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County History Conference: Lessons from Ulster County

Counties should have county history conferences. So I have been preaching since 2011 when I initiated five such conferences in the Hudson Valley and helped organize four of them. One of them was the Ulster County History Conference. While it was not as successful as the Orange and Putnam counties’ events, it did provide a memorable moment.

Ulster County History Conference: Background

The Ulster County historian at that time had a Virginia family ancestry. During the course of the conference, she mentioned an ancestor who had fought in a Civil War battle for the Confederacy. No sooner had she uttered these words when, lo and behold, a conference attendee leapt up and proclaimed that her ancestor also had fought in the same battle but for the Union. These two women then took their argument out to the parking lot and duked it out in the only American war even longer than Afghanistan since it still hasn’t ended. Actually their response was more of chuckle than fisticuffs but in the interest of oral tradition, let’s go with the more exciting story even if it isn’t true.

The current conference was more sedate but it did have its grumblings (see below). Geoff Miller is the new county historian. He is a retired teacher who is chair of the Reher Center for Immigrant Culture and History Committee for the Jewish Federation of Ulster County since its inception in 2002. He spent his first year as county historian getting the lay of the land, getting to know his fellow historians in the county. Based on that, he put together a team of municipal historians and members of the county historical society to organize the conference. The theme was resources and not history itself. In other words, what are the resources available at the state, regional, and county level to the history community in Ulster County.

The conference drew about 45 people. The conference was held in the combined town halls of Marbletown and Rosendale. An elementary school building has been repurposed as a shared town hall for the two municipalities. The Senate House was not present. I mention that simply to point out that when hosting such conferences, one should include the state and NPS sites if there are any in your county. Also Historic Huguenot Street, probably the largest history organization in the county and the one most likely to draw tourists from afar, was not in attendance.

Ulster County History Conference: The County Executive

To begin the conference, Geoff referred to himself as the facilitator of the county history community. He then introduced Mike Hein, the County Executive. As regular readers of my blog know, I advocate for having the county executive welcome the attendees. I think it is beneficial to the history community to be visible in this way and for the county executive to see that there is a history constituency in the county.

If possible, I suggest county conference organizers should ask the county executive to send letters of invitation to the mayors and town supervisors in the county for their historians to attend. As we all know, not all municipalities comply with the state regulations to have a municipal historian. An invitation from the county executive serves as a reminder to comply.

I don’ know this county executive. My impression from listening to him and his interaction with the audience was that he has a genuine interest in Ulster County history and is accessible to the history community. He called for respect for the past and the people before us. He stressed the importance of preserving our history. He considers the county the size of Rhode Island to be blessed with many historic sites. He thanked the people for what they do saying it does matter and is pivotal. If the history community wanted to do something, I think he would support it as best he could at the county level and assist in seeking state help if needed.

Ulster County History Conference: The State Resources

Speaking of the state, the first session of the conference consisted of presentations by State Historian Devin Lander and Clare Fleming of the New York State Archives.

Devin spoke mainly about the still new website for the Office of the Historian. He was able to link online directly to the site and navigate through it as part of his demonstration. I am not going to repeat what he said. To find out more about the site click here.  He also encouraged people to sign up for the state historian newsletter when visiting the site.

Devin also spoke about National History Day. He participates as a judge in the competition. He would like to see more schools participate in it. He then expressed a desire for the students to use more local and state history in their presentations. This comment led to some audience responses which I will save for the end of the post.

Clare spoke about various document-related programs the State Archives offered. Again, this was in keeping with the theme of being a resource-information conference for the history community. These main program was the Documentary Heritage and Preservation Services for New York (DHPS/NY). It can be accessed here dhpsny.org and by email at info@dhpsny.org. It is possible to have archive people visit your site and she mentioned the workshops and webinars which were available. Finally, she encourage people to contribute articles to the New York Archives bulletin. Appropriate brochures and bulletins were distributed.

Again, as regular readers of my posts know, I am a strong advocate of training for municipal historians and the history community. There is still a lot to be said for in-person training with colleagues. I would like to see formal training programs for historians with the New York State Archives, Library, Museum including the Historian, all in the same building, Parks at Peebles Island, State Education Department for k-12 curriculum, and I LoveNY for heritage tourism. For me, this is a no-brainer

Ulster County History Conference: The County Resources

The second session was devoted to the county archives. The presentations were by Ulster County Clerk Nina Postupak and archivist Taylor Bruck. Every county clerk office has its own story to tell. In this case, Ulster County owns a colonial house dating back to 1661. The Matthewis Persen House is located within the Kingston Stockade National Historic District. Therefore this county clerk office has continuing exhibits on display there. As part of its digitization program, the County will start preserving its exhibits digitally so they don’t disappear or end up solely in storage once the exhibit is taken down. In addition, the history lectures by the County Clerk also will be available online.

The County ownership of an historic building enables it do what other counties might not be able to do. For example, included in the packet distributed by the Clerk’s office was an invitation for any history organization to participate as a Guest Host on a Saturday during the season at the Matthewis Persen House. This means an organization could have lecture, exhibit, re-enactment or event at the county-owned facility. The invitation states:

The County Clerk’s Office wants to ensure that the Persen House continues to be a viable resource for the historical and cultural community organizations throughout Ulster County. We hope that this added support [promoting your Guest Host event through the County resources] …will encourage you to return each year.

Space does not permit a review of all the activities, but overall it seems fair to conclude that this County Clerk office is very involved in the history of the county. If there is a county clerk conference, it would nice if the Ulster County Clerk could show other county clerks what is possible.

Ulster County History Conference: Regional Resource and Dutchess County

The final session before lunch was by Jennifer Palmentiero, Digital Services Librarian for Hudson River Valley Heritage (HRVI). As you can see, digitization was a strong theme in the three morning sessions. The session introduced the audience to the HRVI products and services although some members in the audience seem to be active users already. For information about HRVI go to hrvh.org.

After lunch, another digital session presented a partnership among a collage (which had received a huge grant), a historical society, and a town historian. Technically, this was not an Ulster presentation since the college, Bard, the town, Red Hook, and the historical society, Red Hook, are in Dutchess. The grant enabled the college to purchase equipment to use in gathering oral histories. Professor Susan Merriam outfitted a car to travel around the community working with Claudine Klose, Historic Red Hook, and Emily Majer, Red Town historian and village of Tivoli Deputy Mayor. Non-history students seem to quickly grasp how to organize and catalog data accumulated from the house-history input form they developed. This demonstration excited the audience for its potential but it clearly benefited from the partnership with the college and a huge grant.

The final presentation was a work-in-progress about a mobile app fo creating tours with a European vendor.

Ulster County History Conference: Issues and Concerns

The wrap-up session entitled “Issues and Concerns” was most interesting. People did not take the opportunity to leave early. Instead they used it to voice concerns. Please be aware if you a regular reader of my posts that the following comments were unsolicited and unprompted ones.

The deferred comment from Devin’s presentation on History Day in the morning was the question on where is local history in the k-12 curriculum. This led to a comment by Susan Stessin Cohn, New Paltz Town Historian, who has prepared many teacher guides and conducted many teacher workshops to note the problem of how teachers are supposed to learn state and local history in the first place.

In response to the Bard College project, one person raised the civics issue. How do we know where we are? How do we connect and build a community? How do we create a shared space? His answer to his own questions was that history can provide that context if allowed to do so.

Municipal historians came in for some criticism by municipal historians themselves. Municipal historians don’t really have programs. Where are the county and state guidelines [meaning in practice in the real world]? What happens when the historian leaves especially with the collections? They should be stored on town property and not in private houses? Why should people donate private holdings to the municipality if they can see there is no good place to store them? Historians are losing their offices [assuming they ones in the first place. Personally, I think the historian should be based at the library and not the town hall.]

This session would have made a good APHNYS or MANY session. Speaking of APHNYS, the Region 3 meeting was held the next day in Putnam County with County Historian Sarah Johnson. During the conference, one person reminisced about his introduction into local and state history with call to remember the Yorkers!

I am not going to add what I said after hearing these comments on either day. I will note that six people afterwards gave me their cards to add to the distribution list for this blog and that multiple people in attendance in Ulster already get my blog as they informed me. It’s always nice to connect in person instead of just by internet. It isn’t as if the grassroots history community doesn’t know what needs to be or won’t speak up when gathered together, the issue is who is listening especially at the state level.

County Clerks/County Historians: A Match Made in Albany?

As the year winds down, I am trying to catch up on the conference reports from the time when I switched to an electronic newsletter and new website. During that period I fell behind and haven’t caught up. So here goes.

On October 14, I attended a conference in Albany between the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) and the New York State Historian. Devin Lander initiated the contact as part of his reaching out after he became the state historian in May. In the current APHNYS newsletter, Devin wrote:

A Message from the New York State Historian

As an action item, and in partnership with APHNYS, the Association of Counties (NYSAC), and the Association of County Clerks, I was able to coordinate and host a day-long training meeting for county historians and county clerks in Albany on October 14. It is my hope that this meeting was a pilot program for further annual training opportunities for Local Government Historians that can be expanded for 2017 and beyond.

During his earlier career as a legislative aide, he had the opportunity to interact with numerous state organizations. In his new job, he contacted NYSAC about working together. The result was this conference which by all accounts people the participants want to be an annual event moving forward.

NYSAC represents the 62 counties of the state. According to its website

As the voice of county officials throughout New York State, NYSAC is steadfast in communicating the needs and recommendations of our members to State and Federal lawmakers. Local government is at the heart of New York State, and we are proud to represent New York’s counties and their elected and appointed officials.

NYSAC represents New York counties and their taxpayers before Federal, State and local officials on matters germane to county governments.

NYSAC informs our membership and the public at large on issues of importance to county governments.

We educate, train, and provide research on public policy to Federal, State and Local officials and to members on issues important to counties.

We advocate for our 62 counties, including the City of New York, to the legislative and executive branches of government at the State and Federal levels.

I am particularly interested in two items NYSAC mentioned: the education and training it provides for its 62 members and its advocacy role in Albany on their behalf. It will conduct a three-day legislative conference in Albany from January 30 to February 1 and I presume this event is annual. In other words, at the beginning of the legislative session, NYSAC makes its presence known to the powers that be.

The organization has a staff of 13 people. By contrast APHNYS has none as a volunteer organization although we might consider Devin to be one. However, he is a government employee so it is not quite the same. MANY has a staff of two by way of comparison. The Executive Director and host for the conference in Albany is Stephen J. Acquario. I occasionally send him and his staff some of the New York History posts I write when I think it appropriate to his organization. He was kind enough to inform me of a name to add to my distribution list when there was a staff change at NYSAC. Would that the history organizations were so considerate.

Theoretically the conference audience could have consisted of 62 county clerks, 62 county historians plus administrative staff and public guests such as myself. In fact, attendance was fairly evenly split between the two groups based on a show of hands. I identified 14 county historians in the audience and there probably were a few more. They tended to be from the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys as one might expect with distant visitors all the way from Wyoming and Staten Island.

Although in principle there should be 62 county historians, everyone knows the state law is routinely violated with no penalty. Travel budgets for education or professional development similarly are minimal or non-existent. Even when there is paid-government county historian, that position is not necessarily secure. Consider the example of attendee Putnam County Historian Sarah Johnson, in a part-time government position she would like to make full-time. I received an email from a Putnam County legislator sent to a county history list serve. The message is reproduced below:

To all Fellow Historians;

Please call the Putnam County Legislature Office 845-808-1020 or e-mail  putcoleg@putnamcountyny.gov name your legislator & show support to make the Putnam County Historian a full time position. Sarah Johnson is a very competent educated person & is doing a great job. The financial impact of this is minimal & there are about 5 misinformed residents who have the ear of the Legislature in stopping this. Some want to completely eliminate the position. Sarah will be able to help us with grants, tourism and of course archival preservation. Putnam County goes back to the beginning of our Republic. If we forget our past we will not know our future.

It is unlikely that any of NYSAC’s members have a similarly precarious position. Of course, it is unlikely that any county doesn’t have a county clerk at all. The position is mandated by state law and all counties apparently adhere to its stipulations.

Bill Cherry, the NYSAC President and Schoharie County Clerk gave the welcome. The Schoharie County Historian was in the audience. By contrast he has a day job to pay the bills; it happens to be in the history area unlike say the day jobs of county historians in Rockland and Sullivan but at least there is a position unlike Otsego and Westchester among others.

Gerry Smith, APHNYS President delivered the first presentation in one of his last acts before stepping down. He distributed a handout entitled “But What Am I Supposed to Do?” One of my favorite sessions at the annual APHNYS conference is the new historian session which I have written about before. As Gerry noted in his presentation, there is no training. The situation is very different than with county and municipal clerks. In the Q&A, the suggestion was made that the county clerk training provided by NYSAC should include a session on the importance and role of the county historian.

I would like to take this opportunity at the end of the year to reiterate my New Year’s resolution of year ago for this year: a one-week training program in Albany to be required for all county historians to include a day with:

New York State Archives
New York State Library
New York State Museum
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
New York State Education (on local and state history in the k-12 curriculum).

The training would conclude with a reception at the Executive Mansion with the Governor. Such a training program would include familiarizing historians with the REDC process and cultural heritage tourism. It would alert the county executives that the county historian position is one which should be taken seriously.

To emphasize the former importance of the historian position, a copy was distributed of an annual report submitted in 1927 to the state historian from a small town historian who went on to be elected president of the United States four times. But he never became a county historian!The Q&A and breakout sessions proved most informative since they provided people the opportunity to interact, learn from others, and commiserate. Some key items worth following up on from these discussions include:

Unfunded mandates by the state
Training
Public programs
Developing a media presence
Getting local historians who have day jobs or who don’t drive at night to be more involved in county, regional, and state meetings.

As it turns out the NYSAC legislative advocacy agenda for its upcoming meeting includes:

Local Government Finance and Tax Relief

Urge voters to approve a constitutional convention so that delegates can consider ending the imposition of unfunded state mandates on counties and other local governments.

By law, New York State votes every 20 years whether or not to hold a state constitutional convention. In 1997, the voters voted “no.” The pace is likely to pick up on the 2017 vote once the new year begins and much preliminary work has done already for “ConCon” spearheaded by The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that the lunch speaker was Bruce Dearstyne. He writes repeatedly on behalf of New York State history and on how much we have to celebrate. Perhaps NYSAC can help the history community deliver this message to the Governor and the Legislature in a meaningful way.

All in the all, this hopefully inaugural conference was a good start to what should be an ongoing relationship between the county clerks and the county historians.

History Signs: Pathway to the Past

Beverley Robinson House History Marker, photo by Ron Soodalter

I had an epiphany at the annual conference of the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS). That probably is not a venue normally associated with religious breakthroughs. Nonetheless, I had a vision of history signs and it was good. Standing at the vendor booth for the Pomeroy Foundation,  which funds history signs throughout the state, I realized that our state history signs are like lost sheep wandering around the state but no one knows where.

What do I mean, they are lost? Everyone knows where they are. Everyone sees them. Well, yes, it is true, it is difficult to drive too far along the highways and byways of the Empire State without encountering a history marker, but that doesn’t mean anyone knows where all such signs are.

Let’s review the history of history markers in state courtesy of “Signs of Controversy” by Laurence M. Hauptman from the summer 2014 issue of the NYS Archives Trust bulletin. Here are the critical dates in the history of the history markers:

Stage 1 (1926) The Commemoration of New York’s role in the American Revolution

The State Legislature directs the State Commissioner of Education plan for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the American Revolution including a provision for “markers to designate sites that are of historic interest in the colonial, revolutionary, or state formative period.”  So was born the famous gold-rimmed blue markers that continue to line our roads to this very day. Over 200 were erected in the following decade. Hauptman notes that the American Indian did not fare well in the reporting on these signs. An inventory of those signs can be found at the APHNYS website in a downloadable PDF which I just downloaded.

Stage 2 (1939-present) Signs Go Wild

Obviously Hauptman’s term is not a legal or official one. It refers to cessation of state funding for and control over the history markers.  All state controls were eliminated. Anything was possible.

Stage 3 (1960-1966) Historical Area Marker Program

At this point, the State sought to resume control. History markers were to serve dual purposes: education and tourism. Signs were to be located along the New York State Thruway at rest stops and on other major highways. The signs were to be oversized with different font from the original state makers to differentiate them. Imagine that: big state history signs on the highways to promote tourism starting in 1960…and to be controlled by the State Education Department. Does that sound familiar? These signs happened 52 years before I Love NY wrested control of the oversized Path through History signs on the highways from the State Education Department/New York State Museum which originally controlled the project. In trying to understand the shift in responsibility, please keep in mind that the State Education Department reports to the Regents while I Love NY reports to the Governor, not that politics was a factor in any of the decision-making. I did a search on the New York State Museum website and found a documented listing of 139 Historical Area Markers erected in the 1960s.

Stage 4 (1966)

In 1966, the legislature repealed the Historical Area Marker Program. Henceforth, the New York Historic Trust, an advisory group part of the Department of Conservation (now Department of Environmental Conservation). Then in 1972, the legislature shifted the “long-dormant roadside marker program” to the New York State Board for Historic Preservation within the newly-formed Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. In the interim, the still extant Office of State History published the Historical Area Markers in New York State guidebook [paperback version of the 1970, publication available on Amazon for $49.99].

Booklet Published in 1970

There still was no state funding. Responsibility for the approval, removal, correction, and funding of history markers remained local.

Stage 5 2014-2015 The Weible Years

Hauptman’s article from 2014 refers to an initiative begun in 2014 by the then State Historian Bob Weible.  The goal was to encourage locally-appointed historians to work cooperatively to coordinate history marker activities and to assume greater responsibility for them. The effort was to be done through APHNYS with the assistance of the Pomeroy Foundation. I did not know this when I had my epiphany. I was aware of a New York State website listing history markers by county. When I looked at it months ago for my own county, Westchester, I found, not surprisingly that Weible was still listed as the contact person even though he was no longer there. When I just looked again, I couldn’t even find the page on the NYS Museum website. I did, however, find a reference to it in Wikipedia under List of New York State Historic Markers.

According to Wikipedia there are over 2800 such signs through 1966 with a breakdown provided by county. One can drill down on each county to obtain a more detailed list with date, location, and inscription. The source for the information was the very webpage I was searching for. When I clicked on the link the response was

Our apologies, but much like the Cohoes Mastodon,
this page is history.

Mastodon NYS Museum
Mastodon NYS Museum

New York Net History Net also has a link to the New York State Museum listing with the same result. That website apparently is not up-to-date as it refers to an upcoming conference in 2004:

State History Interest Project (SHIP) – clubs for middle school and high school students interested in New York State, formerly known as Yorkers.  New clubs are welcome at the next annual convention May 6-8, 2004 in Niagara Falls, NY.

Although not the subject of this post, the Yorkers link leads to:

404 – File or directory not found.

The resource you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable.

What ever happened to this statewide effort to engage students in New York State history? And please don’t say National History Day.

Returning to the history markers, Hauptman advocates for a change in the obviously defunct system that became even worse since his 2014 article. He observes that there is no state agency authorized by the legislature to correct, replace, or remove existing signs.

It’s not as if the State Museum isn’t aware of the situation. On its own website there is a summary of history markers by Philip Lord.  Much of the information parallels the Hauptman article with additional details identifying specific legislation.

Lord provides the following description for the wild years:

In the 1960s & 70s, staff of the Office of State History consulted with the field, primarily via the network of local government historians at the county and town level, and encouraged the installation of historic markers, with SED staff reviewing the proposals. There was no funding, and the relationship with the field was more consultative than regulatory. However, the staff was moderately aggressive in making sure that all persons wishing to erect a marker went through this process, and people were given a letter of approval.

He then notes that:

Unlike many other states, New York State does not currently manage a historical marker program. Instead, local authorities are responsible for the approval, installation, and maintenance of historical markers. Anyone interested in placing or repairing a marker should thus check with appropriate county, city, town, or village historians or officials.

In effect, it is incorrect to refer to the new signs as state signs since the state has no control over them.

There are still new history signs being established all the time. For example:

May 21, 2016 The Margaret Fuller Marker Dedication in Beacon – funding was by the Pomeroy Foundation which seemingly has replaced the state in any overseer role at least for the signs it funds and they do resemble the famous state sign format

August 18, 2016 914 The Sound Recording Studios Historical Marker Dedication where some of the most iconic rock anthems of the 1970s were made, including Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen.”

October 7, 2016 The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) placed its ninth plaque (not history marker) at the former home and studio of renowned 20th century sculptor and artist Chiam Gross at 526 LaGuardia Place (at Bleeker Street), now the home of the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation.

GVSHP Dedication
GVSHP Dedication

Strange as it may seem. there are people interested in history signs the way other people are fascinated by the Kardashians. New York Historic was founded by Matthew Conheady. Its website states the following:

We are not the New York State Office of Parks and Historic Preservation (go there instead). We are not in charge of or responsible for any of the historic sites listed on this website.

We are a band of photographers with an interest in New York State history. The nature photography community, NYFalls.com – Upstate Nature, Wildlife and Photography, owns and operates this website.

What we do

We geographically catalog Historic Sites around the state of New York, and present them online for people to explore. Our database is complemented by beautiful photos taken by talented members of our community.

Why we do it

Just as NYFalls.com has inspired aspiring photographers to get out and tour Upstate New York to capture beautiful waterfall and lake scenes, NYHistoric aims to help people locate these interesting sites, so they can have new photography subjects to explore and learn a bit of local history as well.

We also expect the education and tourism industries to take advantage of our efforts.

We do it all for free, and because we like to.

Another example is:

New York State Historical Markers: It Happened Here

created by Tom Arthur. The last entry is dated September 16, 2016, so it appears to still be functioning.

So what should be done now?

Goal: Create a documented and searchable statewide database of the history markers in New York State starting with the state- sanctioned signs.

  1. The Governor through the Office of the State Historian should ask each county executive/borough president acting through the county historian/borough historian to prepare a list for the county/borough.
  1. The County historian/borough historian should work through the municipal historians and historical societies to create Yorker clubs with the first task to be inventorying the history markers in the municipality.
  1. The inventory should include photographs, then and now if appropriate, GPS information, and a review of the information on the current signs to check for accuracy. It may be necessary to replace some signs with better information.
  1. The New York State Archives/Museum should locate the original applications for state history markers.
  1. The New York State Historian should create a state map and database of the history markers.

 

It might be reasonable to test this at the county level first. For example, in 2015, Otsego County, which does not have a county historian, produced a booklet “Historical Markers of Otsego County and Their Locations” under the auspices of the Otsego County Historical Association. I thank Town of Hartwick municipal historian Carol Goodrich whom I saw at the APHNYS conference where this all began, for mailing me a copy. Now what we need is some state leadership to bring together APHNYS, Pomeroy, NY Historic, NYS Historical Markers, the NYS Archives, and the NYS Museum together to make it happen.

Colorado Hires a New State Historian: Is New York Next? Apply by March 16!!!!!!!

unnamed
History Colorado Center
NYSED
NYS Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

In January, Colorado hired a new state historian. When I saw the notice, it prompted me to examine what being a state historian in Colorado meant and what that might mean for New York. As it turns out, although the title is the same, there are significant differences in how the two states operate. Technically the Colorado state historian will be part of History Colorado which according to its website is a twenty-first-century historical society. Its mission is:

Inspiring generations to find wonder and meaning in our past and to engage in creating a better Colorado

History Colorado is a private organization:

Established in 1879, History Colorado is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and an agency of the State of Colorado under the Department of Higher Education. We offer public access to cultural and heritage resources of Colorado, including statewide museums and special programs for individuals and families, collection stewardship of Colorado’s historic treasures, educational resources for schools, students and teachers, services related to preservation, archaeology and history, and the Stephen H. Hart Research Library.

As a private organization it operates under the authority of the State Department of Higher Education so there are immediate differences with New York.

The additional areas of responsibility according to its website are:

History Colorado’s statewide activities support tourism, historic preservation, education and research related to Colorado’s rich western history, offering the public unique opportunities to interact with Colorado history through its network of museums [9] which offer engaging exhibitions and special programs for adults and children.

Through our education programs, we work with schools across the state to provide classrooms and teachers with important resources and curriculum related to Colorado history, and offers local communities resources that help them to enrich historical-related community based programs.

Through the State Historical Fund historic preservation grants program, History Colorado has awarded millions in competitive grants to all 64 counties across Colorado, which has resulted in a more than $1.5 billion impact on Colorado’s economy.

As the State Historic Preservation Office, the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation handles the processing and documenting of statewide archaeological and historic preservation related projects.

These functions exist in New York as well but are not concentrated in one area.

In his recent post to New York History Blog on the state of the state historian

former state historian Bob Weible wrote that New York moved its State Historian from the Governor’s office to the newly formed Department of Education in 1911. According to Bob, after World War II, besides increasing support for the state’s many historians, historical societies, and history museums, the newly revitalized Office of State History took on the weighty responsibility for managing thirty-two state-owned historic sites. This configuration more closely matches what Colorado does today with the primary difference that one is a private 501(c)3 and the other a state entity.

To push the comparison further, Bob reports that:

a blue ribbon commission appointed by Nelson Rockefeller would even recommend the elevation of the State Historian position to assistant commissioner status with responsibilities for overseeing historical research, the state archives, a state history museum (separate from the existing, scientifically oriented State Museum), field services, and historic sites.

Clearly nothing like that exists with the current dysfunctional organization.

Bob went on to report that attempt to create something substantive did occur recently:

SED’s Office for Cultural Education, which oversees the State Archives, Library, and Museum, presented a 2011 strategic plan to SED’s Board of Regents that included the reinvention of the Office of State History [This link is to a site which can not be found.] And the Regents approved. The plan for State History was supposed to have been initiated in 2013 however, and it wasn’t, thanks principally to the Museum’s bureaucratic foot dragging.

The Legislature did get involved in its own way to no avail. When Assemblyman Steve Englebright chaired the committee on Governmental Operations, he sought to consolidate the history operations into something more closely resembling what the blue ribbon commission had recommended, the Regents had approved, and what Colorado now has. That effort went nowhere. He subsequently sought to create the equivalent of a history steering committee encompassing the disparate history functions scattered among the state bureaucracy. I attended and wrote about such a History Roundtable meeting held in May 2014. That effort went nowhere either.  New York continues to remain dysfunctional with no end in sight. The silos rule.

One change is happening. Bob became the state historian after the position had been vacant for seven years. However when he did so, technically he was not hired as state historian regardless of the press release to contrary. As far as the state payroll system was concerned he was the Chief Curator of History at the New York State Museum. In practice the majority of his time was spent as the curator of history exhibitions at the museum in Albany who occasionally would be allowed to leave the premises to attend statewide conferences such as APHNYS and NYSHA. He really did not have the staff, funding, or time to operate as a true state historian providing leadership to the history community in the state.

As goes the state, so go the counties. The situation in the history community involving the public historians is one where the state law continues to be flouted similar to the seven-year vacancy on the state level. Although officially the state takes pride in requiring all municipalities and counties to have an historian the requirement is disrespected by either not having one or not providing resources to make the position effective especially at the county level. In the recent APHNYS newsletter, President Gerry Smith who is a county and municipal historian who has a day job in a library where he actually can earn a living, wrote:

One initiative that we will work on in 2016 is a push to have every vacancy filled for every community. We will also be trying to ensure that those vacancies are filled by individuals and not museums, historical societies, etc.

Good luck with that effort. Worthy as it is, what incentive do mayors, town supervisors, or county executives have to comply with the law when New York State history is such a low priority in Albany?

As previously reported in a post by Orange County Historian Johanna Yaun, I said in a county history at Sullivan County, that I knew of only two full-time county historians in the state and they were in the audience: Johanna and Will Tatum of Dutchess. They thought there were a few more so I contacted a few people I knew who answered for themselves and some others they knew. So while this is not state survey here are the results:

Fulltime County Historians
Dutchess County Historian Will Tatum
Livingston County Historian Amie Alden who was once the subject of a post to New York History Blog
Orange County Historian Johanna Yaun
Wyoming County Historian Cindy Amrhein

Part-Time County Historians
Cayuga County 3 people
Putnam County Historian Sarah Johnson and 3 people

Fulltime Government Employees as County Historian and Records Manager
Chautauqua County as per Aime Alden
Genesee County as per Aime Alden
Montgomery County Kelly Yacobucci Farquhar
Wayne County Peter Evans

Gerry Smith informed me that a survey will be taken in January of all the counties so it will be good to have that information. Such a survey was last completed in 2001 by the then temporary state historian. Don’t you think that the state historian should have a database of all the government historians. Perhaps we can suggest that to the new state historian.

Yes, there will be a new state historian. I was just contacted by:

Patricia Polan
Associate in Instructional Services
Office of Curriculum and Instruction
New York State Education Department
Patricia.Polan@nysed.gov
Telephone: 518-473-0741

She requested I disseminate a job posting for:

Position: NYSED::Senior Historian, SG-22

Salary: $64,302 to a maximum salary of $81,415 based on annual performance advances

Location: Albany

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) is seeking to fill the position of Senior Historian in the New York State Museum. This position will serve as the Historian for New York State. The State Historian will have broad researched based knowledge about New York State, conduct research, provide statewide coordination and leadership of the historical communities in New York, promote collaboration, and a scholarship that ensures a greater understanding of the history of the State. Under the direct supervision of the Chief Curator (History), duties of this position will include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Perform historical research about New York State;
  • Provide guidance and leadership to New York State academic organizations, institutions, and local government historians appointed pursuant to Arts and Cultural Affairs Law 57.07;
  • Review annual reports submitted to the Commissioner of Education by local government historians;
  • Advise and assist any state agency, board, commission, office, civil subdivision, institution or organization in the planning and execution of any commemorative, scholarly conference or other gathering event relating to the history of the Colony and the State of New York;
  • Examine historical material to determine its significance and validity; and
  • Publish information concerning the history of the State of New York and regarding collections of historical materiel for academic and popular publications and (media) outlets.

MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS:

For provisional appointment candidates must possess a Master’s Degree in History, Public History, Art History, American Studies**, or Museum Studies**, and three years of professional experience in collections management and/or research OR a Ph.D. in History, Public History, Art History, or American Studies**.

**Including or supplemented with nine credit hours in history.

PREFERRED QUALIFICATIONS: Special consideration will be given to candidates who possess the following qualifications:

  • Doctorate in American History showing a concentration of research of New York State history.
  • Five years of experience in the university level lecturing about New York State history.
  • Evidence of published peer reviewed historical research.
  • Editing of publications about New York State history.

CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT: This will be a provisional appointment. Promotions and transfers may change appointees’ negotiating unit. Applicants should be aware that changes in negotiating units may affect their salary, insurance, and other benefits.

APPLICATION: Qualified candidates should send a resume and letter of interest by March 16, 2016 to ocejobs@nysed.gov (email applications are preferred). You must include the Box number (OCE-937/27442) in the subject line of your email to ensure receipt of your application.

If you are interested in the actual PDF which I received, please contact me. This job posting is a step in the right direction but let’s see what resources the new State Historian to actually function as the state historian the way the Colorado State Historian does. The Conditions of Employment suggest other changes may be in the works.

This person will report to the Chief Curator of History. To see that job description go to the state website.

That position went to Jennifer Lemak who had been filling in for Bob since his retirement last summer.

Bob Weible optimistically ended his post on the state of the state historian with:

Maybe something good will happen. Maybe not. Stay tuned.

Happy New York State History New Year

Robert-Weiblenye1_lg

Former State Historian Bob Weible/New Year/The Next State Historian?

Once again the calendar has turned and a new year has commenced. As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, that means it is time for New Year’s resolutions which we won’t keep. Instead, I would like to submit a list of New Year wishes that I hope will have better results.

A. Governor Cuomo
The Governor will host a History in New York workshop to focus on civics, cultural heritage tourism, education, preservation, and scholarship.

B. New York State Historian
1. There will be a new state historian in charge of a robust and funded department.
2. The new state historian will take a leadership role in the promotion and development of
– New York State Heritage areas
– Path through History
– New York State History Month
– New York State Community Heritage Month
– Teaching New York State history k-12
– New York State Anniversary commissions
– the annual New York State History conference
3. The State Historian will be able to disburse funds through the REDC process as NYSOPRHP, I Love NY, and NYSAC do now.
4. The State Historian will maintain a public and searchable database of the municipal historians throughout the state.
5. The State Historian will have a weekly podcast on New York State history and related current developments.
6. The State Historian will participate in the annual conferences of APHNYS, MANY, and other related statewide organizations and will attend regional APHNYS meetings

C. County Historians
1. Every county shall have a fulltime human being as the county historian.
2. The County Historian will be responsible for
– hosting an annual county history conference
– hosting an annual high school local history conference
– periodic meetings throughout the year with the county history community through brown-bag lunches, social/network gatherings, etc.
– disseminating an enewsletter to the county history community and the state historian    – maintaining a county history community database
– annually certifying to the state historian that all municipalities in the county have an individual human being as an historian with an explanation for any temporary vacancies
3. The County Historian will work with the County Tourism Department to promote cultural heritage tourism in the county and with the counterparts in the other counties in the region for REDC funding.
4. The County Historian will be a member of APHNYS, attend the annual statewide conference, and attend the annual regional conference.
5. New County Historians will participate in a one week training session in Albany with the State Historian, State Archives, State Librarian, State Museum, and OPRHP. They will meet with the members of the relevant Legislative and Senate committees. At the conclusion of the training there will a reception in the Executive Mansion with the Governor.
6. The state regulations and APHNYS guidelines for the position of the County Historian will be updated accordingly.

D. Municipal Historians
1. Every municipality shall have at least one part-time historian.
2. Municipalities shall be defined as including each community board district in New York City.
3. New York City shall have a full-time historian.
4. The municipal historian shall work with the county and state historian as outlined above.
5. The municipal historian shall prepare annual reports to the state historian and the village, town, or city council on the activities of the year and plans for the coming year.
6. The municipal historian shall host meetings of the history community in the municipality including people from the municipal library, municipal historical society, local school districts (which may or may not coincide with the municipality’s boundaries).
7. The municipal historian shall have a municipal email address and be listed on the municipality’s website provided the municipality has a website and municipal email addresses.
8. The municipal historians shall have a municipal phone number, mailing address, and business card, and have use of the municipality’s office equipment, postage, and meeting space.
9. Collections shall not be housed in the residence of the municipal historian but shall be properly maintained by the municipality in the village/town/city hall, municipal library, municipal historical society, or at a municipal historic site if the municipality owns any.
10. The municipal historian will be a member of APHNYS, attend the annual regional conference, and may attend the annual statewide conference, .
11. New municipal historians should  participate in a one week training session in Albany with the State Historian, State Archives, State Librarian, State Museum, and OPRHP. They will meet with the members of the relevant Legislative and Senate committees. At the conclusion of the training there will a reception in the Executive Mansion with the Governor.
12. The state regulations and APHNYS guidelines for the position of the municipal historian should be updated accordingly.
13. Consideration should be given to varying the responsibilities and funding for the position based on the population of the municipality.

I am sure there are other recommendations which should be made and welcome your thoughts.

To affect such change or indeed any change whatsoever will require the history community to work together and to lobby in Albany. Some of these items particularly at the state level involve multiple state agencies and organizations. This inevitably will lead to turf issues and personality conflicts with no formal mechanism to reconcile differences and resolve problems. Obviously Governor leadership would go a long way to make implementing these suggestions a reality.

Happy New York State History New Year