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Bring the Yorkers Back to New York

In a recent post about the absence of any institutional or organizational leadership in the New York State history community, I used the image of the Yorkers without any explanation of what a Yorker was. Two readers submitted comments about the Yorkers to an even earlier post on the subject of the NYSHA even before I had distributed the post with the Yorker image. Their comments and suggestions form the basis of this post.

THE YORKERS: A DETROIT PERSPECTIVE

In the first instance, the comment from Chris Philippo provided a link to a blog by Tobi Voigt, Detroit Historical Society, writing in 2014 for the 75th anniversary of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH). Her interest was getting young people involved in local history. In the course of writing the post she thought of New York’s experience with the Yorker program.

[S]tarted in the 1940s, this junior membership program worked through membership chapters across the state. [I wonder how many chapters there were.] According to a mid-1950s brochure [image above]:

“A Yorker chapter may be formed by organizing five or more students with an adult sponsor. Each chapter member receives a subscription to THE YORKER, bi-monthly magazine of the junior historians [This magazine must on file in some libraries and/or archives], a membership card, a gay felt emblem [I presume he meant “gray” but given how words change meaning I wouldn’t swear to it.] reminding him [or her] he is one of an army of 7,000 students of the story of the Empire State. He may write for THE YORKER, may enter any of the Historical Association’s three museums free at any time, whether coming with a student group or individually.”

Yorker chapters (which included boys and girls) were encouraged to:

“go on pilgrimages; present assembly programs, plays, radio scripts; assemble collections of historic books and objects; participate in essay and other contests; make historical murals and sculpture; assist local historians and in historical celebrations.”

The chapters had regional and state officers and gathered each spring for a convention.

After this historical description of the Yorker program, Tobi turned to her personal reflections on the organization and its meaning for the present.

Yes, these junior membership programs were clearly a lot of work. And I know they folded for some very valid reasons, but I absolutely love the concept. For years I have been pondering how the junior membership program can be reinstated/reinvented.

Firstly, we are always quoting that statistic that says “If a person doesn’t visit a museum before age 12, they aren’t likely to become adult museum visitors.” Could a junior membership program encourage students to get involved and then become life-long patrons?

Secondly, we talk about the decline of social studies and history in public school curriculums. These junior programs had an extracurricular academic component. And better yet, they had the students out DOING history. For the Detroit Historical Society, at least, they saw historical study as a way to develop informed citizens and future leaders. Can a new junior membership program help us make history relevant in the lives of kids today?

I love that programs like National History Day [which NYSHA still supports] have stepped in to fill the void, and my organization supports that year-long, school based program as a contest coordinator. But I still find myself wondering if individual museums and historical societies can create their own special program. If we created a new junior program, I’d be sure participation in National History Day would be included as an activity.

What are your thoughts?
Does anyone have a junior membership program? Please consider writing a blog about it!

Did you have one that didn’t work well? Please share your lessons learned.

Is anyone else out there as intrigued about this concept as me, or am I quickly becoming as antiquated as junior memberships themselves?

THE YORKERS: A WESTERN NEW YORK PERSPECTIVE

As to the situation here in New York, I received an email from Terry Abrams, the Administrative Coordinator for the Western New York Association of Historical Agencies (WNYAHA), on the subject of the Yorkers. He wrote:

I have been reading with avid interest your blog posts about the state of New York State history. I have thought a lot about the many valid points you have raised, and I want to respond to some of them. Most of what I want to say has already been said by others, and I am in agreement with much of what you have discussed. Nevertheless, I think it is useful to add another voice to the chorus.

I think the decline of NYSHA can be traced back to the elimination of the Yorker program. When I was in Jr. High School, we had two Yorker clubs, one for the seventh graders, and one for the eighth graders. Living in western New York, a big part of the attraction for joining was going on the overnight field trips to Cooperstown, and Albany, respectively. As I recall, in order to join the Yorker clubs we had to write an essay on some aspect of local or NY history. While the advisors for the two clubs were pretty lenient as far as letting students join, this did at least indicate an interest in history. I also recall going on field trips to local area museums during the year. The big event in 7th grade, was toward the end of the school year, when we traveled to Cooperstown to see the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Farmer’s Museum, and the Fenimore Museum. In 8th grade, we went to Albany to see the Capitol, and the State Museum, which at that time was still located at the top of the Education Department building.

I can’t say for certain how much influence this experience has had on my becoming part of the history community. I do know, however, that at least two of my classmates are active members of their local historical societies. Incidentally, the two clubs were named after local historical landmarks. He 7th grade club was called The Grant Club Yorkers, named after the pole raised locally for President Grant’s re-election campaign.

Grant Club Pole Marker

The 8th grade club was called the Octagon Yorker club, after the Rich-Twinn Octagon house, part of the Newstead Historical Society in the village of Akron in the Town of Newstead in Erie County.

Rich Twinn Octagon House

At that time the other Yorker clubs had disappeared, but I know that there were ones at the high school level at one time. While the schools now have History Day, I wonder how much the loss of Yorker clubs has affected student’s interest in history. While searching online about when they disappeared (sometime in the mid 80’s apparently) I came across this: (go to the history link at the top of the page and click on “Yorker Museum” It will download a pdf about the history of the Yorkers in Sherman.)

I know that it varies from place to place, but it seems that fewer and fewer historical societies have a relationship with the schools. Do any of them coordinate with History Day?

Terry raises an interesting question. According to the National History Day website quite a few museums and libraries in New York are listed as contacts for students. One also should add municipal historians to the mix of resources and contacts. Of course, one major difference is that the Yorkers focused exclusively on New York State history, National History has an annual national theme which can be applied locally by participants but does not have to be.

SUMMARY

So what can we learn from this trip down memory lane? The Yorker program working in conjunction with National History Day is a great way to reach out into the student community and connect it with local history. Logically it should be operated by NYSHA which still maintains its connections to National History Day. Obviously that is not going to happen.

Here is a program where it would be beneficial for the New York State history community to meet with the New York State Council for the Social Studies. It is a volunteer organization. The annual conference this year will be in Albany in March. There are eight regional councils covering most of the state. Perhaps the New York State Historian could take responsibility for the revival of the Yorkers with the support of the Regents. Let’s add Yorkers to the list of what needs to be done.

Save the History Community: Clone Erika Sanger

In recent posts, I have reported on the absence of any private state-wide organization advocating on behalf of the history community.

History Professors Protest for Local and State History

NYSHA Responds to Advocacy for Local and State History Post

The NYSHA Saga Continues: Gone but Not Forgotten

The former New York State History Association (NYSHA) located in Cooperstown has not fulfilled that role. Effectively it is a local farmers’ museum and national art museum. While these two functions are perfectly legitimate ones that focus raises significant critical issues regarding the leadership within the history community in this state…or, more accurately, the absence of any leadership.

Simultaneously with the NYSHA posts, I also introduced the actions of another private state-wide, organization, the Museum Association of New York (MANY) with its executive director Erika Sanger. What follows then is a report of events in the last two weeks contrasting the actions of NYSHA and MANY. The contrast provides insight into what a proposed New York State History Society (NYSHS) should do.

THE MANY WAY

To begin with, MANY sent a query to its members for information about the Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) funding process as it relates to the New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA). The request was in preparation for testimony Erika was to give before the Committee on Tourism at its budget hearing on December 5. That request led to a response by Rosa Fox, the municipal historian for the Town of Huron who also is responsible for three buildings. That response generated a new post, not directly about NYSHA but related.

Before turning to the results of the query, let’s examine the difference between NYSHA and MANY.

1. MANY is a membership organization with museums from around the state (including zoos, aquariums, art museums, and science museums, as well as history organizations; NYSHA is not.

2. MANY has a full-time person dedicated to state-wide issues; NYSHA does not.

3. MANY testifies to the legislature and Regents on statewide issues; NYSHA does not.

4. MANY solicits the opinion of the state-wide community; NYSHA does not.

So regardless of the particular details of the December 5 testimony, one can immediately differentiate the two organizations and decide what one would like the NYSHS to do if it existed.

The results of Erika’s survey have been circulated through the MANY distribution network so it is not necessary for me to repeat them here. I will just note a response of 89 organizations of various sizes, budgets and regions in the state. Many organizations were not familiar with the REDC process in general or found it daunting to apply. That process itself was the subject of a recent post about “Hunger Games” the apparently routine nick name in Albany for REDC funding.

HUNGER GAMES AWARDS

The awards for 2017 were just announced last week. As has become my custom, the grants will be analyzed in a series of posts as they relate to the history community. As also expected the phrase “Path through History” does not appear anywhere in the report. In the responses to MANY, the 35% of the organizations that did seek REDC funding reported on all the categories they used and not just NYSCA. These funding sources included:

Art and Culture Initiative
Arts and Culture Facilities Capital Grant program
Historic Preservation and Recreational Trails.
Market New York (I LoveNY)

One should note that NYSOPRHP is a well-established source of funding for the history community and that the NYS Museum has zero funding in the current arrangement. I will be reporting on these grants in the new year with one exception.

MANY was the recipient of an award. It issued the following notice:

MANY is thrilled to announce that we received our first Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) grant for Administrative Workforce Expansion! We would like to thank Governor Cuomo and the members of the Capital Region Economic Development Council for their support of the Museum Association of New York and the New York State museum field.  

The grant will allow MANY to hire a Marketing and Social Media Coordinator to manage digital marketing and communications, enrich our service to the field, promote professional development programs, share funding opportunities, and improve economic stability in New York’s cultural sector.

Thanks to everyone who signed our letter of support and congratulations to all the organizations who received support. You can find the full list of grant awards here.

In this notice, one observes pluses and minuses of the program. First, MANY is to be congratulated. Second, one notices that even though it is a state-wide organization, it was obligated to apply through the Capital Region since it is located in Troy. The current setup means that even if NYSHA had sought any funding it would have had to have done so through the Mohawk Valley region. Remember there is a Mohawk Valley region in REDC funding but not in I LoveNY or the Path through History. This application process highlights the hunger games competition among the regions with no provision for state-wide organizations.

MUSEUM EDUCATION ACT

Wait, there’s more from MANY. The organization has been active with the Museum Education Act. During this busy past week, it sent out the following notice:

Dear Friends, Colleagues, and MANY Members,

On Tuesday, the New York State Board of Regents unanimously endorsed the $1.6 billion state aid proposal along with their 2018 budget and legislative priorities. We are thrilled to report that for the first time ever the Regents designated the Museum Education Act as a budget priority and proposed $5 million to fund it.

Under their state budget priorities, the Regents describe this new program as:

Expanding Access to Education Programs through Cultural Institutions – Support the Museum Education Act and establish competitive grants to support cultural institutions that seek to establish or improve museum education programs designed to improve and support student learning opportunities, including supporting the development of local curricular aids.

And if this action was not sufficiently awesome on its own, the State Education Department released a video on today of Commissioner MaryEllen Elia’s statement about how increasing equity has been the driving force behind everything SED does. In talking about equity, the Commissioner specifically mentions passing the Museum Education Act and linking museum education programs with pre k -12 schools to enable students to learn from the museums’ “incredible collections”.

We are grateful to Chancellor Betty Rosa, Regent Roger Tilles, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, Executive Deputy Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin and Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education Mark Schaming for their support of museums in New York. 

But, we’re not quite home yet. To get these bills passed in the upcoming legislative session will require your help.  We will soon be sending out new tools to help you call and meet with your legislators. We will also be selecting dates for you to join us in Albany to advocate for passage of the Museum Education Act.

WHY THE HISTORY COMMUNITY NEEDS TO CLONE ERIKA SANGER

Again let’s look at what Erika has been up to as executive director for MANY.

1. Testifying before both the Regents and the Legislature.

2. Getting $5 million approved as a budget it (that’s real money!)

3. Calling on members to advocate with their own legislators apparently both locally and at the state capital.

It should be noted also that MANY has retained a lobbyist and has re-instituted the practice of conference calls for its members with the lobbyist for updates on the world of politics in Albany.

In short, Erika and MANY are doing on behalf of the museum community what nobody is doing on behalf of the history community. Is there more that needs to be done even within the museum community? Definitely, but at least someone is trying. Should there be a NYSHS based in the capital region acting on behalf of the history community as MANY is for the museum community. Definitely. Will there be? What does it take to make it happen?

The NYSHA Saga Continues: Gone but Not Forgotten

Defunct NYSHA School Program (pinterest.com)

The story of the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA) remains a fluid one with continuing new developments. To recap, in the spring of 2017, NYSHA recast itself as the Fenimore Art Museum and Farmers’ Museum. The change has led to questions regarding the statewide functions it once had and which have diminished over the years. In my post on the subject on November 26, I called for the need for state advocacy for local and state history, an effort which needs to happen in the absence of NYSHA performing that role.

A READER TRACES THE DECLINE OF NYSHA

A comment on my post emphasized the distress felt over the decline of NYSHA:

Successive administrations at NYSHA and the Farmer’s Museum have managed to slowly obliterate a once world class historical association, through antipathy, mission creep, or outright neglect. Stephen C. Clark Sr. and Louis C. Jones pulled off quite the coup when they brought NYSHA from Ticonderoga. With the help of Dixon Ryan Fox, Edward P. Alexander, and Clifford Lord it made huge advances. In the last few decades we have seen fundamental aspects of the organization they helped build decline and eventually fade away entirely. The educational program for schools, the Young Yorkers was a great vehicle for promoting NY State history in schools, as well as ensuring visitation to the museums throughout the school year. It built relationships with NY youth that built appreciation for NY’s history and gave them a vested interest in the organization. The Seminars on American Culture brought people from all over to Cooperstown experience history first hand and learn more about their past. The New York History quarterly was a first class publication and invaluable to both professional historians and amateurs alike. Wendell Tripp’s contribution to the production of that publication was yeoman’s work and he deserves recognition for his years of work on it.

Now it is all gone, a legacy squandered by later generations. In a few years no one will really remain who remembers what the organization once was. It is ironic that an organization based on the preservation of history has forgotten its own.

Someone needs to write the history of NYSHA before everyone is gone and the lessons of its decline are lost to the ages.

FENIMORE ART MUSEUM PRESIDENT RESPONDS TO MY POST

Also in response to my post and the charges brought against by the New York Academy of History (NYAH), Paul D/Ambrosio, the President and CEO of the two museums sent me an email which he asked me to post. I did so on November 30.  Here is what has happened since then.

FENIMORE ART MUSEUM FUNDING LETTER

At approximately the same time of these posts, the museums sent out a funding letter under Paul’s name. Certainly that seems like a routine occurrence especially for this time of year. One recipient of the letter who read it at the same time as reading the two posts here, then wrote me:

I find it strange that in the fund raising appeal letter there is no mention of either NYSHA or Research Library…. On this donation form one can chose to make a donation between the Fenimore Art Museum, The Farmers’ Museum or Both!   In prior years there has been a third choice for donations, that of The Research Library.

In Paul’s email to me which was posted, he wrote:

We continue to operate our Research Library, a vital resource for the region with more than 100,000 volumes and a large collection of unique original manuscripts.

The recipient of the funding appeal asked, “how certain is he of that figure?  Perhaps he has forgotten that the library collection has been significantly reduced?” I can’t speak to the specifics on the format of the funding letters in previous years or the state of research library today compared to years ago. Who does know what happened?

STATUS OF NEW YORK HISTORY JOURNAL AND THE NYS HISTORIAN

In his email which I posted, Paul also commented on the status of New York History, the academic journal for scholarship on New York State history. In the New York History Blog on April 2 reporting on the changed name, Paul is reported as saying that no decision has been made on whether the Fenimore Art Museum will support the journal New York History beyond 2017. In his email to me, Paul wrote:

Please know as well that we are committed to ensuring the continued publication of the journal New York History, and that its future is not in jeopardy.

I posted this on November 30 to the IHARE website, a couple of days after receiving the email from Paul. By coincidence, on November 30, Jeff Pressman, the Chair of the Trustees of Fenimore Art Museum, announced that the concern for the fate of New York History could now be put to rest. Effective January 2019, responsibility for the journal would be transferred from the Fenimore Art Museum to the New York State Museum. Specifically, Devin Lander, the New York State Historian would henceforth be responsible for the publication of the academic journal working in conjunction with Cornell University Press.

Just as the Fenimore Art Museum has the right to focus on its mission as an art museum, so too it has the right to discharge its statewide responsibilities. It use to run the annual state history conference; that task was transferred to Bob Weibel when he was the state historian. When he left, there was no one to do the job. One presumes that the new state historian will assume responsibility for that conference in 2018 just as he will for the journal in 2019. With a podcast on state history also under consideration, one certainly hopes that state historian position will have the resources it needs to fulfill its responsibilities.

STATUS OF NEW YORK STATE HISTORY PRIZES

One other area of statewide activity by NYSHA which I have not seen reported on is history prizes alluded to in one of the replies I received. According to the Fenimore Museum website,

The Dixon Ryan Fox Prize is presented each year to the best unpublished, book-length monograph dealing with some aspect of the history of New York State. The New York State Historical Association named the award for its former president Dixon Ryan Fox in 1997 to recognize his contributions to New York state history. The prize consists of a $3,000 purse. Manuscripts may deal with any aspect of New York State history. Manuscripts may not have been accepted for final publication at the time of submission to the New York State Historical Association. Biographies of individuals whose careers illuminate aspects of the history of the state are eligible, as are manuscripts dealing with such cultural matters as literature and the arts, provided that in such cases the methodology is historical. Works of fiction and works of article length are not eligible.

Deadline for submissions is March 1, 2017. There are no application forms. For submissions, please send an electronic, printable file of the full manuscript, table of contents, and an abstract as separate PDF files to publications@nysha.org. No hard copies are accepted.

Questions? Please contact Martha Membrino in the Publications Department at the New York State Historical Association at publications@nysha.org or by phone at 607-547-1416.

For more information about NYSHA and the prize, please visit our website at https://www.nysha.org/publications/history_prizes/dixon_ryan_fox_manuscript_prize

According to New York History Blog on April 2, the editorial board was scheduled to meet in June to decide the awards for 2017, which would be presented at the Fenimore Art Museum’s annual meeting in July. The same applies to The Paul S. Kerr History Prize, awarded annually to the best article published in New York History. There is no listing on the Fenimore Art Museum website for a winner of the $1000 award in 2017, the last entry is 2016.   I also was unable to access the website for the Dixon Ryan Fox award listed in the notice above. When attempting to do so I received the reply

The connection has timed out

and I saw no listing for this award on the Fenimore Art Museum website. The current status of these two history awards remains unclear.

It should be noted that the Fenimore Art Museum does contain historical items. On December 5, it issued a press release:

FENIMORE ART MUSEUM AWARDED TWO GRANTS FROM THE ROBERT DAVID LION GARDINER FOUNDATION SUPPORTING NEW BOOK AND WORKSHOPS ABOUT THE FAMED HAMILTON-BURR LETTERS.

The grants will provide funding for new programs and a publication based on the museum’s collection of documents pertaining to the life and death of founding father, Alexander Hamilton, focusing predominantly on a collection of thirty-five letters exchanged between Hamilton and Aaron Burr, leading up to their fatal duel on July 11, 1804. These documents, although familiar to historians, have remained largely unknown to the public until recently when they were brought to light in the song “Your Obedient Servant” from the hit Broadway musical Hamilton.

The Fenimore plans to design a virtual gallery of the Hamilton-Burr Collection and offer four programs. Two of these programs, for professionals of small historical societies and libraries with archival collections in Suffolk County, will use the printed publication and digitization of the Hamilton-Burr duel letters as a case study. For teachers, the museum will provide lesson plans for inclusion on its free, online educational portal, Harvest of History, and offer two online distance learning sessions exclusively to social studies teachers in Suffolk County as a means to support and encourage active use of these dynamic resources in the classroom.

The press release also notes the continued support for the New York State History Day school program.

At this point, there is really no reason to pursue the fate of the NYSHA any further.  As Professor Lisa Keller of the New York Academy of History and the New York History journal put it in her comment in response to my post:

NYSHA no longer exists. It was vaporized when Paul D’Ambrosio moved his $50 million endowment meant for New York history to his non- New York history art museum.

The Fenimore Art Museum and Farmers’ Museum will continue to function as museums serving those specific niches. The statewide activities including the state history conference and state journal will pass to the New York State Historian. The history awards may fall by the wayside unless the State Historian office can pick up the tab or some other arrangement is made. Exactly where the Regents and its Museum Advisory Council are in all this is not clear. The good thing is these changes move to a more robust New York State Historian office; the downside is it still leaves the New York State history community rudderless without a venue or vehicle through which to advocate for New York State history.