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State History Advocacy: A Report from the Frontlines

Who knew there actually was an Office of Advocacy!

The legislative sessions this year have been far from normal to say the least. Some actions were undertaken earlier this year before the lockdowns occurred. While much is now on hold, it is useful to catch up on what was done or planned.

My main advocacy blog was posted May 3, 2020:  History Advocacy Advisory Alert. It was geared towards the federal level. There is an annual conference in Washington by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) in partnership with the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH). Then there was the special Covid-19 funding advocacy. The annual day is great for those who participate. My recommendation was and is that more would participate if there were local advocacy days in each Congressional office one week prior to the national meeting. The same considerations apply to state advocacy efforts.

The following examples are not meant to be complete. They reflect what I am aware of based on the newsletters I receive.

Maine Advocacy

Speak up for your museum, meet your legislators, and help us celebrate and advocate for all museums! Join the Maine Archives & Museums and NEMA for an informal reception in the Hall of Flags, show off your museum’s unique resources and achievements, and hear from government and museum representatives about the importance of public support for Maine’s cultural treasures. We encourage museums, museum staff, students, and supporters across the state to attend. This event is free.

The day’s schedule will be as follows:

11am-noon       Maine State Archives – Advocacy Training – discuss current issues and practice your advocacy story with representatives from the New England Museum Association.

Noon-2pm       Maine State House – Meet Your Legislators – Make appointments to meet with your legislators to discuss the issues relevant to your organization.

2pm-4pm       Hall of Flags, Maine State House – Reception – Exhibit your organization (register here at no cost to members of MAM and NEMA to reserve table space) and/or meet with folks from other collecting institutions while enjoying refreshments and inspiring speakers.

One question I would ask is “What are the specific actions being requested of the legislators?” In other words, what if any new legislation is being suggested or what existing legislation is being supported or what funding levels are being requested? The odds are these types of issues are the same across state lines with some changes based on the organizational structure in each state.

Massachusetts Advocacy  

Over the past few I years I have attended and written about the annual conference of the Massachusetts History Alliance (History Advocacy: Lessons from the Massachusetts History Alliance Conference). One focus has been its fledgling efforts to develop an advocacy program. To the best of my knowledge, the organization has not reached the point where it has a state advocacy day for history organizations or participates in one for museums. If that information is not correct, please let me know. It looks like I will not be able to catch-up on recent events at the proposed conference for June 1 this year. Instead, I have copied some relevant information from the Alliance’s website.

Advocacy for Non-Profits: the rules

We are frequently asked this question: We are a non-profit, doesn’t that mean we cannot lobby for our interests at the Statehouse or to our Town? What are the rules that govern these activities?

The MHA Advocacy Team has done the research and reports out:

  • Advocacy is not the same as lobbying. Lobbying is one form of advocacy that often involves persuading legislators to enact or vote down a bill.
  • Lobbying can be undertaken by tax-exempt organizations, with no risk to their 501(c)3 status, as long as it is not a substantial part of their organization’s activities.
  • “Substantial” is generally considered to be more than 5% of the organization’s total activities or more than 20% of its expenditures.
  • Individuals advocating on their own and not as representatives of tax-exempt organizations face no penalties.

Advocacy efforts that do not present a risk to an organization’s tax-exempt status include:

  • Educating policymakers and the public about broad social issues
  • Organizing communities, encouraging people to vote and educating voters about candidate positions.
  • Attempts to make an administrative agency of the government change its policies, rules or regulations should be presented as educational efforts, to avoid being considered lobbying.

MHA ADVOCACY PRIORITIES

Under Construction

MHA has advocacy priorities in three areas: advocacy for public history to the legislature, advocacy to the public history field, and advocacy for public history to the general public.

  • The MHA advocates for legislative initiatives that fund local and public history efforts in the Commonwealth. This includes the provision of opportunities that make it easier for smaller organizations to survive, such as grant opportunities or tax credits.
  • The MHA promotes the message that a vibrant history community is good for local businesses and contributes to our state’s economic vitality.
  • The MHA advances the idea that an awareness of local and public history is an essential component of civic engagement.
  • The MHA endorses the funding of regional networks and collaborative efforts that positively impact local and public history in Massachusetts. It encourages the development of greater communication between the numerous and distinct history organizations across the state.
  • The MHA supports entities that encourage the preservation of historic buildings, objects and documents.
  • The MHA advocates for the continued funding of its Annual Conference.

All these objectives are worthy. Now notice the difference. Three are funding-based while two are conceptual and one may be geared towards specific preservation-related matters. One presumes that behind the three funding objectives are specific legislative actions the History Alliance wants the legislators to take. By contrast two others might involve having events or inviting legislators to attend them. Preservation is separate category and in fact I attended a preservation advocacy day in New York which will be the subject of its own blog.

New York Advocacy

MANY Executive Director Erika Sanger speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, March 11 with Assembly Member Pat Fahy, NYS Senator Jose Serrano, Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell, and museum and education advocates call for the passage of the Museum Education Act’s inclusion in New York State’s final budget.

Advocacy in New York is spearheaded by the Museum Association of New York (MANY). The organization has a lobbyist on retainer. It is a museum organization and many of the members are history organizations. It is very active in the national advocacy by AAM. Below is a newsletter from February when MANY expected to have its annual conference at the end of March. While that did not happen, readers should note the advocacy actions planned in conjunction with the conference. Such actions can be replicated in other states.

Making the Case for New York’s Museums

If you’ve attended a MANY program in the past couple of years, you have heard me ask you to reach out to your local, state, and federal legislators to let them know what resources you need to serve our communities, preserve and share collections, and sustain and grow the unique power that museums have to transform lives. I know some of us find it difficult to speak up and get loud enough to make a difference. Many museum professionals identify as introverts, while others may be uncomfortable speaking with people they don’t know.

One member of our museum community, the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) has just experienced a disaster that we all dread— the potential loss of a collection to fire. MOCA’s social media campaigns, calls to city officials, outreach to emergency management offices, and help from members of the community made a difference. Their announcement on Thursday, February 27 that the building on 70 Mulberry Street that housed the collection will be hand-demolished and that most of the collection remaining will be salvaged will help them continue to tell the nationally significant stories embodied in the collections.

At MANY’s annual conference in Albany on Monday, March 30th at 1:00, a group of museum professionals will share how communities and museums responded to the impact of Hurricanes Sandy, Irene, and Andrew and how shared exhibitions and programming effected change in their communities. Coming together, speaking out, and communicating our needs to our representatives is how we will effect positive change for New York’s Museums.

In Albany we have been working hard with NY State Senator Serrano and Assembly Member Fahy to advance the Museum Education Act A.9695 (Fahy)/S.6819 (Serrano). I am pleased to report that it has passed out of the Tourism Committee in the Assembly and the Cultural Affairs Committee in the Senate but we need you to step in, speak up and get loud now. We have received an outpouring of support in both houses, but we need you to tell your legislators how your museum does essential work in your community and ask them for their support now. Please send an email and follow up with a phone call to your State Senators and Assembly Members as soon as possible to ask for their support to include the Museum Education Act (A.9695 (Fahy)/S.6819 (Serrano)) in the one house budget bills at $3.5M. You can find your Assembly Member’s contact information by clicking here and your New York State Senator by clicking here and MANY’s memo of support here. Please feel free to borrow freely from this email and our letter of support when contacting your legislators. There is more advocacy information about the MEA on our website: https://nysmuseums.org/Advocacy.

If you are planning to join us at our 2020 annual conference in Albany (it is going to be amazing), please invite your legislators to join us at the “Power of Partnership” 2020 Annual Conference Opening Reception on Sunday, March 29th in The Rotunda of the New York State Education Department Building from 4:30 – 6:30 PM. You can find a pdf of the invitation here. With budget negotiations underway, I am sure they will appreciate a break and a chance to speak with and enjoy refreshments with their constituents.

With thanks and hopes to see you in Albany!

Here you see the opportunities available when having a state conference at the state capitol when the legislature is in session. Obviously the coronavirus will only amplify the need for dialogue with the legislative and executive branches.

Rhode Island Advocacy

Speak up for your museum and make the case for all museums to your elected officials. Perfect your elevator speech and learn the basics of advocating for the field that you love.

Enjoy light refreshments and the company of your colleagues while we celebrate the contributions of Rhode Island’s vibrant museum community.

Museums large and small throughout the state, join the fun and show your support!

 Agenda

Advocacy Training: 11 am  – Noon, State House Library
Brown-bag Networking Lunch: Noon – 1 pm, State House Library
Exhibit table set-up: 12:30-1:30 pm, Rotunda
Reception, speaking program, and refreshments: 2-4 pm, Rotunda
Legislator encounters: 3:15-4:15 pm, House & Senate chambers

You may notice some similarities between and the Maine and Rhode Island programs. That is probably due to the New England Museum Association (NEMA)’s involvement in both instances. It’s big on the “elevator speech” as I wrote about last year (Massachusetts History Alliance conference).

On a personal level, I can say my own advocacy efforts for New York State to create a Freedom Bicentennial Commission to recognize the anniversary of the legal end of slavery in New York is on halt. The legislation has been written and I last met with the State Senate staff at the end of February about the proposal being made this session. I have not pursued the matter since then and will wait to next year.

The Grassroots Speak: Comments, Criticisms, and Supplements to My Blogs

The Grassroots Speak (Library of Congress http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.08961)

This blog is dedicated to responses from readers about my blogs. Although these comments are posted on the IHARE website, they appear after the blog has been disseminated so they tend not to be read by readers of the blog. Below are some of the responses in alphabetical order by history organization.

Columbia County History Community

In response to Historians Who Have Historians Are the Luckiest People in the World: The Need for Meetings and Meetups, I received the following:

We have organized an informal group of Columbia County municipal historians and historical societies, and some individual non-official historians, which meets about every three months to talk on topics of mutual interest.  We have a list of 50 people who receive notices of meetings but attendance at a meeting is usually about 20.

I wonder how more such gatherings there are. Certainly every county should have such countywide meetings. They can range from a formal conference with presentations to casual get-togethers.

Eastville Community Historical Society

 In my blog Columbus Day 1992: A Glance Back at the Culture War that Divides America Today, I used the logo of the Eastville Community Historical Society (ECHS) to illustrate the message to think in terms of encounters instead of zero-sum in the presentation of the past. I did so without requesting permission from ECHS.

When ECHS saw the post, they were enraged. An email of complaint was sent to the New York State Historian requesting his intervention for the unethical use of the logo. I was copied on the email. When I received it, I replied with an apology to ECHS and expressed my admiration for the logo.

ECHS accepted the apology and requested a disclaimer be posted that it was “unauthorized, this is not the view of Eastville and that of IHARE”. I will revise the website with the posting to state that the logo was used without permission and does not indicate agreement with or an endorsement of the blog.

Massachusetts History Alliance

An open response to Peter Feinman’s blog post of July 29, entitled: History Advocacy: Lessons from the Massachusetts History Alliance Conference

As a history professional working in Massachusetts, a member of the Massachusetts History Alliance Board of Directors and chair of its Advocacy Committee, I regularly read your essays and applaud your efforts to investigate and report on regional activities that impact history organizations.

It was with genuine excitement that I sat down to read your recent blog post, “History Advocacy: Lessons from the Massachusetts History Alliance Conference.” I’d like to take this opportunity to respond to your somewhat dismissive assessment of the conference as a whole and your critique of the session you attended.

First of all, thank you for attending the conference. While it has co-sponsored conferences in the past, the Mass History Alliance is a relatively young organization that is wholly volunteer-driven.  We are working to define our purpose and to assess the needs of local history organizations in Massachusetts. As a collaborative clearinghouse for resources and information, we have developed the infrastructure for a robust web presence that can make tools, opportunities, partnership models, empowering stories and a range of other resources freely accessible to all.

The session that you attended at the conference reflects this practical approach. It was intended to provide useful information that might assist individuals representing their organizations.  You observed, “the session was entirely geared towards individual people representing individual organizations advocating for individual items on behalf of the individual organization.”

I understand that you had hoped to see that the MHA had progressed quickly towards becoming a “statewide organization [that can] arrange for a history advocacy day in support of statewide history concerns.”  We still have a long way to go until we can operate effectively as a voice for history at the statewide level.

The advocacy session might have been better, and we are striving to make everything we do better. However, contrary to your observation, I believe the session had everything to do with “what the history community really needs.”   Creating a shared voice and a shared vision out of the many members of the MHA is the first step to becoming a strong and purposeful voice for the hundreds of mom & pop museums, archives and societies spread across our state, struggling to keep their doors open and their programs running. Our intent is to inspire and empower them to hold on, to thrive and to grow. We cannot hold a “history advocacy day” until we have a clear and cogent message that comes directly from our membership and speaks to its vision and its needs. We are in the early stages of learning from our members about the specific challenges they face and the support and resources they need to survive and flourish. In the meantime, our advocacy session was organized with individuals working alone or in small groups all over the Commonwealth who might benefit from insider tips on approaching representatives.

As you noted, ‘the history community does not do a good job advocating for itself,” and I agree with you. The Mass History Alliance aspires to be an umbrella organization, a convener and a clearinghouse for support and collegiality, but there is much work to be done. We need to expand our membership, gain trust and legitimacy through our programs and refine our advocacy efforts. Your agenda for public history projects in need of advocacy for is spot on.

The MHA aims to become a voice for the history community, but first it must learn from and listen to that community.

Grassroots efforts may be slow but we have seen great progress.  In the midst of your critique and concerns, you may have missed the overall success of the 2019 Mass History Alliance Conference. 237 participants representing over 150 organizations attended. We came close to surpassing all previous attendance rates and we welcomed representatives from more organizations than ever before.

Moreover, there was a palpable sense in the building that public historians in our state, more than ever, want a place to express their collective commitments to preserve and share their histories. Your suggestions for statewide and regional advocacy and cooperation are well-taken and your recommendations for state programs and teacher training in local history are important.

In the meantime, the MHA Board has just expanded to twelve members and welcomed leaders in our state’s history community. Their dedication and the collegiality and enthusiasm of the conference attendees are evidence that something special may be happening. Indeed, I believe we are getting our act together.  Please join us in a spirit of cooperation and support around our shared commitments to preserving the past!

Best, 

Eric Peterson
Director of Operations, Waterworks Museum
Director, Massachusetts History Alliance

When I received this private email, I asked Eric if I could post it and received permission. I actually agree with this comment. I am not a resident of Massachusetts but have attended the conference three times. I want the Alliance to work. I want it to be exactly what Eric wants it to be. The blog was intended to express my frustration and disappointment that more has not been done. I expressed similar disappointment when in New York, the New York Historical Association withdrew from all statewide functions. That longtime void still has not been filled. That is part of why I was excited about the prospect of Massachusetts doing what the New York history community has not done. Maybe Massachusetts will succeed where New York has failed. The Museum Association of New York (MANY) fills part of the void but more is needed.

Old Saybrook Historical Society

In response to the blog entitled Happy Seventh Birthday Path through History: Creating a Cultural Heritage Trail, I received the following:

Peter– Always enjoy and benefit from your writings.  Think that most towns have a sufficient number of related sites to establish their own “trails.”  Here, briefly, what we did in Old Saybrook.

I won’t include the entire description. Here is the conclusion.

The Old Saybrook Historical Society was desirous of telling this story [from 1635] and working with the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center identified the location of the fort, the “Neck ambush,” the attack at Cornfield Point, Warehouse Point, Guardhouse Point and other areas of significance.

Text and visuals for historic markers were designed and the local Historic District Commission provided funds to purchase 6 historic signs and the local Department of Public Works installed them at the appropriate locations.

Information about each of the sites was developed in further detail, visuals were selected, and the locations placed on a map and connected by a route, or trail if you will, highlighting routes for walking or biking to the sites.  The map with 12 Saybrook Fort and Pequot War sites was printed through the generosity of the local Planning Commission and is now available without cost to the public.

Local communities have important stories to tell and remaining sites and/or structures to develop their own trails.   Dedicated individuals plus some research plus supportive residents and thoughtful town officials equals success.  It’s not complicated.

I quite agree the observation about trails. Some trails may only be of interest to local people such as part of school civics trips, some may have county, state, and/or national interest. It is important for the civic health of the community, county, state, and country that such trails be developed.

St. Lawrence County

This response was also from Historians Who Have Historians Are the Luckiest People in the World: The Need for Meetings and Meetups. It raises issues with the performance of one statewide organization, the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS).

There are some major problems with APHNYS. I live in St Lawrence County. I have been a municipal historian for going on 20 years. Our region has had two meetings and never a conference in that time. The region is unworkable always has been.

Who can travel 6 hours for a regional meeting? The region is too large. I have brought this issue up repeatedly at APHNYS to no avail. St Lawrence county alone has twice the land mass of all of Long Island. APHNYS serves some of the state but not all. Ask the people in western NY who have their own organization not part of APHNYS.

We have an active county historian’s group that APHNYS does not recognize. We meet several times per year. Without their recognition attendance doesn’t count for their historian certification program.

I forwarded this comment to the current and incoming presidents of APHNYS. I received a reply which I was authorized to send to this individual in order to start (or continue) a dialog on resolving this situation. I note in passing the upcoming New England Museum Association (NEMA) conference in Vermont. New England like New York is a big area and we all know about LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. Driving times can be long and the expense of unreimbursed conferences prohibitive. That is one reason why local conferences at the county level are so important.

Wayne County

Hi Peter,

I wanted to make you aware of a project that our local historians are working on.  We think it is unique and hope that others might be interested in doing something similar for their counties.  If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.  Jim Paprocki is our computer expert that took the concept from an Excel spreadsheet to the on-line version we have now.

Gene Bavis
Walworth Town Historian
Chair, Wayne Historians Organization (WHO)
Co-Chair, Wayne County Bicentennial, 1823-2023

The Wayne Historians Organization (WHO) is a loosely organized collaboration of municipal historians and historical society representatives.  The group meets bi-monthly to discuss topics of interest to the participants and works to share best practices and important information.  The County Historian’s Office assists in coordinating WHO activities.  Wayne County is one of the few counties in New York State to have such a group dedicated to local history

The Wayne Historians Organization (WHO) has created a website dedicated to the historic sites of Wayne County.  Town Historians and representatives of our local historical societies have worked together to develop an online database of historic sites which includes: museums, historic markers, architectural treasures, churches, schools, cemeteries, industries, transportation, murals, organizations, and much more.  Not all of these sites are “old”.  They are, however, part of the history of our county.  The goal of this project is to create a greater awareness of our unique cultural heritage and to encourage visitors and residents alike to enjoy some of our wonderful historic sites.

It is important to remember that most of the sites of interest to historians and cultural heritage tourists are on private property and are not open to the public.  The sites are included because they are interesting and you can generally see them from public streets.  Some sites have a considerable amount of historical information and some don’t.  Site administrators have the ability to add photographs and written text as well as links to other websites.  Whenever possible, it is great to have both historic and modern photos of the site.  The database is, and probably always will be, a work in progress.  In fact, at this time the database is only about 2/3 complete but historians are working hard to add more information.  As local historians learn more about various sites they will add information and photos.  If citizens have additional information or photos, or have suggestions for other sites that should be added, or if they find errors, please contact the administrators of the WHO website. 

An interesting feature of the website is the capability to search individual towns or topics.  When you click on each site, a new page opens and you will get detailed information and pictures.  Sometimes you will find links to more information on other sites.  While you are on the specific site’s page, you will find a hot link to the GPS coordinates.  If you click it, a map will appear showing you the location of the historic site.  We also have a few tours listed in the menu bar and others will be added in the future.

To visit the Wayne Historians Organization database, go to:  http://www.waynehistorians.org

Imagine if every county had such an organization and such a database!

History organizations also have shared their activities at various conferences. I know I need to catchup in blogs on the conferences I have attended plus some I have not but which have online abstracts. The goal in these posts is to share constructive ideas and actions that have been taken with as wide an audience as possible.

History Advocacy: Lessons from the Massachusetts History Alliance Conference

You should see all the political cartoons I passed on!!!

The history community does not do a good job advocating for itself. I am not referring to the actions an individual history organization may take on behalf of its own organization. Instead I am referring to collective action on behalf of the entire history community within the state. The major exception to this generalization is the historic preservation community. It sometimes has its own statewide organizations, conferences, and agenda items for lobbying state legislators. Unfortunately, the history community itself may be lacking such an organized and concerted effort.

To some extent the Massachusetts History Alliance was created to address this shortcoming. According to its website (officially “under construction’):

MHA has advocacy priorities in three areas: advocacy for public history to the legislature, advocacy to the public history field, and advocacy for public history to the general public.

The MHA advocates for legislative initiatives that fund local and public history efforts in the Commonwealth. This includes the provision of opportunities that make it easier for smaller organizations to survive, such as grant opportunities or tax credits.

The MHA promotes the message that a vibrant history community is good for local businesses and contributes to our state’s economic vitality.

The MHA advances the idea that an awareness of local and public history is an essential component of civic engagement.

The MHA endorses the funding of regional networks and collaborative efforts that positively impact local and public history in Massachusetts. It encourages the development of greater communication between the numerous and distinct history organizations across the state.

The MHA supports entities that encourage the preservation of historic buildings, objects and documents.

The MHA advocates for the continued funding of its Annual Conference.

So far after having attended several of its annual conferences (blogs on the 2015 and 2017 conferences), I am not sure how far it is progressed in actually having a history advocacy day at the state capital on behalf of a specific history agenda.

With these thoughts in mind, I attended the session “Make Your Case, Make a Difference: Advocacy Tools for the Small, Busy, and Passionate” at the conference. The session was dedicated to providing tools or tricks of the trade for individual history organizations to use to advocate on behalf of individual history organizations. In other words, it was all about how you as the executive director/president could speak to your own legislator if you happen to meet that person in an elevator at the state capital. The session was entirely geared towards individual people representing individual organizations advocating for individual items on behalf of the individual organization.

This session had nothing to do with what the history community really needs. In this regard, it was eerily similar to another advocacy session I attended years ago at another state conference. The issue facing the individual history organizations is not how to advocate with their own legislators for themselves. People are quite capable of doing that at home without going to the state capital. History organizations are quite capable of inviting their own state representatives to their own site. History organizations are quite capable of contacting their own state representatives about some pressing need at home in their own community without traveling to the state capital. In fact, history organizations frequently are quite capable of speaking personally to their state representative without all the protocols presented in the session or hoping for a chance meeting in the hallway or in the elevator.

By coincidence our newly reactivated local historical society had a pizza night at a local restaurant a few days ago for those who have helped to reactivate it. Guess who stopped by? Our local state legislator who lives in the area! We really do not need to go to the state capital to meet with him.

Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has created its own program for meeting elected officials at the federal level (for details click here).

Inviting local, state and federal elected officials and their staff members into your museum is a uniquely powerful way to show them what museums are and what museums do – from world-class exhibitions to working with local students and community members on critical life skills. There’s never been a more important time to engage with the elected officials and stakeholders that represent your museum.

The August Congressional Recess is a great time to get started, but any time of year is a good time to invite your legislators into the museum. We make it easy to participate with this step-by-step “How To” guide that can be used to connect with your elected officials throughout the year. Use the Alliance “How To” Guide below to get started today, and don’t forget to use #InviteCongress on social media!

There is no inherent reason why something comparable could not be created at the state level.

So what then do the individual history organizations need at the state level to do this?

There are two items.

1. Statewide history concerns
2. Statewide organization to arrange for a history advocacy day in support of the statewide history concerns.

The Massachusetts History Alliance conference is co-sponsored by Mass Humanities. Everybody has a state humanities organization. Everybody has a state arts organization. Everybody has a state organization that helps fund exhibits, lectures, and public programs. What is its budget? Is the funding of this organization or these organizations depending on how the functions are set up in the state of interest to the history community? Obviously. Equally obviously, it also is of interest to other museum such as art and science museums. Sometimes differentiating these organizations is problematic. Albany Institute of History and Art. Bundy Museum of History and Art. Museum Advocacy Day at the nation’s capital takes this approach. Why not do the same at the state level?

Mass Humanities has two grant programs specifically geared towards local history. The Research Inventory grants provide a maximum of $2000 to fund inventory projects at small historical organizations. The Scholar in Residence grants are for up to $3500 to enable organizations to draw on a level of expertise not normally available to them to research that entity’s collection or mission. What is the total pool of funds available for these local history grants?  Could that total be increased? Could the maximums be raised? Could the history community lobby for such increases? What about the equivalent programs in other states? If you do not have one, could the history community advocate for their creation? If you do have them, could you advocate for additional funding?

Another supporter of the Massachusetts History Alliance conference is the Massachusetts State Historical Records Advisory Board known locally as SHRAB. One popular program is the Roving Archivist. Just as Mass Humanities can send a scholar to your organization, SHRAB can send an archivist to your site. It can assist in the purchase of materials and supplies needed for archival purposes. It conducts training sessions and workshops on archival related matters. What is its budget? Could it be more? Does your state have something comparable? If not, why not? If you do have them, could you advocate for additional funding?

A third type of funding is for anniversaries. In a recent blog I wrote about the newly created federal commission for the American Revolution 250th. My impression is that this commission will be of little use locally at least for years to come. Massachusetts cannot wait for 1776 or even 1775. The 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre is next year. The time for advocating for funding for statewide programs on behalf of what happened in 1770 is already past due….just as it is in virtually all states. Maybe the history community could use the same funding apparatus created to celebrate the Suffrage Centennial for the American Revolution!!!!

Since I wrote the blog on the American Revolution, I received an email from Johanna Yuan, the Orange County historian in New York. She included a draft of a resolution to be submitted to the Orange County legislature on plans for the commemoration of the 250th. It identifies 1775-1783 as the relevant time period deliberately to expand beyond the federal legislation. The theme will be “Which Side Are You On?” with the intention of provoking discussion of history and historical implications of the events that took place in the Hudson Valley, New York State and beyond. The format is to have yearly themes related to the events of 1775 to 1783. This approach is similar to the one Fort Ticonderoga has used for presenting the French and Indian War. I suggested the same approach be taken in the state at a meeting held by Devin Lander, the New York State historian but starting before 1775 if possible. Johanna’s actions demonstrate what can be done at a local level without waiting for federal and/or state action.

And what about regional cooperation. Those canons from Fort Ticonderoga did not magically appear outside Boston to relieve the siege there. Will there be an event following the route? And to the best of my knowledge Rochambeau did not make use of airports to go from Rhode Island to Virginia although I recognize that I may be in error here. For that matter militias from throughout New England participated in battles in New York and were camped here. So we need to think not only about our county and state but about our region.

One final item for history advocacy comes from New York. This is the Museum Education Act sponsored by the Museum Association of New York (MANY). Although one would not know it from the name, it is about busing, the funding of buses for school trips to museums. So it is not a history program per se but for all museums. The bill passed the Senate and the Assembly in this past session but was not signed by the Governor. One may anticipate a new and improved bill to be submitted in the 2020 session. Busing expense is a chronic and widespread problem with school visits. It is something history communities very could advocate for.

Speaking of education, I have left out two critical areas involving local history. First the training of teachers in local history and second, the incorporation of local history into the curriculum. Those are huge topics.

So there is plenty for the history community to advocate for should the history community ever get its act together and establish a history advocacy day at the next session of your state legislature.

The American Revolution 250th: A Time to Heal or a Time to Divide?

Illegal Alien, Newspaper Reporter, Enemy of the People

Now that this year’s July 4th celebration is over, it is time to start looking ahead to the big one, July 4, 2026. That date marks the 250th anniversary of the declaring of the United States of America. It also is the bicentennial of the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third presidents. They had been part of a committee to draft the Declaration and became extensive pen-pals following their presidencies. At the time of their deaths on the 50th anniversary of the birth of the country there was only one possible explanation for it: divine providence.

The Founding Fathers regarded their creation as an experiment. They knew they were undertaking something never before undertaken on such a scale. They knew it might fail. To have reached the milestone of 50 years following a second war with Great Britain when the White House had been burned was something to celebrate. The idea that their handiwork would still be around 250 years after its creation and as a global superpower would have been considered science fiction fantasy had they known those terms.

But here we are approaching the semiquincentennial, not a word I had ever used before. I learned that word from the legislation passed on July 22, 2016, ‘‘United States Semiquincentennial Commission Act of 2016.”

SEC. 2. FINDINGS; PURPOSE.

(a) FINDINGS.—Congress finds that July 4, 2026, the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States, as marked by the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and the historic events
preceding that anniversary—
(1) are of major significance in the development of the national heritage of the United States of individual liberty, representative government, and the attainment of equal and inalienable rights; and
(2) have had a profound influence throughout the world.
(b) PURPOSE.—The purpose of this Act is to establish a Commission to provide for the observance and commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States and related events through local, State, national, and international activities planned, encouraged, developed, and coordinated by a national commission representative of appropriate public and private authorities and organizations.

One wonders about the American Revolution events subsequent to July 4, 1776, a subject to which I shall return. Still, the breadth of the mandate is breathtaking. The phrase “planned, encourage, developed, and coordinated” raises multiple questions of how this national commission will operate on the local, state, and international level.

The commission will consist of members of both Houses, private citizens appointed by both Houses, and a chair selected by the President.

SEC. 4. ESTABLISHMENT OF COMMISSION.
(a) IN GENERAL.—There is established a commission, to be known as the ‘‘United States Semiquincentennial Commission’’, to plan, encourage, develop, and coordinate the commemoration of the history of the United States leading up to the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States.

Once again notice the drop dead date of July 4, 2026, as if nothing happened in the American Revolution afterwards. It is as if what is important are the events leading up to Philadelphia and then the story of the American Revolution stops. As it turns out, the legislative focus on Philadelphia is not by chance.

(d) MEETINGS.—All meetings of the Commission shall be convened at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to honor the historical significance of the building as the site of deliberations and adoption of both the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

This clause stresses that Philadelphia is to be the one and only location for the commission. No commission meetings are to be held in any other locations that were important to the American Revolution including for events prior to July 4, 1776 or subsequent to that date.

SEC. 5. DUTIES.
(a) IN GENERAL.—The Commission shall—
            (1) prepare an overall program for commemorating the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States and the historic events preceding that anniversary; and Pennsylvania.
            (2) plan, encourage, develop, and coordinate observances and activities commemorating the historic events that preceded, and are associated with, the United States Semiquincentennial.
(b) REQUIREMENTS.—
            (1) IN GENERAL.—In preparing plans and an overall program, the Commission—
                        (A) shall give due consideration to any related plans and programs developed by State, local, and private groups; and
                        (B) may designate special committees with representatives from groups described in subparagraph (A) to plan, develop, and coordinate specific activities.
            (2) EMPHASIS.—The Commission shall—
                        (A) emphasize the planning of events in locations of historical significance to the United States, especially in those locations that witnessed the assertion of American liberty, such as—
                                    (i) the 13 colonies; and
                                    (ii) leading cities, including Boston, Charleston, New York City, and Philadelphia;

The general duties suggest an awareness that significant events occurred prior to July 4, 1776, that they were not in Philadelphia, and that the national commission is to work in some way with others who are commemorating those events. Specifically it recognizes that state, local, and private groups may develop plans and programs on their own initiative. Furthermore, the national commission may create committees to include representatives of these organizations. Specifically, the legislation calls attention to the 13 colonies and the big four cities besides Philadelphia. One would think therefore that one such committee would consist of the 13 state semiquincentennial commissions should the 13 states create their own commissions. Could such committees meet outside of Philadelphia or are they bound by the same restrictions as the national commission? Is there any role for the other 37 states plus various territories that are part of the United States? Are they part of the celebration of the American Revolution too?

(B) give special emphasis to—
                                    (i) the role of persons and locations with significant impact on the history of the United States during the 250-year period beginning on the date of execution of the Declaration of Independence; and
                                    (ii) the ideas associated with that history, which have been so important in the development of the United States, in world affairs, and in the quest for freedom of all mankind.

Needlesstosay, this special emphasis is extremely broad. First, the American Revolution from July 4, 1776 to November 25, 1783, when the British evacuated New York City, a local holiday until World War I now revived by the Lower Manhattan Historical Association, is ignored. Second, the legislation now opens the emphasis to people, places, and ideas who were significant to the history of the United States, its place in world history, and the global quest for freedom. Somehow this national commission is charged with identifying and blessing all those over a 250-year period. In New York where I live that practically means grab the text books for 7th and 8th grade social studies American history classes and go to the index….and then fill in the gaps for everything and everyone and everywhere overlooked in the official curriculum.

(c) REPORT SUBMITTED TO THE PRESIDENT.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Commission shall submit to the President a comprehensive report that includes the specific recommendations of the Commission for the commemoration of the 250th anniversary and related events.

This report was due on July 22, 2018. The commission had not even met by then (see below). One suspects the July 22, 2019, date will come and go without such a report having been prepared. As for the contents of these specific recommendations:

  (2) RECOMMENDED ACTIVITIES.—The report may include recommended
activities such as—
                        (A) the production, publication, and distribution of books, pamphlets, films, and other educational materials focusing on the history, culture, and political thought of the period of the American Revolution;
                        (B) bibliographical and documentary projects and publications;
                        (C) conferences, convocations, lectures, seminars, and other programs, especially those located in the 13 colonies, including the major cities and buildings of national historical
significance of the 13 colonies;
                        (D) the development of libraries, museums, historic sites, and exhibits, including mobile exhibits;
                         (E) ceremonies and celebrations commemorating specific events, such as—
                                    (i) the signing of the Declaration of Independence;
                                    (ii) programs and activities focusing on the national and international significance of the United States Semiquincentennial; and
                                    (iii) the implications of the Semiquincentennial for present and future generations; and
                        (F) encouraging Federal agencies to integrate the celebration of the Semiquincentennial into the regular activities and execution of the purpose of the agencies through such activities as the issuance of coins, medals, certificates of recognition, stamps, and the naming of vessels.

The report then is to include activities beyond Philadelphia. Even if state commissions had been created in the 13 former colonies, this report would be a major undertaking in itself.

There are a lot of moving parts to this endeavor.

SEC. 6. COORDINATION.
(a) IN GENERAL.—In carrying out this Act, the Commission shall consult and cooperate with, and seek advice and assistance from, appropriate Federal agencies, State and local public bodies, learned societies, and historical, patriotic, philanthropic, civic, professional, and related organizations.
(b) RESPONSIBILITY OF OTHER FEDERAL AGENCIES.—
            (1) IN GENERAL.—Federal agencies shall cooperate with the Commission in planning, encouraging, developing, and coordinating appropriate commemorative activities.

A great deal of communication will be required to make this project work.

SEC. 7. POWERS.
(a) HEARINGS.—The Commission may hold such hearings, meet and act at such times and places, take such testimony, and receive such evidence as the Commission considers advisable to carry out this Act.

Presumably they all are to be held in Philadelphia. One hopes that everyone participating in such hearings is in driving distance or Amtrak-northeast-corridor distance from Philadelphia.

There will be a time capsule.

(1) TIME CAPSULE.—A representative portion of all books, manuscripts, miscellaneous printed matter, memorabilia, relics, and other materials relating to the United States Semiquincentennial shall be deposited in a time capsule—
                        (A) to be buried in Independence Mall, Philadelphia, on July 4, 2026; and
                        (B) to be unearthed on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the United States of America on July 4, 2276.

Unfortunately the Federal Government at present cannot undertake any scientific studies to determine if that location will be underwater or not in another 250 years. (By coincidence see “A Rising Threat to History: Climate Change Is Forcing Preservationists to Get Creative in Rhode Island,” NYT July 9, 2019, print edition.)

There will be no public funding for the commission.

SEC. 9. EXPENDITURES OF COMMISSION.
(a) IN GENERAL.—All expenditures of the Commission shall be made solely from donated funds.

Some lucky non-profit will be selected to actually do the work.

(b) ADMINISTRATIVE SECRETARIAT.—The Secretary of the Interior shall, through a competitive process, seek to enter into an arrangement with a nonprofit organization, the mission of which is consistent with the purpose of this Act. Under such arrangement, such nonprofit organization shall—
            (1) serve as the secretariat of the Commission, including by serving as the point of contact under section 5(e);
            (2) house the administrative offices of the Commission;
            (3) assume responsibility for funds of the Commission; and
            (4) provide to the Commission financial and administrative services, including services related to budgeting, accounting, financial reporting, personnel, and procurement.

And then everything will end.

SEC. 10. TERMINATION OF COMMISSION.
The Commission shall terminate on December 31, 2027.

As one might expect, Philadelphia was a driving force in the adoption of this legislation.

In 2014, the Philadelphia City Council ordered a public hearing of the Committee on Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs to investigate “the impact and feasibility of Philadelphia” hosting the United States Semiquincentennial in 2026, among other events.[5] The following year a non-profit organization, USA250, was established in Philadelphia to lobby for federal government support of the United States semiquincentennial and establish Philadelphia as the host city for events surrounding the semiquincentennial observances.[6]  (Wikipedia)

The American Battlefield Trust has been named the commission’s non-profit partner to serve as Administrative Secretariat, tasked with preparing reports for Congress and helping raise funds for the anniversary observances.

Daniel DiLella, CEO and President of Equus, a leading private equity real estate fund, was appointed Chairperson of the Semiquincentennial Commission in April 2018. In May 2018, DiLella named Frank Giordano as the commission’s executive director. Giordano, who heads Atlantic Trailer Leasing in Philadelphia, led the rejuvenation of two formerly struggling Philadelphia institutions, the Philly Pops Orchestra and Union League club. (Wikipedia)

In the meantime, some activity has occurred at the state level.

Pennsylvania became the first state to formally begin planning for the anniversary in June 2018 when the commonwealth established the Pennsylvania Semiquincentennial Commission. Four months later, on October 17, Gov. Tom Wolf named Fresh Grocer supermarket magnate and philanthropist Patrick Burns to chair the state commission. (Wikipedia)

In 2018 and 2019, I attended the Massachusetts History Alliance conferences held at Holy Cross. While there I met Jonathan Lane, Massachusetts Historical Society. His job is the 250th in the state. Note he works for a non-profit and there is no state commission there. The Massachusetts dilemma is it cannot wait for 2026. The Boston Massacre (1770), the Boston Tea Party (1773), Lexington and Concord (1775), and Bunker Hill (1775) to name some prominent events all occurred prior to July 4, 1776. How will the national commission assist in the planning and development of these commemorations starting next year? What will the state of Massachusetts do?

In August 2018, the State of New Jersey launched its effort when Gov. Phil Murphy signed a measure that called on the New Jersey Historical Commission to create a program focused on the 250th anniversary of the independence of the United States as well as the creation of the state’s first Constitution. The law appropriated $500,000 to fund the historical commission’s planning for the 250th anniversary festivities. (Wikipedia)

Jonathan did tell me he attended a meeting in Philadelphia with about 30 people. According to a press release from American Battlefield Trust there was a meeting with the 33 members of the commission on November 16, 2018, in Philadelphia. I did not notice any additional meetings or events on its website about the commission.

In New York where I live, there is no state commission. Devin Lander, the New York State historian has held two meetings about the 250th. The first was in Saratoga, location of the battle in 1777 that has been called one of the critical battles of the 18th century. But it occurred after July 4, 1776. So did the iconic toppling of the statue of George III in lower Manhattan (July 9, 1776), the hanging of Nathan Hale (September 22, 1776), the Sullivan Campaign (1779), Benedict Arnold (1780), the Newburg Conspiracy (1783), Evacuation Day (November 25, 1783). The second meeting he called was hosted by the Institute for Thomas Paine Studies at Iona College named after a significant figure in the American Revolution. Additional meetings are expected.

In Westchester County, New York, where I live, the RW250 was formed in 2018. It is applying for 501(c)3 status. It has been holding lectures throughout the county about the American Revolution in the county. To the best of my knowledge, it is the only such organization in the state.

What does all this mean?

1. There will be a big event in Philadelphia on July 4, 2026. Of course, the city already celebrates July so it is not comparable to the Jamestown Quadricentennial which was a one-time event.
2. There will be some international events. Perhaps in London on the same day. Perhaps in Canada which we invaded. Perhaps in Paris which came to our aid after the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. Perhaps in China where the Statue of Liberty is a revered figure or maybe in Hong Kong.
3. What about multi-state events? How about the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in New York in 1775 by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold with the Connecticut and Massachusetts militias followed by the transport of the fort’s canons under Henry Knox to Boston? Or the Rochambeau Trail from Rhode Island to Virginia which already operates as a below-the-radar National Park Service Project?
4. What about multi-country events? How about the invasion of Canada, the evacuation to Canada, the evacuation to the Caribbean?
5. What about the rest of continental United States beyond the 13 colonies? What about the Spanish colonies? What about the Indian Nations?

At this point it is too early to know as the national commission is in its infancy even though the report was due last year with specific recommendations.

But there are larger issues of concern beyond simply commemorating events, places, and ideas of 250 years ago. How do we connect people today to them? How do we get all Americans to recognize July 4 as the birth of their country regardless of when they or their family first arrived here? The musical “Hamilton” shows that it can be done. To paraphrase, it famously asks of its audience “who will tell our story?” What America needs is not fireworks, tanks, and big extravaganzas. What we need are the stories of our birth as a country that can reknit the social fabric, that can bind us together from “California to the New York island,” and that can make us We the People. That is not the mandate of the United States Semiquincentennial Commission for the American Revolution. Where is our Lincoln to remind us of what happened twelve score and ten years ago?