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History Advocacy: Should the History Community Advocate?

Adirondack Park Lobby Day

Once again it is time for history advocacy. It is the time of year when state legislatures normally are in session. Typically, a leading activity for them is the passage of the state budget. Although Covid still lingers, for the most part, life is back to normal. That means it is time for the history community to lobby our state legislators. Will we?


Let me begin with a gap in the lobbying efforts at least here in New York. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP) owns (but does not operate) 35 historic sites. In addition, it maintains a central location for the state archaeologists, curators, etc. NYSOPRHP follows the National Park Service structure of owning both historic sites and recreational sites. Obviously in these situations places like Jones Beach and the Grand Canyon experience greater public attendance than do any historic sites.

For several years pre-Covid, I have attended the Parks Advocacy Day in Albany. Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid frequently was a guest speaker at the event. During the presentations there always was a lot of discussion about state but nothing about the state historic sites of NYSOPRHP. We would hear about lifeguards for example but not education curators. I would mention this gap to some people and probably even wrote about it but nothing happened. Last month I saw Erik at the newly renovated Philipse Manor Hall and heard briefly about some of the things Parks was doing. That prompted this blog.

The following draws on the New York State experience which may or may not resemble what is happening in your state.

1. There is a New York State Historic Preservation Plan (2021-2026). This document is not a legal requirement. It is something NYSOPRHP prepares in conjunction with a report for the non-historic sites which it is required to do. If such a plan or something comparable does not exist in your state, I recommend advocating for one to be created.

Given a plan, how is the state organization doing in fulfilling the goals and objectives stated in the plan. I recommend an annual conference be held providing an update on the status of the plan including its successes and shortcomings. The latter would help identify where there is a need for advocacy. The conference even could be held at capital (in the morning) and then become the basis for after lunch meetings with the legislators.

2. According to the NYSOPRHP Plan, nine Friends groups participated in the preparation of the report. I have written about the role of Friends groups before (Friends With Benefits: NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, July 10, 2016; hard to believe it was nearly seven years ago!). Given the 35 historic sites, does that mean 26 sites do not have Friends groups? These groups serve as the eyes and ears at the local historic sites. Shouldn’t every state historic site have one? In addition these Friends groups should collaborate on a statewide basis. That would require the creation of a new entity or for an existing history group to include that function. These Friends groups would be the first ones to invite the annual update and advocacy day above.

3. According to the NYSOPRHP Plan, 16 site managers participated in the preparation of the report. Again based on 35 historic sites, what about the other 19 sites? Do they have site managers? In New York State, sometimes the site manager position or responsibility has been outsourced to the National Park Service or a private organization. Some site managers are responsible for multiple sites. That operational knowledge should be made public and included in the annual conference recommended above.

4. According to the NYSOPRHP Plan, inadequate funding was identified as the most critical item in nine of the ten regional economic districts (REDC) in the state and the second item in the tenth district. What are the specific funding lines in the budget that the history community should be aware of and advocating for given this inadequacy? Legislators want to know the “ask.” To lobby, we need to know the precise budget lines.

5. What are the staffing needs for site managers, educator curator, maintenance, and historic preservation at any central facility? Here again precise information is needed in order to lobby. This makes the conference in the first item all the more critical.

6. Looking ahead, what are the staffing needs for anniversaries of which there are a slew coming up? Besides the American Revolution 250th there is the Lafayette Bicentennial in 2024-2025 plus additional anniversaries for a particular state.

7. What are the educational needs of the staff? Does the history staff have access to ejournals and books? Are their dues paid for membership in academic history organizations (SHEAR, AHA, NCHE, NCPH) and attending their conferences at least when they are local?

8. What are the capital investment plans by the state? At the meeting at Philipse Manor Hall, the Park Commissioner informed us it was the largest capital expense for state-owned historic sites by the NYSOPRHP. What else is planned? Should the history community be advocating for more?

These items are the discussion points for the history community with the state history organization. Need-less-to-say, there are no state history organizations or venues for doing so at present. Even if we wanted to lobby on behalf of NYSOPRHP, we would not know what to ask.

Let’s turn now to two current examples.

We Need Your Help: EPF & HTC Advocacy

Here is an eblast I received from the Preservation League of NYS. As you read it, notice how specific the information is. This means the “ask” has been identified.

We have two important opportunities this week to make your voice heard in support of historic preservation in New York State!

1. Speak out against proposed cuts to Historic Preservation funding in the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF)

While the Governor’s budget proposal includes robust funding for the Environmental Protection Fund overall, a closer look at the numbers reveals a proposed $1 million cut to the Historic Preservation Grant Program within the EPF. This program is one of the few sources of bricks-and-mortar funding for preservation projects in our state, and the need is much greater than the available funding every year. To see a list of preservation projects funded through this grant program last year, click here, scroll to page 15, and look at the projects under “OPRHP EPF HP.”

We’re asking all preservation advocates to reach out to their state legislators this week; please ask Assemblymembers to contact Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, Chair of the Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts & Sports Development, and Senators to contact Senator José Serrano, Chair of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks & Recreation, with the following simple request: “Please do not allow cuts to the Historic Preservation Grant Program in the Environmental Protection Fund.”  If you know of a project in your area that received this funding in recent years, or found one on the list in the link above, please use it as an example of the great work being supported by this grant program.

2. Call in support of the HTC Extension and “White Elephant” Bill (A.2889 / S.4174)

Assemblymember Carrie Woerner and Senator Tim Kennedy have proposed a 10-year extension to the NYS Historic Tax Credits and additional provisions to facilitate the use of the commercial credit for the rehabilitation of large, vacant buildings (“white elephants”). We want to line up as many co-sponsors for the legislation as possible, to demonstrate broad support for including this language in the state budget. While you are reaching out to legislators regarding the Historic Preservation grant funding cut, please also ask if they would be willing to co-sponsor A.2889 / S.4174 to support the extension and enhancement of the NYS Historic Tax Credits.

Calls and emails on both of these issues will be most helpful before March 13. Thank you for your advocacy!

The history preservation community is generally much more organized than is the history community as whole is with its additional interests in education and tourism. Partnering with arts organizations may be useful in some areas especially depending on how the state legislature and budget are configured. In the example above, the state history organization disburses funds to individual history organizations as well. There is however no lobbying on behalf of the state-owned historic sites.

Nearly 100 people attend Adirondack Park Lobby Day in Albany

Nearly 100 people from 20 different Adirondack organizations met with 50 state legislators and their staff during Adirondack Park Lobby Day to advocate for funding and policy advancements for the Adirondack Park. A group of Eagle Scouts from Queens, NY took the bus to Albany to help the group make a collective case for Wilderness, Clean Water and Green Jobs, including:

* $4 million for a Survey of Climate Change and Adirondack Lakes ecosystems;
* At least $500 million for clean water projects, including road salt pollution prevention;
* $2 million for the Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute, a partnership exposing high school students from the City of New  York to training and possible careers in natural resources in the Adirondack Park;
* Doubling and diversifying the number of DEC Forest Rangers;
* $40 million for open space protection, and $21 million for preserving farmland;
* $12.8 million for Forest Preserve stewardship, and visitor use management;
* $500,000 for Visitor Interpretive Centers at Newcomb and Paul Smith’s;
* $400,000 for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative.

In addition, the group urged passage of non-budgetary legislative action, including:

* the passage of Ecological Integrity, Wildlife and Open Space legislation in the Adirondack Park (Assembly 4608 by Assembly Member Deborah Glick) to mark the 50th anniversary of the Adirondack Park Agency Act of 1973;
* nominating and confirming committed, knowledgeable environmental voices to the Adirondack Park Agency this year;
* and passing legislation to prohibit wildlife killing contests (Assembly 2917/Senate 4099).

Participants included members of the Adirondack Council, Adirondack Diversity Initiative, Adirondack Experience, Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack North Country Association, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation, Ausable River Association, Champlain Area Trails, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Environmental Advocates NY, Essex Farm Institute, John Brown Lives!, New York League of Conservation Voters, Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute and Visitor Interpretive Center, Protect the Adirondacks, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Newcomb Campus, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.

Here again, you can see the specificity of the asks. The point is not the merits of these actions. It is that the Adirondack Council organized the lobbyists, identified the asks, and scheduled the meetings. Notice also that besides the money there is an anniversary in the mix.

This review of the NYSOPRHP, Preservation League of NYS, and the Adirondack Council highlight what can be done and what needs to be done by the history community in each state. Since the Adirondack region is bigger than many states, I will refer it here in state terms. If there is a comparable statewide effort in your state, please share that information with me and I will include in a future blog. If there is no such effort in your state, then there is a lot of work that needs to be done.

Upcoming History Advocacy, Conferences and Events

George Washington Leading People to the First New York State History Conference

The start of the new year means the start of a series of annual advocacy, conferences, and events related to history in New York State. Some of these events target specific areas within the history community such as preservation, museums, and tourism. Since there is no New York State history advocacy day or conference by itself, it can only be addressed piecemeal. The examination of what is being done illustrates what needs to be done if the history community is to have a voice in Albany.

February 5: Preservation Advocacy Day (Legislative Office Building, Albany)

The Preservation League of New York State has an office and staff located in Albany. It has been in operation since 1974. This will be my first time participating in this advocacy day.

Join the Preservation League of New York State as we make our Voices of Preservation heard at the New York State Capitol – so our past has a future!

​8:30 a.m.  Program begins (LOB room 104-A). Refreshments provided.
Welcome:               Jay DiLorenzo, President, Preservation League
Brief Remarks:     Senator Timothy Kennedy
Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner
Assemblymember Patricia Fahy
Assemblymember John McDonald
Daniel Mackay, Deputy Commissioner for Historic Preservation, OPRHP
Legislative Brief:   Erin Tobin, Vice President for Policy & Preservation

9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Meet with Senators/Members of Assembly or their staff.

2019 Advocacy Priorities:
Direct Transfer of historic tax credits
Increased tax credit for small projects
Qualifying cities to use tax credit
Vacant Buildings
Urger Advocacy

12:30 p.m.-2:00 p.m. Lunch provided & opportunity to share how the meetings went.

February 6 Monuments of the Future? Alternative Approaches (The Graduate Center, CUNY, New York)

Looking for solutions to the dilemma about how to confront and constructively address ‘difficult’ places of memory and, in some cases, their absence, this panel presentation will offer real and virtual alternative approaches that use different media to promote a public dialogue about how and what we remember. The speakers represent projects and institutions that encompass local and national efforts, providing possible models as well as obstacles to public education and participation in New York City.

The final panel in the ‘Difficult Histories’ series co-presented with the American Social History Project and the Public History Collective at The Graduate Center, with funding provided by Humanities New York

I attended a previous evening conference on this topic in the fall. My reporting on that event in a blog is past due. If I am able to attend this one I will try to combine the two conferences. The issue of monuments may not apply to every community in New York but it is an issue of both historic preservation and history memory. What does each community decide to commemorate and what not to commemorate and why.

February 16 George Washington’s Birthday Symposium (Fulton-Montgomery Community College, Johnstown)

The Fort Plain Museum has been conducting annual conferences including bus tours on the American Revolution in the Mohawk Valley for several years. I think I have attended three of them as well as had a teacher program on the topic which is when I first became aware of the Fort Plain Museum. This small volunteer organization has been working tirelessly to promote not just the story of the American Revolution but history tourism in the Mohawk Valley.

This inaugural event starts at 8:15 am and will end at 3:30 pm. Admission fees are $35 for advance registration, $40 at the door and there is a discounted rate for students of $20. The admission fee includes a lunch sandwich buffet and refreshment breaks. There will be an author book signing with books available for purchase.

Edward G. Lengel, “Setting the Example: George Washington’s Military Leadership”
Bruce Chadwick, “George & Martha”
William Larry Kidder, “George Washington’s Ten Crucial Days: Trenton and Princeton”
Norman J. Bollen, “George Washington and the Mohawk Frontier”

To register, send an email to with your name, phone number, email address, city and state. A check can be made out to and sent to the Fort Plain Museum, Attn: GW BDAY, PO Box 324, Fort Plain, NY 13339. It also accept credit cards by phone, 518-774-5669 (if no answer, please leave a message). Visit for details.

March 2 Historic Districts Council Preservation Conference (Manhattan)

The Historic Districts Council (HDC) is the advocate for all of New York City’s historic neighborhoods. Its mission is to ensure the preservation of significant historic neighborhoods, buildings and public spaces in New York City, to uphold the integrity of New York City’s Landmarks Law, and to further the preservation ethic.

HDC has a staff and office in Manhattan and has been in operation since 1970. I do not know what its exact working relationship is with the Preservation League of New York State is. As you may suspect, there are a number of preservation organizations throughout the state. I do maintain a separate email distribution list for them as best I can and do not distribute all my history blogs to that list. By coincidence, in the state preservation advocacy day on February 5, I have been assigned to the New York City pool. That means I will be part of the group meeting with the New York City legislators. HDC tends to focus on NYC Council members and the local landmark commission.

This day-long (9:30-3:30) conference will dive into a range of topics and of-the-moment campaigns to preserve communities and sites throughout the city, with sessions led by the participants themselves, as well as two planned panels, on engaging people with new sites in old ways, and positive and negative rezoning experiences. Participant-led sessions means people put up a signup sheet on a bulletin board and attendees sign up for the sessions that interest them.

Old Places, New Faces: Innovative Means of Engaging the Public with Historic Sites

Mathew Coody, Historic House Trust – Moderator
Lisa Alpert, Greenwood Cemetery
John Boulware, South Street Seaport Museum
Dylan Thuras, Atlas Obscura

Zoning, for Better or for Worse: How Rezonings have Negatively and Positively Affected Communities

Andrew Berman, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation – Moderator
Chris Cirillo, East Harlem
Ethel Tyus, Crown Heights

The conference will be held at, 185 West Broadway, New York. You can register here.

I attended last year and wrote a blog about it.

March 4 Park Advocacy Day (Empire State Plaza, Albany)

Parks & Trails is another advocacy group with staff and an office in Albany. Its focus is on the New York States Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP). Its advocacy is almost exclusively on the parks, both scenic and recreational, and not on the historic sites operated by NYSOPRHP or historic preservation. I have seen NYSOPRHP at historic preservation conferences. By attending the preservation and parks advocacy days one month apart I will have an opportunity to see if history and historic preservation are represented in any of the presentations or advocacy efforts. In my next blog I will be reporting on NYSOPRHP REDC awards for 2018.

Join Parks & Trails New York and the Open Space Institute’s Alliance for New York State

Parks Program in Albany help send a message of support for New York’s state parks and historic sites! As a park advocate, you’ll join other park supporters from across the state and meet with policymakers to stress the importance of supporting funding for state parks. Your efforts will impact legislators as they make important decisions about parks.

9:30 – 9:45      Hart Theatre Lounge The Egg Center for Performing Arts Empire State Plaza
9:45 – 11:00    Welcome, Orientation & Invited Speakers
11:00 – 11:45  Lunch (provided)
11:45 – 12:00  Meet Your Team (organized by NYSOPRHP regions so I am in the Taconic)
12:30 – 4:00    Appointments with Policymakers

I notice that Preservation League of New York State has a debriefing session for the entire group at the end of day whereas Parks & Trails does not.

For more info and to register contact: Sarah Braymer: 518-434-1583 |

March 7-9 New York State Council for the Social Studies (Albany)

The annual conference of social studies teachers and supervisors will be held in Albany. A detailed schedule is not available on the website at this time. I suspect local and state history will not have a significant presence at the conference. Even though history organizations are chartered through the Education Department and both schools and museums are part of the Regents bailiwick, this is one area where silos defines the arrangement. If New York promoted local and state history, then the state conference and various regional social studies conferences would be logical venues for history organizations to present and have display tables. But that is not the way of the real world and there is no state history organization advocating that it should be.

March 12 Tourism Action Day (Renaissance Albany Hotel, Albany)

The New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association (NYSHTA) is the oldest state lodging association in the country. Founded in 1887 in Saratoga Springs, NYSHTA originally represented New York State’s lodging industry. Today the association includes members from nearly all segments of the tourism industry. NYSHTA represents more than 1,100 members including hotels, motels, resorts, conference centers, country inns, bed & breakfast establishments, reservation service organizations, amusement parks, attractions, museums, ski areas, recreational facilities, historical sites, convention and visitor bureaus, chambers of commerce, colleges and universities, hospitality students and suppliers to the industry.

Bring your voice to Albany on March 12th to educate your legislators on the importance of tourism to the state’s economy. Tourism is a priority for our state, show the Legislature it’s your priority too. Come and tell your elected officials you need their support both statewide and at the local level.

Breakfast Buffet Meeting from 8:30-10:00 AM at the Renaissance Albany Hotel with Legislative
Legislative meeting for all attendees will be arranged by NYSHTA.

This represents a change. In the past, individual participants were on their own to arrange meetings with state legislators. The first time I attended I did not know that so I had to scramble. Fortunately I was able to meet the same people I had just met with on the Parks & Trail advocacy day. It always is prior to the tourism one. I learned to make an appointment for Tourism Day as I left the meeting for Parks Advocacy Day. This year I will not have to.

This advocacy day charges a fee to participate whereas the other ones do not. You can register here.

I should also add that based on previous meetings I have attended as well as the Tourism Advisory Council meetings I have attended, history tourism is not a priority.

April 7-9 Access & Identity (Museum Association of New York, Cooperstown)

The Museum Association of New York strengthens the capacity of New York State’s cultural community by supporting professional standards and organizational development. It provides advocacy, training, and networking opportunities so that museums and museum professionals may better serve their missions and communities.

MANY is located in Troy, not far from Albany, and has a staff. It has an annual conference held in different regions throughout the state. It has a lobbyist and used to have conference telephone calls with the lobbyist on what is going on. It does participate in a federal advocacy program in Washington each February along with museum organizations from around the country. To the best of my knowledge it does not have a museum advocacy day in Albany as the parks, preservation, and tourism sectors do.

The annual conference is a multiday event with concurrent sessions reflecting the different interests of the museum community. Although MANY does serve art museums, science museums, zoos, and aquariums, the presentations tend to by history organizations and museums. The registration fee will be a couple of hundred dollars and the early registration period ends February 22. Since it is multiday conference, there is likely to be lodging expense unless you have to live in the area. Typically, I attend this conference.

To register go to MANY

TBD Conference on New York State History

The image for this post comes from the Facebook page of the Conference on New York State History. According to the Facebook page:

New York State Historical Association, the most recent sponsor of the Conference on New York State History, is defunct as of March 14, 2017. See

The Conference on New York State History has a history of its own. People began meeting informally in the 1890s and the New York State Historical Association was an outgrowth of the Conference of 1899 at Lake George. For many years the annual Conference and the annual meeting of NYSHA coincided, but by the 1950s the annual meeting of NYSHA no longer contained much historical content and the “College Conference” first met as an independent group in Cooperstown in 1957. The College Conference met annually, with the Office of State History (defunct 1977) as lead sponsor. The last College Conference was held at Syracuse University in 1978.

The Conference began a new series in April of 1980 at SUNY Binghamton. Stefan Bielinski of the NYS Museum coordinated the Conference through 2002, when the Conference continued with Field Horne coordinating. Mr. Horne secured partnerships with the former NYSHA, The Archives Partnership Trust, and Humanities New York (was New York Humanities Council), with NYSHA taking the lead in 2012. After the 2012 Conference at Niagara University, NYSHA attempted to coordinate the Conference but this failed by 2016, when a joint Researching New York – Conference on NYS History meeting was held at the University at Albany (SUNY Albany).

Plans for the future are unclear.

The events chosen for this post are state and regional oriented. It focuses in particular on the advocacy days in Albany which occur annually in February and March. Perhaps one day there will be a New York State history advocacy day. Perhaps one day there will be a New York State history organization. Perhaps one day there will be a Conference on New York State History. Perhaps one day hell will freeze over just as it has outside today