both involve bringing together and creating an empowered leadership. The authors of Imperiled Promise challenge the NPS to create two groups:

1. History Leadership Council, an internal group comprised of the most talented and influential historians and interpreters
2. History Advisory Board, an external-based group comprising the nation’s leading public history professionals, innovative curators, insightful scholars, savvy administrators.

The authors felt that if such groups were formed with legitimate leadership and authority from the NPS, the other challenges could be overcome. In-other-words, they proposed a top-down solution that would gradually impact the grassroots level at the individual sites. Care to guess what actually has happened?

In any event, one can readily observe that similar considerations apply at the state level as well. One may even add that historic sites are owned and operated not just by the states but by counties, cities, towns, villages, and privately.  As it turns out, all history organizations in the state would benefit if some of the recommendations were opened up to extended beyond the NPS itself. In future posts, I will explore in more detail what the Imperiled Promise report specifically recommended and provide some examples of what the NPS in New York actually is doing.

What Are History Societies Doing and What Can the Regents and Governor Do to Help Them?

George Bailey Contemplating an Alternative Reality

Courtesy of Wikipedia

If a tree falls in the woods and no one sees it, has anything happened? If an historical society does something and no other history society knows about it, has anything happened? I am not referring to the lectures, tours, and exhibits which history museums and societies routinely do. Instead I am referring to something a little out of the ordinary, the kind of item one might present at an APHNYS or MANY conference.

The dissemination of ideas is difficult. There is no easy way to accomplish the task. Certainly notices can be published and distributed. The reality is many municipal historians are not members of APHNYS and APHNYS does not have a way of advising its members of best practices or innovative ideas. The same is true for history organizations and MANY. Even if one does present at the annual conference, only some of the members attend and even fewer attend an individual session because there are concurrent sessions. So there is no easy way to share original ideas or actions that go above and beyond the call.

Since I read New York History Blog, I read about many events in the state including ones I cannot possibly attend. For me to go to upstate for a single lecture, tour, or exhibit is a misuse of my time. However, I do attend various conferences and will be reporting on some of them.  Since I distribute my own blog, I also am the recipient of newsletters from history organizations. Sometimes they arrive as enewsletters, sometimes as emails, sometimes as Word or PDF attachments, and sometimes by mail. By no means do these notices cover the state, but they do provide a window into what’s going on out there.  In this post, I would like to share some items that I consider to be a bit unusual and worthy of attention. This is not a scientific survey nor is it comprehensive. It’s just some excerpts from the random notices I have come across.

Greece Historical Society

The annual report for 2016 of the society states:

The all volunteer Society’s purpose is to collect, preserve, research and share local history with the community. We strive to provide the community with an awareness of the past, an appreciation of the present, and a vision for the future, giving a sense of “roots” and a greater feeling of belonging.

Clearly this society operates under the Tonko vision of local history and not the Cuomo one. I suspect pretty much every local society has in its mission statement and/or annual report something similar to what the Greece Historical Society has.  If that’s the mission, then shouldn’t tax dollars be aimed at helping it fulfill that mission rather than to call for the Greece Historical Society to become a tourist destination site for busloads of Chinese?

The Society reports that it held eight monthly Tuesday evening lectures featuring local historians, authors, and humanities scholars in 2016 averaging 85 guests per evening. While no individual lecture deserves mention in this post the cumulative effect of lecture programs does. These numbers mean a total of 680 people participated in the lecture programs of this one society. What would the state-wide total be? Does anyone have any idea how many residents and visitors from nearby communities both individually and through repeat attendance are connecting to local history through lecture programs?  I recall one dark and cold February night attending a lecture at the Mabee Farm location of the Schenectady Historical Society where I could just barely find a parking space since well over 100 people were there (I was on my to a conference starting the next day so I was able to attend. I did not drive from Westchester just for it!). Did I mention it was a dark cold night in February? With snow on the ground? At a site not on a main well-lit road but on a narrow dark one? It’s not quite, if you offer it they will come, but overall I would say there is little appreciation or even awareness for the numbers of people who collectively attend lectures through their local history societies. Remember the Lyceums? There still are buildings with that name in many communities. Remember Chautauqua and the circuit Chautauquas that barnstormed the country like baseball teams and circuses use to do. Not everyone is trapped by their electronic devices. Sometimes people like to be with other people in a social and intellectually stimulating setting that reaffirms community identity.

Lock 52 Historical Society of Port Byron

In response to the post New Approaches for Historical Societies and History Museums by Bruce Dearstyne on March 21, 2017 for New York History Blog, Mike Riley, the president of the Lock 52 Historical Society of Port Byron, expressed the concerns of history societies throughout the state.  He specifically referred to suggestions made in the post about what history societies can do.

(T)here is the realization that with 8 volunteers who average in age of 75 to 90, it is unlikely that any (of the suggestions in the post) will be adopted. We are in a slow death spiral to the day when we close the doors for good. We can look back and say that all these good folks started helping the society when they were in their 30’s to 50’s, and they remain as the foundation for anything we do. There are no new 30, 40 or 50 year old’s taking their place. And as the folks age and pass, the open hours get cut, or the displays don’t get changed. It becomes a fight for life, attracting visitors almost becomes secondary, which of course harms us greatly, I really don’t know if there is an answer. As a society we just don’t value these civic engagement activities as we use to. I know I am not alone. I am in a race to digitize photos and get them out there on the web so at least if the Society closes, some of the history will be saved and available to people. 

Clearly Riley belongs to the Tonko side of the vision of local history as an essential component of the social fabric on the community. Clearly also that fabric is fraying. There is a need to rethink the standard history society model especially as it relates to the large number of small municipalities throughout the state. It is time for some new thinking about the position of the municipal historian, the municipal history society, the local library, and teacher training and the school curriculum and their intertwining. Here is where the history community really needs leadership from the Regents and the Commissioner of Education. 

Putnam County Historian (technically not a history society)

The historian’s office held a free digital scanning initiative to secure military memories of the past for future generations. Local families with military memorabilia are invited to make appointments through the County Historian’s Office to have old letters, documents, photographs and assorted military memorabilia scanned and recorded on a memory device such as a USB or burned to a disk, free of charge. Being the repository for the memory of a community, doesn’t simply mean waiting around for people to dump things in your lap. It is legal to be proactive. In fact, if the regulations for municipal historians are ever rewritten, I would include a requirement to be proactive. How many people would want the job then?

Warwick Historical Society

Once upon a time back in 2013, a group of 4th graders were digging behind one of the historical houses of the Warwick Historical Society. This time besides the usual bits and pieces of commonplace objects, they struck paydirt, a decorated brick. As the work continued in 2014 with two ‘archaeologists,’ average age 76, unearthed the wall of home of “Rocking Chair Benny Sayre.” Sayre (1865 to 1940), the keeper of Baird’s Tavern across the street. George Knight, one of the excavators also was busy cleaning up his own grounds. One type of item frequently found was small bottles.  “Warwick back in the day was higher than a kite,” said Knight. So it seems. These little bottles were considered medicine that, not unlike today’s Oxycontin, turned out to have a serious drawback. “We had a substance abuse problem here over 100 years ago,” said Warwick town historian Richard Hull. “In the 1890s up until World War I, there’d be itinerant merchants who’d come into town to sell elixirs to relieve pain, headaches, relieve depression and so forth. They spiked these concoctions, so that when they sold them people became quite addicted in some cases,” he said. The Women’s Temperance League may have been a response not only to alcohol abuse, but also to these un-talked-of habits. Everyone likes to ogle the opium bottles. They’re scintillating in a way that stone walls just aren’t. That bugs Knight, although he’s good natured about it.

The historic society wasn’t always this go-go-go. “As you can imagine, it was very dry,” said President Mark Kurtz, who stopped by the dig. “There’s become excitement, with the kids that visit.” Every fourth grader in the Warwick school district takes a tour every year, and the middle school just launched a Sustainable Architecture class that will be taking a field trip to the historic society’s properties.  “We’re starting a bunch of brand new reach outs to the school district,” he said. “The point is to make this history become important to people, and that’s the time to reach them.” Lisa-Ann Weisbrod, the society’s new director, said, “It’s amazing how much is going on. It’s a historical society. How busy can it be? It’s crazy.”

This report from the society’s website entitled What’s under Warwick highlights several important developments

  1. the creation of a monthly enewsletter by the Orange County historian Johanna Yuan reporting on the activities in the county, something all county historians should have to do as part of the job.
  2. the outreach to the schools in a literally hands-on experience – which will not stop at 4th grade as the junior archaeologists track the project through the duration of their k-12 education (and then become members of the historical society as adults)
  3. the funding issues the Society experienced for support of the dig versus stabilizing a building
  4. the unusual nature of the Society which owns multiple buildings and is creating the equivalent of an historic district for the residents of the community to experience.

Chalk up another one for the Tonko vision over the Cuomo vision.

White Plains Historical Society

The society compiled a list of 20 streets named after American Revolution figures. I write about the importance of a sense of place as an essential component to the health of the community. One way to foster a connection between residents and their own municipality is to know not simply the name of the streets of the community but the reason for the name of the streets. While the naming of streets after military (and political) heroes might seem obvious, it also is true the residents of communities today don’t know the why streets and buildings have the names they have or why statues were erected (unless Confederate). History societies have the opportunity to engage the public in “Why that name?” Even numerically named streets or tree-named streets are cultural clues to the thinking of the people who named them. The grid in Manhattan is the most famous example but smaller versions exist in many communities. It is not just coincidence that there are a lot Maple, Elm, and Walnut streets either. We can learn about our past by understanding the names that were bequeathed to the organization of space.

 

As I mentioned at the onset, these examples aren’t meant to be comprehensive or inclusive. Nonetheless they represent a good cross section of the trials and tribulations on the history community at the grass roots level and the exemplary efforts by volunteers. A little help would be nice.

Vision of New York State History: Lessons from Harlem

Harlem Preservation Conference

The different approaches to local and state history championed by Representative Tonko versus Governor Cuomo manifested itself in some recent blogs on New York History Blog and the Adirondack Alamanack. These pieces were not written in conjunction with my post on the subject but help to flesh out on the local level what is actually at stake if the social fabric model is jettisoned on behalf of the economic/transactional model. In this blog, I focus on one event that could be replicated in communities throughout the state, specifically:

Harlem Preservation Conference April 29th

On Saturday, April 29, twelve community-based organizations held a day-long forum titled “Harlem and the Future: Preserving Culture and Sustaining History in a Changing Environment” (“Harlem and the Future”) at CUNY to discuss the changes, the best practices, and the imminent challenges that are affecting Harlem’s social fabric, built environment, and cultural heritage. Harlem’s first historic preservation conference comes at a time of change to this iconic neighborhood. The welcoming remarks were by Manhattan Borough President Gale A Brewer.

HOW MANY OTHER COMMUNITIES HAVE HAD OR SHOULD HAVE A SIMILAR CONFERENCE?

Sessions were held throughout the day to address the issues raised in the conference notice. They may be summarized as follows:

Cultural Heritage

Harlem is not just a geographic locale in Upper Manhattan, but a diverse African-American community with a rich history represented by a remarkable architectural heritage. While the success of the play “Hamilton” has led to an explosive growth in visitors headed uptown to see the Hamilton Grange historic site, the physical embodiments of Harlem’s cultural heritage have long been simultaneously celebrated and threatened. Who decides what stories are preserved and retold?  What is the cultural brand of Harlem and does it represents the community as a whole.

The musical “Hamilton” ends with “who will the story?”, the exact question challenging every community.

In response to my blog on the vanishing of local history, I received a reply from Camille Linen, creator of Flashbacks, a musical covering the 350 year history of the Town of Rye where we both live. She wrote:

Flashbacks has just become a part of the Port Chester fourth grade curriculum so Port Chester is now a grassroots exception to the Vanishing Breed title.

Maybe Flashbacks can serve as a model for others in the area, to start,

Last year we had Rye, Rye Brook and Port Chester fourth graders at the Capitol Theatre performance. The teachers were all given copies of the teacher/artist/historian written curriculum and were very pleased with the program.

This year I was unable to obtain enough funding for the theater performance, but worked to get it established on solid ground in the Port Chester district curriculum.

Using the arts to deliver local history was the deciding factor.

Let’s meet sometime over the summer to brainstorm.

Flashbacks was the subject of my post What Works: Flashback to Your Community’s Heritage. In that post, I touted the benefits of history storytelling as performance at the local level. My suggestions then and still roughly applicable today were:

  1. We need to do a better job reaching out to all the schools in the local school districts.
  2. We need to do a better job of reaching into the community through its civic, social, and religious organizations.
  3. We need to do a better job of reaching into the business community for financial support.  The musical mentions four current businesses. Talk about product placement!
  4. We need to reach out to the high school drama/theater clubs to participate.
  5. We need to provide better photo opportunities, both for the Town Supervisor giving the certificates to each class and for the students with the cast. The students really loved seeing the people on stage up close and personal in costume, even though they already knew some of them.
  6. We need to build on this event with additional civic activities including mock sessions in the town and village halls, visits to the county and state chambers, walking tours of the town, and the use of apps with maps, photos, and stories.

Whether it is preserving the heritage of the village of Port Chester which will reach its sesquicentennial next year or of Harlem which once was a Dutch village before it became part of a larger political entity or to your own community, we need to link our youth to their local heritage through the arts.

Built Environment

Harlem’s built environment, from its ornate brownstones to its human-scale character, tells the story of the neighborhood’s development and evolution. Unfortunately, much of Harlem’s physical fabric has been lost to demolition, both by neglect and redevelopment, over time.

Landmark designation has proven itself to be an important tool in the fight to preserve character and manage change but it may not always be the most effective nor desirable way to protect a neighborhood. How can Harlem residents reinforce their community’s identity while also adapting to growth and development?

The reference to “physical fabric” raises an important and often overlooked component of history heritage. We exist physically and our sense of touch shouldn’t be limited to a mouse or touchscreen. People need to see, touch, and physically experience their community. This means walking, this means observing, this means touching. The brain needs the physical sensations to aid in creating the memories that will endure even when physical contact is lost. When I took teachers behind the scenes in some museums where they then could touch physical artifacts from thousands of years ago, the experience resonated and was remembered even if the artifact was simply the piece of a broken pot. Touching is part of the human experience and by separating that sensation from local history, we separate people from the past.

And what are the buildings in the community? What are their stories? For example, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum has made the stories of the people in the apartments the basis of the tourist experience. What are the stories in the buildings of your community? Here is where there are opportunities for high school senior service projects to connect students to their own community. Let them work with the local historians and preservationists to document using the technologies which are second nature to them, to tell the stories and place them on the web. When a building is demolished it is part of their heritage which is being destroyed as well. Before the refrain of “Another one bites the dust,” wipes out the past, let’s encourage the next generation to help their community to tell its story by becoming familiar with what that story is.

Social Fabric: What’s the New Religion? Churches at Risk

The beautiful stone churches of Harlem stand out as landmarks in the neighborhood. While these buildings have lasted decades, the congregants that utilized them reflect the evolving character of the community. Throughout their history, Harlem’s churches have served as a home and well-spring in shaping the neighborhood’s social dynamics. In particular, the role of the church in Harlem’s African American community is evidenced in everything from music to the civil rights movement. Today, technological and demographic shifts, both globally and locally, have reshaped the way Harlemites interact with one another and created new “congregations” outside of religious institutions. These changes leave congregants, preservationists, and residents asking what’s to become of the buildings imbued with historical, architectural, and social value.

Consider the example of a community where the old architecture is being demolished to be replaced by roads and cookie-cutter high-rise apartment complexes. The people have rallied together to save their common memory. They have created a blog with stories about 60 sites in their community. They have created an online discussion group for their community with about 100 members including local artists, architects, and scholars to discuss and plan how to preserve their community’s heritage. Many of its churches and synagogues have been destroyed. Finally it dawned on them that the surviving architectural treasures might have tourist appeal but it might be too late.

They complained that the character of their district had been destroyed. As one sociology professor put it, “Cultural preservation means nothing to real estate developers and the government. Nothing is being considered but economic interests.”  They complained that the city lacked good channels for local scholars and preservationists to communicate with the government. The city is Harbin in the former Manchuria now part of China with a Russian heritage of both Russian Orthodox and Russian Jews (“A Chinese City with a Russian Past Struggles to Preserve Its Legacy,” NYT 6/5/17).

St. Sophia Cathedral in Harbin China.
Gilles Sabrie for the NYT

Today in New York and America, students can study the role of religion in the social fabric of every community but their own. Today adults travel the globe visiting the physical expressions of religion without knowing what it is in their own community. The pyramids may have lasted for millennia but they are dead structures of a dead society. But the questions people asked and wondered about have remained and our common to all cultures. Especially in New York, one doesn’t have to travel far for a close encounter of a different kind. The social fabric of a community is intangible but it can be glimpsed in the tangible expressions of it. When we only know our own kind and at this moment, the social fabric unravels. We always are part of something larger than ourselves whether we realize it or not. Understanding the social fabric of our home community begins a journey that helps us to understand the community of the starship earth.

Considering Harlem’s cultural heritage panel, experts will evaluate the cultural brand of Harlem, which has attracted global attention, and reflect on whether it now represents the community as a whole. On the topic of the built environment, panelists will discuss retaining identity and a sense of place, as defined by the physical environment, cultural legacy, and inhabitants, the effectiveness of working with landmarks designation, building community activism and forging private-public partnerships while also adapting to growth and development. And lastly for the community’s social fabric, using the church as a microcosm of a community in transition, leaders from Harlem’s churches will consider how contemporary needs and uses may revitalize and breathe new life into Harlem’s historic church buildings.

The Harlem Preservation Conference is a worthy undertaking. It should be replicated in communities which are not political entities in their own right and those that are. I do not know what the results were of the conference and what the next steps (if any) the participants have chosen to take. I do know a journey begins with a single step and community preservation conferences are an excellent first step to reknitting the social fabric at the local, state, and national level.

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.

 

Voices from the Grassroots: The Vanishing of Local History

East Main Street District , Westfield, NY

Personal Note: For the past two weeks I have been busy reviewing the proofs from my forthcoming book Jerusalem Throne Games: The Battle of Biblical Stories after the Death of David. Yes, New York State history is not my first love. As a result I was not able to write the posts I wanted. I will try to catch up after returning from the Erie Canal conference in Utica this weekend. In the meantime, here are some local voices.

On May 7, I went to the Ulster County History Exhibitions at the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston. The event was organized by Geoffrey Miller, the new county historian. While there we both happen to meet Diana Decker Kuster of Woodstock and Stone Arabia. As a Decker she apparently is part of a family of many generations in the state and as a parent she has seen the absence of local history in the schools. She expressed concerted displeasure with the vanishing of local history. She noted that in large school districts, local community stories are overlooked even if the big city story is taught. As children move away, such as after college, the chain of local history is broken. At times she seemed like she was channeling my posts even though she has never read them and didn’t know about them. Her emotional voice reveals that people even outside the formal history organizations can be concerned about the low priority of local history in the State.

The remainder of the post comes from Marybelle Beigh, the Town of Westfield historian in Chautauqua County. Her story sounds all too familiar.

Dr. Peter Feinman,

Finally, after several years of receiving your posts, I have taken the time to read several from the past year, working backwards to 5-19-2016 where you discussed “Lessons from the Weible Years.” Since that was about when I became a NY State local historian, I would like to share some bits of my “story” as they illustrate so much of what you often discuss in your excellent articles. The reason I initially subscribed to receiving these is after reading one several years ago that discussed the need to revise the historian law under which I was appointed. I found that discussion particularly pertinent to my own thoughts on the matter.

My name is Marybelle Beigh (pronounced “BEE”), and I was appointed Town of Westfield Historian (Chautauqua County NY) in May of 2007. This was followed a couple months later by being officially appointed Village of Westfield Historian. At the time, I was retired from teaching since 2003 (Electronics Instructor at Junior/Community College level for 30 years prior in CA and OR), and had returned to my hometown of Westfield NY, having lived in MA, CA, & OR since my first marriage in 1962; this was at the request of my aging mother and stepdad who both have since deceased (stepdad in 2005 & mother in 2014). I have a BS degree in Physics from SUNY Albany, and an MS in Education (Technology) from WOU Monmouth OR. What were my qualifications, other than higher education? A love of my hometown, a love of research and writing, a passion to save/preserve the many historic structures of my hometown such as the historic Barcelona Lighthouse, and a desire to see Main Street historic buildings revived as so many, at that time, were empty and deteriorating and, frankly, “UGLY”!

So, I was interviewed by the Town Supervisor, the County Historian, and the Head Librarian, and as there were really no other applicants, I got the position.

I was given a copy of the pretty brochure outlining the areas of responsibility (not all required) and the areas of “hands off” that included not collecting historic artifacts, not being a librarian (hmmm, how strange! It seems that at least the last 2 or 3 historians were librarians, the most recent one having been historian for 30 years, and librarian at least that long), and so on… When I asked what specifically were my duties, and where would my office be, the answer to the first was, don’t worry about that for now, just provide a monthly report of your activities to the Town Board monthly meeting; and the answer to the second was, “on the mezzanine of the library” where the previous historian had her office. The previous historian had retired at the end of 2006, and at the time of my appointment, was quite ill, and in a local nursing home. When I asked for an office in the village or town hall, there was no room in the inn so to speak.

I was told that when the previous historian recovered, they would have a special event to celebrate her years of service and to introduce me as the new historian. Well, that never happened… the previous historian passed away 2 months after I was appointed, and nobody thought that I should be introduced at that time, or ever, apparently… for years, in fact, to this day, very few people know that I am the historian (it’s been ten years now!)… and for a few years after I was appointed, the local newspaper ran reprints of her historian articles that she’d written between 1981 and 1990; although they also ran articles that I wrote as my own column called BeeLines, or Buzzings from BeeLines… (my nickname is “Bee” so someone suggested this as a cute title)…

Meanwhile, I was a member of the Chautauqua County Genealogical Society, in which there are several other local and govt. appointed historians, one of whom, after hearing of my historian appointment, asked me if I planned to attend the Spring 2008 State Historians Meeting (APHNYS)… I said, “What?” and so began my education and initiation into the mysterious workings of NY State public historian activities… that other historian and I attended the meeting together, which was about when we finally got a State Historian, Weible, and when I attended a short workshop for newly appointed historians… that was helpful and interesting, but when I told my local government what I was supposed to do, and where I was supposed to do it, they basically laughed and I started learning another lesson… the position of historian is not respected and is pretty much just something they appoint with no intention of following any of the rest of the law…

So I did what I could… responded to requests for information and research from clients who phoned, mailed, or emailed such to me… and used some of these topics and ones suggested by a few friends who love learning the history of our town & village, to research and write my BeeLines articles… at least I have some devoted readers who buy the local weekly newspaper just to read my latest “buzzings”… I love researching and solving history mysteries, probably because of my years as electronics technician problem solver (instructor as well as working in industry). I am blessed to have developed some really wonderful and long-lasting friendships with many of my historian clients.

During the past ten years as historian, I have tried many times to suggest various historical preservation projects, historical event ideas, correcting and updating the local town history book, (last edition was 1997), and so on, but have been rebuffed… and there have been quite a number of historical events and preservation or lack thereof situations about which as historian, I should probably be guiding or at least involved in the process, but which information has been pointedly NOT provided, often blocked or denied, and usually I am the LAST to know and in which have almost never been invited to be a participant. Even one event about which I was specifically contacted to be interviewed by Good Morning America (about Grace Bedell and Abraham Lincoln’s Whiskers), was interfered with by someone in the county historical society, so that he could be a “star” and in so doing caused one of the scheduled parts to be dropped, and made some local people very angry.

(I did do the interview after spending countless hours researching, locating living descendants of Bedell, and arranging the viewing of the house where she had lived in Westfield, which was the thing that was dropped). I was actually terrified to be interviewed for national TV, but the primary interviewer was wonderful at putting me at ease, and I did enjoy that part of it, although I have no interest in being a “star” thank you very much!

An interesting note is that I moved away from Westfield about 2014, to live near my son in Silverton CO, so resigned my post as historian. However, neither the village nor the town replaced me – in fact, I often received emails and phone calls in CO, for historical info, and had to try to direct the requesters to someone in Westfield, or answer what questions I was able, not having the resources of my previous files, etc. The other problem was that the high elevation was too much for my aging body – they put me on oxygen, so I moved back to Westfield and was immediately reappointed historian by both the town and village boards.

Since my return, in spite of escalating health problems, I continue to enjoy doing historical research and writing, and I have also discovered that our Chautauqua County Historian, Michelle Henry, is probably one of the most dedicated and knowledgeable historians, and is giving me a lot of help in organizing my work as historian, and finally I have a much better idea of what records are considered “permanent” items for the historian to maintain and pass on to the next historian and/or the town/village archives… I’m also learning that being two different historians can pose problems in determining ownership of records and books and publications of the historian…

So I can see more and more how inadequate and confusing for interpretation is our current historian law…

In addition to confirming by my own experience, what you write about so eloquently, I am really interested in helping in some way to improve not only the historian law, but to improve our public education history courses that teach local history. I was fortunate to have an excellent 7th-8th grade history teacher (they were called “social studies” teachers back in the 1950s… ) so did learn a lot of local history, as did many other grateful former students from those years that she taught. I also felt that I did NOT receive a proper education at the high school level, in that a number of courses and educational activities that had been important a couple decades earlier – such as civics, geography, and debating – were not part of my own learning experience – or at least not emphasized enough in my humble opinion.

Anyway, if you have managed to wade through my jumbled bit of ranting, I would like to know if there is anything I can do to be a part of, not apart from, the process of improving both the NY State historian law, and NY State local history education?

Thanks for “listening” and please advise..

Marybelle Beigh, Westfield Town & Village Historian

Teaching Teachers Local History: NYSED Changes the Rules

Middle School Field Trip

The New York State Education Department has changed the rules for the professional development of teachers. The changes affect teaching local and state history as well as all other subjects. The new system is called Continuing Teacher and Leader Education (CTLE). It was the subject of a workshop on April 2 prior to the formal start of the annual conference of the Museum Association of New York (MANY). I attended that workshop and consider it to have been the most important session in the conference.

By coincidence, Bruce Dearstyne has just written a post in New York History Blog entitled “New York History: Reaching Out to Social Studies Teachers.” I recommend it to you. He points out the three times in the k-12 curriculum that offer the best opportunity for infusing local and state history into the classroom and adds some comments:

*The Grade 4 Framework is entitled “New York State and Local History and Government” though coverage of New York history tapers off after about the mid-19th century and local history really is not covered at all.

*The Grade 7/8 Framework is titled “History of the United States and New York State” but in fact it focuses on U.S. history, with New York receiving little attention.

*The Grade 11 Framework focuses on “United States History and Government.” New York is not represented here but, given the fact that New York is arguably the nation’s most historically significant state, with many national trends starting here or playing out here, there is potential for infusing New York examples.

The reality of the situation is that the history community has to make the extra effort if local and state history is to be included in the curriculum. There will be the exceptional teachers who have a genuine interest in the subject and will make that effort and reach out to the local historical society but by and large teachers can comply with the current curriculum guidelines without paying any attention to you. As Bruce notes:

There are opportunities, particularly at the Grade 4 and 7/8 level, for integrating local, state, and national history, but it is up to historians and teachers to determine how best to do that. In fact, the preface to the Grade 7/8 Framework includes this short, but rather open-ended, suggestion:

“Teachers are encouraged to incorporate local features of state history in the course, such as the Dutch in the Hudson Valley, the Germans in the Schoharie Valley, the French in the Champlain Valley, Fort Niagara, the Brooklyn Naval Yard, the Seneca Falls Convention, Underground Railroad locations, war memorials, and other features in their community.”

Even the Path through History website includes more topics or themes in New York State history than this abbreviated notice.

Besides the shortcomings in the curriculum, the elephant in the room that is not being addressed is how teachers are to learn the local and state history which then can be incorporated into the classroom. Apparently it is by osmosis since no clear path is provided.

Do teachers need to learn local and state history as part of their certification process? No, not as social studies teachers or as elementary school teachers.

If a prospective teacher wanted to learn about local and state history while obtaining a masters degree, are such courses offered in the graduate schools of education or by the history department of the school? Rarely. How many SUNY schools, the major statewide producer of certified teachers, have such courses even as electives? How many of the other regional colleges with education programs offer such classes? So even if someone wanted to learn about state and local history, one would be hard pressed to do so through the certification process as it exists today.

Even if one did learn state history, would happen if the newly certified teacher took a job in a different region of the state? How would one learn about the local history in the area where one now taught?

Here is where professional development offers a solution. In general terms, teachers move up the salary rung by taking classes that enhance their ability to perform as a teacher. In this area, the educational experience can be in content (the history itself) as well as in the pedagogy (teaching the history in the classroom). Historical societies and museums therefore have the opportunity to offer to teachers for credit programs on local history. Of course, teachers are not obligated to take such classes.

When IHARE began to offer Teacherhostels, programs based on visiting history museums, hearing from scholars, and taking walks and bus tours, it was to provide content information in history. It might be thematic such as on the American Revolution or Hudson River Art or it might be geographic such as the history of Beacon, Cold Spring, Hastings-on-Hudson, Poughkeepsie, etc., or regional such as Hudson Valley or Mohawk Valley history. Here was a way to bring teachers and the history community together: to combine awareness of what teachers had to teach with the resources of the history museum. With teachers obligated to take 175 hours of professional development over a five year period, I thought my day-long, weekend, and weeklong programs of up to 45 hours fit the exact need of the teachers.

Boy, was I wrong! I was so clueless. It is impossible to underestimate the Mickey Mouse programs schools were able to create to comply with the state-mandated requirement. At the MANY session, the NYS presenters mentioned that the abuses in the professional development programs directly led to the creation of the CTLE system.

I would like to take this opportunity to share with you one example of school system ingenuity that appeared in the local newspaper. It is about a student program and not a teacher program but the defense of it by the school system is suggestive of the thinking that went into authorizing professional development programs as well. I am referring to a Hudson River cruise for 8th graders. The cost of the cruise was $37,000 (see the image for the cruise ship). That is not a typo. I won’t itemize the costs. Fortunately it is mostly paid for by the parents and the PTA and not the taxpayer.

I have used cruises in my own programs. We have cruised the Hudson River, the Mohawk River/Erie Canal, and the Champlain Canal. Generally these cruises are the final activities of the weekend or weeklong program. They provide a nice chance to enjoy the scenery in a relaxing setting and talk about what has been presented and what people will do when they return to the real world. Sometimes there are re-enactors/entertainers on board who talk about their time period. And at no time did a cruise cost $37,000.

How did the school system legitimate the annual Hudson River cruise of the 8th graders costing $37.000?  As the article notes, it turns out dining and dancing on a Hudson River cruise is part of the school curriculum. Quoting documents a concerned citizen obtain through the Freedom of Information Law, the school superintendent wrote:

“The field trip fosters student development and personal worth by celebrating and rewarding students’ hard work and completion of their middle school journey. The field trip promotes communication skills and understanding of human relations to the extent it enables students to travel together and interact with each other, chaperones and boat staff during the cruise. By travelling into the community together and along the Hudson River to NYC, the field trip expands students’ knowledge of society as they prepare for the next step of their academic and adult journeys.”

As is that wasn’t enough:

“[the cruise] is an essential component of the district’s eighth-grade academic program, specifically by promoting social-emotional learning across disciplines and communication skills in the English language arts of literacy curriculum.”

Does this person know how to sling the bull or what? Notice the expert use of approved jargon terms to convey a high-level meaning to a social activity. Upon entering the education jargon into my Universal Translator, I discovered that the true meaning of the words of the Superintendent can be more succinctly stated as:

LET’S PARTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It is this precise mindset that schools brought to the professional development requirements until at last New York State Education Department said enough is enough and instituted CTLE in 2016.

So what does this mean?

Previously each school district decided for itself what constituted professional development credit. By contrast, in Connecticut and Massachusetts, IHARE had to register with the respective state education departments and become an approved by the state. Under the new system, the same will be true in New York.  If you are not a state-approved entity you cannot offer teachers CTLE credit. The MANY workshop discussed the approval process which will be the subject of a future post where I will walk through the process.

With CTLE, the professional development contact hours for permanent certified teachers was reduced from 175 hours every five years to 100. While that seems like a cutback, there is a change in the recordkeeping process and the documenting of the individuals and institutions providing the professional development program. Think of a course curriculum or the information you obtain on a potential speaker at your site.  Just as you want to know if the speaker is legitimate to speak on a specific topic, so too, the State wants to ensure that the CTLE providers are legitimate as well: what are the credentials?

Teachers can be audited meaning the programs they submit to demonstrate compliance with the 100 hours requirement can be reviewed to ascertain if it really meets NYS Education Department standards.

School districts were automatically granted the right to issue CTLE credit. They do not need to apply to the State for approval. So if you are a small historic site that only deals with one school system than CTLE won’t affect you much except you will be asked by the school to document the credentials of your organization, the staff, and activities in the program. However, if you wish to offer a program to teachers from multiple school districts on a county, regional, or state basis then you will be better off becoming an authorized CTLE provider.

I will review the material presented at the conference workshop including contact information in a future post. I also have a copy of the PowerPoint presentation from the workshop which is available to anyone interested it.  There are still details to be worked out as became evident in the workshop since it is clear that not all historic sites and museums will apply for authorization. The New York State Museum itself which is part of the Education Department had to apply and I presume the same requirements apply to NPS sites as well private and public museums.  Also discussed as the workshop broke up, was since not everyone is even going to apply, something needs to be done to address that.

Finally, no matter what rules the State Education Department installs, one should never underestimate the ability of people to game the system.  One lesson from Bruce’s analysis confirms what was previously suspected: although there are opportunities in the k-12 curriculum for local and state history, it is easy to ignore them completely unless it also is part of national history (Battle of Saratoga, Erie Canal, 9/11).  The bigger issue for state and local history is not the CTLE but the curriculum itself and the certification requirements to be a teacher.

Comments on Bruce Dearstyne’s Blog

I am including some of the comments made in response to Bruce’s post.

1. Debi Duke: Thanks, Bruce! Social studies teachers — please join Teaching the Hudson Valley for our annual summer institute, July 25-27, in Hyde Park, BUILDING COMMUNITY WITH PLACE-BASED LEARNING. Workshops and field experiences cover all grades. Topics include Strategies for Exploring Your Amazing Hometown, Service Learning at Historic Sites, Votes for Women!: Inspiring Student Community Involvement through the History of Women’s Rights, and much more. CTLE approved. http://www.teachingthehudsonvalley.org/thv2017/

Note: I have attended this conference on multiple occasions and even included participation in as part of a Hudson Valley Teacherhostel.

2. Please forward this email to all NYS educators in our public and private schools. Nice job, Bruce, and this needs to spread ‘like wildfire!’

3. Casey Jakubowski: Hi Bruce, et al. Capitol Area school development association is working closely with social studies teachers in creating local and state content. We have produced a series of webinars that you can access via your school. Casdany.org is the location for the website that will tell you how to get access.

Note: He formerly worked at the Education Department.

4. Bill Hosley: All history is local. Local is the level that matter most! I’d go further and say that one of the reasons History has lost its grip on students and the public is because academic historians have put too much emphasis on political history – “great men, great events.” Maybe that’s changing and maybe I am wrong – but I personally didn’t totally engage with history until I discovered it was all around me and in 1001 small things forgotten – touchstones to different contexts and eras – thrilling, immediate, tactile and visual. When and where will the revolution begin – because we need one. Local history is also the gateway to civic attachment – a real and substantial contemporary human need.

Note: We see other at history conferences and he has been a tireless advocate for local history in Connecticut as well as a responder to my posts.

5. Kyle Jenks: Great to see this positive feedback from so many people. You have struck a nerve that sings like a guitarist string! As they say in my favorite Bond movie, the Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale, “I am all in.”
My thrust is adding quality First Person Interpreters to the menu of educational methodology which has its academic roots in Process Drama, aka Applied Theater and Educational Theater.
All reading this may be heartened to know that I have met a woman with a noble cause. She is working on creating an online resource as a one stop shop for teachers and museum professionals to find interpreters that cut the mustard by demonstrating the highest level of commitment to scholarly research and performance acumen to cast as accurate a portrayal as possible.
Anyone interested in staying apprised of this development is welcome to contact me
at kyle@greatlittlemadison.com
Thank you for your thorough and persuasive message.

Note: Kyle will be performing as Governor Clinton in our parade as the Lower Manhattan Historical Association on July 2 at Federal Hall in Manhattan. He raises the important point about the role of individual re-enactors and performance in the teaching of history. Famed Hudson-Valley storyteller and musician Jonathan Kruk also will be performing in the parade.

Funding Women: The Award Winners

New York State Museum Exhibit

The new cycle of REDC funding is beginning. I received an invitation to attend the Mid-Hudson session on April 25. New York is having a public session the same day so I imagine the regions throughout the state are gearing up to plan for the 2017 awards.

In my posts I have been reviewing the awards from 2016. So far I have presented those granted by NYS Canals
History Anniversary Funding and part of I Love NY in two separate posts: Show Me the Money and I LoveNY Funding.

In this post I am turning to those related to the centennial of women’s suffrage in New York. While the grants can be from multiple state agencies, the bulk of them are from the New York State Council on the Arts and relate to exhibits. The funding definition in the REDC awards guide is:

Funds are available for arts and culture initiatives to eligible non-profit and local units of government. This Local Assistance support is provided under Article 3 of NYS Arts and Cultural Affairs Law for the planning, presentation and staffing of the performing, literary and visual arts that encourage broader participation and public interest in the cultural heritage of NY State and promotes tourism and economic development. Funding Programs: Arts, Culture, Heritage New Initiatives – Planning (CHPG P); Arts, Culture, Heritage New Initiatives – Implementation (CHPG I); Workforce Investment (WIP): $5,000,000 [available in total].

The examples also are suggestive of what might be available for World War I exhibits for next year.

The major award winner as one might expect was the National Women’s Hall of Fame. It received four different awards from different state agencies in a total of $1,175 million. A significant chunk is for the rehabilitation of an abandoned mill across the street from the NPS site.

The awards listed below are copied directly from the REDC publication which is available as a PDF. I mention this because you will see various spellings throughout the examples including at times within a single award. These spellings are:

National Womens Hall of Fame
Womens Activism
Womens Rights
Womans Suffrage
Woman’s suffrage
Womens Suffrage
Women’s Suffrage.

I have no explanation for the use or non-use of apostrophes or the singular versus the plural form.

Bronx

LeAp’s
Leap Womens Suffrage Commemoration
LeAp will celebrate the NYS Women’s Suffrage Centennial by exploring woman’s suffrage through the lens of the “Struggle within the Struggle,” a dramatization of the historical experience of women of color having to break through systems of oppression to achieve basic human rights.
Arts CHPG I         $45,000

Columbia

Shaker Museum
Exploring Shaker Ideas and Actions on Womens Rights: A Celebration of the Centennial of Womans Suffrage
The Shaker Museum at Mount Lebanon engages and inspires local, national, and global audiences by telling the story of the Shakers. In 2017 the museum’s programming will celebrate and explore the Shakers’ ideas and actions around women’s rights, and the lives of the women who lived at Mount Lebanon.
Arts CHPG I         $41,500

New York

Museum of the City of New York
Beyond Suffrage: 100 Years of Womens Activism in New York
In September 2017, the Museum of the City of New York will present Beyond Suffrage: 100 Years of Women’s Activism in New York. The exhibit will trace women’s activism in New York City from the suffrage movement through today and will include a focus on women activists who lived and worked in Harlem.
Arts CHPG I         $60,000

New York Historical Society
New York Womens Suffrage Exhibition
The New York Historical Society will celebrate the centennial of New York State signing women’s suffrage into law through a special satellite exhibition and audience engagement effort on Governors Island, curated by NYHS’s Teen Leaders in collaboration with the new Center for Women’s History.
Arts CHPG I         $75,000

New York City

Center for Traditional Music and Dance
NY Voices/NY Votes
NY Voices/NY Votes celebrates the legacy of the women’s suffrage movement through a series of pop-p festivals that bring the conversation about voting rights to diverse communities in Opportunity Zones by combining voter registration with arts/humanities programming, and employment/social services.
Arts CHPG I         $75,000

Onondaga

Everson Museum of Art
Seen and Heard
In “Seen and Heard,” New York’s central role in the fight for women’s suffrage serves as a catalyst for contemporary activism. The multi-media exhibition, educational programs, and artist residencies explore the language and tactics of protest through the arts in order to initiate civic engagement.
Arts CHPG I         $66,000

Seneca

National Womens Hall of Fame
Center for Great Women
This project is phase three of a project that will transform the empty Seneca Knitting Mill into the Center for Great Women – the headquarters of the National Woman’s Hall of Fame. Work will include demolition, construction, interior build-out and site work of the first floor of the Mill, creating 4,200 square feet of habitable space for exhibits.

Funds for this project will be used to support the adaptive rehabilitation of the historic 1844 Seneca Knitting Mill and transform and re-use the empty and dilapidated Mill into the Center for Great Women – the headquarters of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, drawing visitors not only to Seneca Falls, but also to the attractions within the Finger Lakes Region and across New York State.

This project is Phase III-A in the adaptive rehabilitation of the historic 1844 Seneca Knitting Mill. It will transform and re-use the first floor of the empty and dilapidated Mill into 4,200 square feet of habitable and occupiable space for exhibits and cultural activities showcasing the amazing stories of the National Women’s Hall of Fame’s Inductees.

Rehabilitation of the historic 1844 Seneca Knitting Mill, transformation of the dilapidated Mill into the Center for Great Women. This phase includes demolition, construction, interior build out and site work of the first floor.

Canals                   $125,000
MNY                      $250,000
OPRHP                  $300,000
ESD Grants          $500,000

Westchester

Westchester Arts Council Inc
Suffrage Now, A Contemporary Art Exhibition
Suffrage Now is a contemporary art exhibition celebrating New York’s historic role in the path to the 19th Amendment while reinforcing the relevance of Women’s Suffrage today. Artworks consider contemporary events alongside historical to explore what the right to vote means to Americans.
Arts CHPG I         $75,000

The awards listed here are separate from any funding through the Women’s Suffrage Commission established by the State with Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who spoke at the second suffrage meeting in Waterloo (next to Seneca Falls) last year, as the chair. The commission consists of:

Noemi Gazala, Superintendent of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park (NPS)
Rose Harvey, Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Kathy Hochul, Lieutenant Governor (appointed by Governor Cuomo)
Deborah Hughes, President of the Susan B. Anthony Museum and House
Dr. Jennifer LeMack, New York State Museum Chief Curator of History (appointed by commissioner of education)
Sen. Betty Little (appointed by the temporary president of the Senate)
Christina Lotz, Seneca County Clerk (appointed by minority leader of the Assembly)
Senator Velmanette Montgomery (appointed by minority leader of the Senate)
Kathleen Neville, Board Member of the New York Council for the Humanities
Dare Thompson, President of the League of Women Voters of New York State
Sally Roesch Wagner, Director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation
Eve Waltermaurer, Director of Research and Evaluation at The Benjamin Center, SUNY New Paltz (appointed by the speaker of the Assembly)
Howard Zemsky, President, CEO and Commissioner of Economic Development
Susan Zimet, President of 2020: Project Women, Inc.

According to the website dated August 22, 2016:  During its inaugural meeting, members of the Commission outlined plans for commemoration events to take place over the next three years that highlight historic achievements for women.

The Commission maintains a calendar of events. The big one upcoming appears to be with the NPS at Seneca Falls:

Join Women’s Rights National Historical Park for Convention Days 2017 July 14-16. This three day event will be filled with exciting speakers, historical actors (Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Frederick Douglass), theater performances, children’s activities, multiple art exhibits, vendors, and so much more.

Apparently there is still time to participate.

We are currently seeking people & organizations who would like to table at the event. We welcome groups with themes of equality, human rights, civil rights, and women’s rights. If you are interested at tabling, please contact Ashley Nottingham at: ashley_nottingham@nps.gov

Related to this event is VoteTilla Week, scheduled for July 16-22, 2017. Participants will travel in canal boats from Seneca Falls to Rochester, concluding with a final celebration at the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House. Along the way, boats will dock at towns and villages for historic re-enactments, speeches and music, co-hosted by local groups and partner organizations including the Canal Society of New York State, Seward House and the University of Rochester’s Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership. This partnership explains why some of the awards by the New York Canal Corporation, which is beginning its bicentennial, are connected to the centennial of women’s suffrage.

My impression is that the funding for the Commission totals in the hundreds of thousands dollars and it serves more as a promoter/coordinator than as an initiator/developer.

I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate my position on history anniversary celebrations. In my opinion, the appropriate state office for the funding and leadership for anniversary events is the Office of the New York State Historian. We are, after all, talking about history anniversaries. Funding for events related to a state anniversary should be through the office directly involved with New York state history. At present in the REDC funding cycle the state historian receives nothing. This omission is due to REDC reporting to the Governor while the cultural organizations, NYS Museum, Archives, and Library, report to the Regents. State history pays the price for these turf wars. Another possibility is for the Regents to create their own counterpart to the REDC process so organizations can apply to the Archives, Library, and Museum for funding. The Regents could even use the same form ESD does.

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: statehistory@nysed.org

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

Hello,

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: http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/research-collections/state-history.

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 statehistory@nysed.gov.

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.

Park/History Advocacy Day: Who Advocates for History?

On March 13, I participated in Park Advocacy Day. These advocacy days are part of the annual budget ritual in Albany. Groups of people representing different issues converge on the capital to meet with and lobby state legislators on behalf of their area of concern. Such people are physically identifiable due to their tote bags, t-shirts, or in our cases, green scarves signifying the green of the parks.

Parks Advocacy Day targets legislators on behalf of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP). Technically the government organ is responsible for both parks and historic sites. In some cases an historic site may consist of grounds and therefore serve as a park as well. As will be seen, the emphasis in the advocacy is on the parks side of its domain more so than the historic sites. The number of parks and the visitation totals to the parks far exceeds those to the historic sites. A similar situation exists with the National Park Service. One notes both entities are called parks departments, no one ever refers to NYSOPRHP by name as the “History” department.

The non-government organization responsible for advocating on behalf of NYSOPRHP is Parks & Trails New York and secondarily the Open Space Institute. According to its website, Parks & Trails has a staff of 11 people (including one intern.). It is located at 29 Elk Street, Albany NY 12207 | (518) 434-1583. It is an organization of over $1,000,000 each in assets, annual revenue, and annual expenses. It is dedicated to lobbying on behalf of parks. PTNY Executive Director Robin Dropkin is an occasional reader of my posts. NYSOPRHP Commissioner Rose Harvey is a regular reader of my posts.

What is the history community equivalent to Parks & Trails New York?

In addition to PTNY, there is a government commission dedicated to the NYSOPRHP. As defined on the NYSOPRHP website:

The State Council of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation consists of the Commissioner of State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Commissioner of Environmental Conservation, Chairs of the eleven Regional Parks Commissions (including a representative of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission), and Chair of the State Board of Historic Preservation. The Regional Commissions are charged with acting as a central advisory body on all matters affecting parks, recreation and historic preservation within their respective regions, with particular focus on the operations of the State Parks and Historic Sites.

The chair of the commission is Lucy Rockefeller Waletzky. She participates in advocacy day sometimes on behalf of the Taconic region where she lives and sometimes as representing the entire state. She is a dedicated reader of my posts.

There are 11 regional commissions within this framework each which has at least five members. These divisions do not correspond with the divisions of I Love NY, REDC funding, or the municipal historians (APHNYS). I do wish to stress that these state and regional commissions are all an official part of the government.

What is the history community equivalent to the NYSOPRHP commissions?

During the morning presentations each speaker talked about their own experiences. The talks tended to focus on parks they had visited in their own youth, on trails, summer camps, hikes and so forth. No one really spoke about a seminal encounter with state or American history. Then again, this was Park Advocacy Day, not History Advocacy Day.

After lunch, which was provided free as part of the program, it was off to lobby the legislators. In the vernacular of lobbying this actions involves “asks,” as in we are asking the legislators for something specific. We are not there to discuss our inner-Thoreau or exclaim on the wonders of communing with nature. We are there to ask for money (or possibly a regulatory action). In our case the asks were:

1. Support the proposed $120 million capital budget for state parks and $50 million for DEC.

A list of the capital projects was provided in our packets. The items overwhelming were for parks and not historic sites. Jones Beach was the largest with $10,000,000. The next largest was for $4,500,000 for emergency repair for a collapsed slope along the Croton Aqueduct. Although it is an historic site, its primary use is as a flat trail through multiple communities along the Hudson where people jog, bike, walk, and stroll alone and with families. Similarly the Walkway over the Hudson, an old railroad bridge, would receive $3,525,000 in two grants in the budget including to build a visitor center. As with the grounds on many estates along the Hudson, these historic sites function as parks like Central Park in Manhattan. I mention these items not to disparage them or to suggest they are improper, but to highlight the funding for the recreational side of the NYSOPRHP department.

2. Support continuing the level of funding for the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) at $300 million.

3. Support $500,000 for the Park and Trail Partnership grants for local Friends groups.

The Friends groups were the subject of an earlier posts on Friends with Benefits. The Taconic region requests close to 50% of the amount. The region includes Olana which was the subject of my earlier post and two representatives from the Olana friends group were part of the Advocacy participants. These friends groups also appear on the NYSOPRHP website as part of the page for each individual site.

Each legislator is left with a packet of information about the asks.

What would be the asks of the history community if there was a history advocacy day?

What would the history community ask of NYSOPRHP?

What would the history community ask of I LoveNY?

What would the history community ask of the Office of Cultural Education?

One readily observes here the dilemma facing the history community. One might think that the New York State Historical Association would serve in the same capacity for history as Parks & Trails does for parks. NYSHA has not performed in that role and no longer defines itself even on paper as organization with state-wide responsibilities.

After my last post on the New York State History Advisory group which State Historian Devin Lander has created, I received two emails, the first from someone at a college history museum and the second a regional APHNYS historian:

Thanks for this. FYI, the New York State Historical Association (Cooperstown) no longer exists as such – on March 13, the Board of Regents approved changing the legal name of the organization to “Fenimore Art Museum.” This change reflects a long-term evolution of purpose that has been underway for at least 25 years (and in many ways, since 1939, when Stephen Clark invited NYSHA to move to Cooperstown from Ticonderoga). See the official press release (http://www.fenimoreartmuseum.org/about_us/press_room/press_releases/fenimore_art_museum_amends_charter) for further information.

and:

What’s happening at NYSHA in Cooperstown? They stopped printing their quarterly New York History journal and now is only online. I’m having trouble reading it and one time I could only go to page 8.

In today’s [newspaper] an article said NYSHA was changing its name to Fenimore Art Museum. I’ve heard that NYSHA was having some financial problems. I sense a trend from history to art and much southwest Indian artifacts. I never understood why NYSHA accepted such a large collection of Indian items from the southwest???

This could be a topic for one of your posts.

At the just concluded annual conference of the Museum Association of New York (MANY; to be the subject of future posts), John Warren, editor New York History Blog informed me that he had just posted a blog on the topic

NYSHA Defunct: New York State Historical Association Is No More

Clearly there is void with no private organization even pretending to represent the voice of the state history community.

So what should be done? Here are my asks.

1. We need a friends of history group comparable to the Park & Trails organization.
2. We need NYSOPRHP
(i) to designate one person in each of its 11 commissions to be the history representative for the history sites in those regions
(ii) for those 11 people to meet periodically with the chair of the commission.
3. We need the Office of Cultural Education perhaps at the request of the Regents and its Cultural Education subcommittee to create a history commission comparable to the parks one at NYSOPRHP.
4. We need a representative of the history community to join the Tourism Action Committee just as there is a member of I LoveNY on the history advisory group.
5. We need a representative of the New York State history community to join the board of the New York State Council for the Social Studies.
6. We need to develop an agenda or lists of asks in the areas of capital projects/funding curriculum, programs including anniversary funding, and tourism.
7. We need to include National Park Service historic sites in the discussion.

The above points are an ambitious vision and there should be no doubt that even if people reading this post are nodding their heads “yes,” that is a long way from any of the asks actually happening.