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The Battle for New York State History: Representative Paul Tonko versus Governor Andy Cuomo

The State of New York State History

On April 12, 2015, Representative Paul Tonko received the Legislative Leadership Award from the Museum Association of New York (MANY). He was a co-winner with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of the inaugural award by MANY.  The award recognizes exemplary leadership in support of museums and cultural institutions in the state. These two elected officials were cited for their work in Congress in support of funding the Office of Museum Services within the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Representative Tonko appeared in person in Corning to receive the award at the annual MANY conference. During the reception in the glass-blowing exhibit area, he spoke to the attendees. Unfortunately, I took no notes and did not record what he said. In general terms, I was impressed with what he had to say, with his vocabulary and choice of words on behalf of local and state history. As I recall, he never once mentioned them in conjunction with economic development or job creation. It was all about the civic and social importance of local history in the community.

On April 2, 2017, Representative Tonko was present in Saratoga Springs at the MANY conference when Regent Roger Tilles was the award winner. As a member of the Culture sub-committee, Tilles deals directly with the state Archives, Library, and Museum. He received the award due to work in support of the Museum Education Act. During the reception, Tonko addressed the audience. This time I paid more attention to his words. At times he seemed to be channeling my blog. I do not know him and I doubt he has read them, nonetheless one couldn’t help but wish when it comes to local and state history that he was governor. He is well aware of the of the importance of a sense of place, a sense of belonging, a sense of community and the importance of local history to the social fabric and civic health of a municipality. Once again, there was no mention of economic development or job creation as primary responsibilities of local and state history organizations.

It is hard to imagine Governor Cuomo ever winning the MANY Legislative Leadership award unless it was a crass political move as a quid pro quo in his quest to be President. Let’s look at some of the key actions which have occurred during his tenure.

1. Member items have been eliminated. Given the chronic corruption in the state government, one might easily applaud this attempt to rein in the endemic misuse and abuse of taxpayer money. Unfortunately, the action threw out the baby with the bathwater. Many small non-profits seeking comparatively small sums of funding turned to their local legislator and/or senator (as I did) for support. Larger scale funding often was a bureaucratic challenge. Starlyn D’Angelo, executive director Albany Shaker Heritage Society and current MANY Board of Director, raised this very point at the History Roundtable chaired by State Legislator Steve Englebright on May 29, 2014 with Regent Tilles in attendance (see Report from the NYS History Commission Roundtable). It was Devin Lander’s last day as a legislative aide before becoming executive director of MANY, his position before becoming State Historian.  While there is some funding in Republican Senate districts as Fort Niagara availed itself of, there is no state-wide mechanism to address the small-scale needs of the history community (see January History News).

2. REDC funding has now begun a new cycle of funding application for the 2017 awards. To some extent, the funding simply includes the types of funding that history organizations directly applied to NYSOPRHP and NYSAC for in the past. In general terms the local history organization has no place in this process. The Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) are interested in economic development and job development. Imagine if the local library had to request funding based on those standards…or the police department!

The game is rigged against the history community. At the recent MANY conference, Ross Levi, Marketing Initiatives for Empire State Development for I Love New York and the public face of the Path through History, spoke in the “Partnerships for Progress: Museums and Tourism” session.  The theme of the session was the ways in which museums and cultural institutions can partner with I Love New York to promote their organizations. I will more to say about this in future posts taking into account the Tourism Advocacy Council, the plenary address at MANY, and related materials.

In the meantime, I wish to report on a question asked from the audience to Ross about the local tourism representation. At the second Women’s Suffrage conference last October 7, (see Women’s Suffrage Centennial), Rick Newman, Seneca County TPA, distributed a list of the Tourism Promotion Agency (TPA) from every county. By law, I Love New York works through these agencies and not directly with local history organizations. Ross suggested that the local history organizations contact the TPA in their county. These TPAs could be an advocate for the history community in the REDC funding process.

I take Ross at his word. While I do not know him well, I think he genuinely believed what he was saying was sound advice with real world application. Here we have a classic example of the disconnect between the Albany-Manhattan bubble and that real world. While I can only comment anecdotally, I have heard multiple incidents from people in the history community about TPAs who don’t give them the time of day. TPAs are interested in wineries, recreational tourism, and sites that bring head to beds. TPAs often are non-government organizations, that is, chambers of commerce, working to do what is best for its members. The members rarely are small non-profit history organizations and are even if they were or became members, they are not likely to carry much weight. There is nothing wrong with Chambers of Commerce actively promoting economic development, but once again it means the history community is left high and dry with nowhere to turn in the funding process.

3. Speaking of nowhere to turn, let’s turn to the great failure itself, the Path through History. It will celebrate its fifth anniversary on August 28, 2017. What does it have to show for itself? I attended the kickoff meeting for the HV region on January 25, 2013 (see A Fork in the Road on the Path through History).  Of the ten regions originally created and recipients of $100,000 grants from the State, how many of those regions are still functioning? If they are functioning, what do they do? If they aren’t functioning, what replaced them? Was there ever any additional funding?

Historic sites are ranked by revenue/budget for tourist purposes. Within the Hudson Valley region where I live, there are five over the $1,000,000 threshold I Love New York uses to calculate the crown jewels for tourism. I don’t know what they are in this region but some possibilities include Historic Hudson Valley (multiple sites including Kykuit), Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt library and homes run by the National Park Service and National Archives, and the Culinary Institute. Approximately 70% of the organizations in the region are under $50,000 in revenue meaning they are below the radar where anyone in the state gives a dam about them.

In my blog after the initial meeting, I recommended that the $100,000 be used to hire people who would create paths. Years later, I recommended that there be funding through the REDC process to hire PATHFINDERS who would create the paths that the TPAs and I Love New York would promote (see Create Pathfinders in Your Region). One region tried and it was rejected – there is no place for cooperation and collaboration no matter what jargon terms are used at conferences and meetings. Once again the history community is left high and dry.

As it turns out there are people at the grassroots level who can and have created paths through history. Generally these are conjunction with a conference. I will be writing about these examples in a future post. Of course, these are created without state support or promotion.

The cost to New York State of the failure to respect the Tonko model is enormous if difficult to quantify. The stakes for the country are even larger. It goes to the heart of what it means to be an American and resident of one’s community. In a recent op-ed piece entitled “America’s Political Disunion” by Robert P. Jones (NYT 5/2/17), he cited British writer G. K. Chesterton’s observation after he had visited the United States that unlike European countries we did not rely on ethnic kinship or cultural character to create a shared identity. People of any race, any ethnicity, any religion can and have been American. Once upon a time in New York, German Palatines, the English, the Dutch, the French both Huguenots and Catholics, Scotch-Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics, were people of different “nations” and types. Today they are all Americans and lumped together as white. And anyone who thinks all the Haudenosaunee nations live together in a two-dimensional kumbaya relationship as one Native American people should think again or think for the first time.

We are a storytelling species. We’ve lost that story feeling. We’ve lost the narrative. Can we tell a shared story of our history at the national level, at the state level, at the community level? Can we tell a narrative that unites us around a common multigenerational project that gives an overarching sense of meaning and purpose to our history? What is our shared narrative in our community? What is our shared narrative in our state? What is our shared narrative as Americans?

For most of the past 400 years, America did have an overarching story. It was the Exodus story.

The Puritans came to this continent and felt they were escaping the bondage of Egypt and building a new Jerusalem….

During the revolution, the founding fathers had that fierce urgency too and drew just as heavily on the Exodus story….

Frederick Douglas embraced the Exodus too….

The successive immigrant groups saw themselves performing an exodus to a promised land…

In the 20th century, Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders drew on the Exodus more than any other story (David Brooks, “The Unifying American Story, NYT 3/21/17).

There is a unity in the story from long ago in lands far far away to boldly going where no one has gone before.  There are stories to be told in every community throughout the land from Ice Age to Global Warming about the people who lived there and the people who do live there. There are stories to be told about how all the different peoples of the Mohawk Valley became part of We the People. There are stories to be told about how all the peoples who arrived at Castle Garden became part of We the People. There are stories to be told about how all the peoples who arrived at Ellis Island became part of We the People. There are stories to be told about how all the people who arrived at JFK Airport became part of We the People.

There are stories to be told if We the People are to survive as a nation, to long endure, to not become Syria, to not become Yugoslavia, to not become Iraq. We don’t even celebrate the birthday of our state or the anniversary of when we constituted ourselves as New Yorkers.

Brooks ends his op-ed piece with a call to leadership for We the People.

What’s needed is an act of imagination, someone who can tell us what our goal is, and offer an ideal vision of what the country and the world should be.

Neither of the candidates provided such a vision in 2016. They didn’t even try. Will anything be different in the 2020 rematch? Maybe Tonko should run for president instead of Cuomo.


Voices from the Grassroots: The Vanishing of Local History

East Main Street District , Westfield, NY

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

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

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

Dr. Peter Feinman,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for “listening” and please advise..

Marybelle Beigh, Westfield Town & Village Historian

Teaching Teachers Local History: NYSED Changes the Rules

Middle School Field Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As is that wasn’t enough:

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

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

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

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

So what does this mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments on Bruce Dearstyne’s Blog

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

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

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

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

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

Note: He formerly worked at the Education Department.

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

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

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

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

Funding Women: The Award Winners

New York State Museum Exhibit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

New York

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

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

New York City

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently there is still time to participate.

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

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

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

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

News from the New York State Historian


Devin Lander, the New York State Historian, is approaching his one-year anniversary in May. One of the changes he made since he attained this full-time historian position involves the creation of a State Historian website announced on September 16, 2016. In his message he wrote:

Find statewide history at your fingertips.

The idea for this website is to provide an online conduit for information exchange between the New York’s historical field and the work of the NYS Museum Office of State History.  The website includes links to various history related resources that provide information on grants, best practices, conferences, etc.  The website also provides information on what the Office of State History is working on related to exhibits, publications, lectures, research, and events.

The website also has a calendar of history-related events taking place related across the state.  This calendar seeks to present simple content (date, time, location, brief description) created by historians for their event and either sent to me for posting.  Types of events can include: historical celebrations, lectures, exhibit openings, fairs, festivals, meetings, reenactments, etc. 

Please email your events for posting to:

The website’s news and articles division also seeks content from the field.  My voice should not be the only voice heard.  My colleagues in the Office of State History will be writing entries describing the work they are doing.  I also hope to feature “guest” authors who will write about the work they are doing related to New York State History.  I am seeking article entries from Local Government Historians, academic historians, Federal Government historians, historians from other State agencies, and historical museums and society staff.  Please send me ideas!  The entries should be brief (1,200-1,500 words) and related to interesting work being done on New York State history.

The website is a positive addition for people interested in the state of New York State history but I confess I had not paid it much attention since its inaugural. It was there if you looked for it but how did you know if there was anything new to look at? Perhaps if Devin sent notifications of changes to John Warren, a former teacher of his and editor of New York State History Blog, it would help disseminate the information to a broader audience.

I was reintroduced to the website when I conducted a search for a canal barge program to be done by Corning Glass (subject of a future post). At that point, I noticed his admittedly belated New Year posting dated February 14. It contained information about the newly established History Advisory Group that was the subject of a recent post by me on March 13. My source for the post was public information from press releases but it turns out there was additional information from Devin’s post which deserves attention.

He wrote:

On December 6th, 2016, the NYS Museum hosted a gathering of the newly formed New York State History Advisory Group.  This Advisory Group was brought together at my request to provide guidance and suggestions to me related to the field of history in New York, including opportunities and challenges.  The group is purely advisory and volunteer in nature and includes representatives from various perspectives including local government historians, state agencies, the National Park Service, heritage areas, academia, historic preservation, and history museums.  The intent is for the group to meet twice a year and for the members to serve two-year terms to ensure a rotating diversity of viewpoints and perspectives.  The mission of the Advisory Group is to advise the State Historian on ways to strengthen the capacity of New York’s historical programs and history community to carry out the preservation, management, interpretation, teaching, learning, research, publication, study and use of New York’s state and local history and to elevate history as a field of endeavor at the national, state and local level.

After listing the members, Devin proceeded to reveal some of what the attendees actually discussed when they met, information not in the press notices I read.

At the December 6th meeting, there were several points of interest that were discussed by the group.  One topic discussed was updating the document “Duties and Functions of New York State’s Local Government Historians,” which is being amended and is now posted on the website.  It is a brief document that serves as a de facto “job description” for local government historians.  It can act as a guiding document for local government historians as the Association of Public Historians of NYS (APHNYS) works to create a comprehensive manual.

Another topic that generated much discussion was the possibility of changing NYS History month from November to a different, more accessible, month.  November tends to be a problematic month because so many historic sites that might host History Month programming and events close after Columbus Day.  The Advisory Group discussed what possible months may be better and suggestions included October (which is already Archives Month) and possibly April (which is the month when New York’s first Constitution was ratified).  April might run into some of the same issues as November with many sites not opening for their season until May.  To change History Month from November to another month requires an amendment to the existing law which would require an act of the Legislature.  Further input from the field is welcomed going forward.

The duties and functions of the municipal historian is a topic which has been discussed here on several occasions (for example, see, County Clerks/County Historians: A Match Made in Albany?  One of my favorite sessions at the annual conference of the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS) is the new historian session. Unfortunately the tale of woe remains constant: no training, and no guidance as people are thrown into the job. The lack of clearly defined specified responsibilities makes it easy for county executives, mayors, and town supervisors to dismiss, disregard, and diminish the position. A SUNY grad student composed guidelines in 1997. They need to be updated to take into account the new technologies. I have suggested a week-long training session for county historians in Albany with the various related state agencies. Based on the principle of “start at the very beginning, a very good place to start” and take it one step at a time, defining the position would be a major step forward in improving the status of the position throughout the state. Creating these guidelines and procedures along with the requisite training should be a top priority.

As for State History Month, a relevant question is “what are we trying to achieve with this month or designation?” We have a black history month and a women’s history month. What are the goals of these months and what needs to be done to achieve those goals? Does anyone think that without State History Month, Path through History weekends, and the other officially-designated time periods there would be no talks, tours, walks, events, or anniversaries? In fact many talks, tours, walks, events, and anniversaries occur at otherwise ordinary times that do not fall within the rubric of being part of an officially-designated time period. In baseball there is WAR or “wins over replacement.” It means what does someone contribute above over not being there. For example, George Bailey added a lot to the fabric of life in Bedford Hills by being present; subtract him and it’s a big loss to the community. How much of these specially-designated time periods are merely padding a resume for show without really adding value? Let’s use the issue of State History Month to seriously think about what we want to accomplish by highlighting a specific time interval and what are the ways to accomplish it.

Wouldn’t the annual conference of the Museum Association of New York (MANY) just held in Saratoga Springs have been an ideal venue to reach out to the history community to discuss this and other issues? If there could be separate discussion sessions for executive directors, collections and exhibit design staff, on programs, for students, and fundraising, why couldn’t there be a session with the State Historian? The same for the annual conferences of APHNYS and GHHN.

Just as I was preparing to write this blog, another change was introduced into the mix. Devin sent out an email about a listserv he has created:

Office of State History Newsletter


You are receiving this email from the Office of State History Listserv because of your interest or work within the field of New York State History. This listserv has been created by the New York State Historian as a way to communicate with the field regarding important events, news, or other information that will be made available on the Office of State History website at:

The listserv will only be used to direct your attention to updates to the website. If you are not interested in receiving these updates through the listserv, you may unsubscribe at any time.

If you would like to have public historical events or historical news items posted on the website, or if you have an idea for a more in depth historical posting, please contact

I am not sure exactly how one subscribes to the list if one is not already on it. Every municipal historian at the village, town, city, and county level should be a subscriber. Of course, that would necessitate a database of all such individuals. APHNYS strives to maintain such a file but it is a daunting challenge for a volunteer organization. One regulatory change I would support is for all county executives to annual certify the names and contact information of the historians for each of the municipalities in the county…starting with the county historian position.

In addition, I think all statewide organizations both private and public should include New York History Blog in the distribution so news isn’t simply restricted to one’s members. Certainly every county historian should do so as well…but then not every county has a county historian and even those that do don’t necessarily send out monthly or even quarterly messages to the history community of the county on what is going on. Now we are back at the beginning of the process whereby creating the guidelines for what municipal historians are supposed to do is the first step. Imagine if full-time Orange County historian Johanna Yuan’s monthly newsletter was available as a template for all counties to use simply by plugging in their photos, logo, and information so everyone wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Who really knows what is going on out there among the county historians, a subject for a forthcoming post.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Devin for being a dedicated reader of my posts and for the steps he has taken on behalf of New York State history so far, undoubtedly with more to come.

Park/History Advocacy Day: Who Advocates for History?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the history community equivalent to the NYSOPRHP commissions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would the history community ask of NYSOPRHP?

What would the history community ask of I LoveNY?

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

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

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

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


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

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

This could be a topic for one of your posts.

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

NYSHA Defunct: New York State Historical Association Is No More

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

So what should be done? Here are my asks.

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

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

Trump versus Star Trek: The Battle is Engaged

We the People Live

Once again Star Trek has proven itself as an accurate predictor of our present. Nearly 50 years ago an episode of the original Star Trek series predicted the meltdown we just witnessed in the abortive effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. By perhaps no coincidence whatsoever, the very day that the effort went down in flames the episode was shown on TV. May the Force be with us.

Last August, before the presidential election, I wrote a post Empire State Presidential Elections (1944-2016): A Day in Infamy. The post reviewed the State of New York’s history and the presidency. New Yorkers had become president. New Yorkers had run for president and lost. New Yorkers had run for a party nomination and lost. And New Yorkers had dithered over whether or not to run. All in all, from the time New York became the Empire State with the completion of the Erie Canal into the 20th century, New York has played a prominent role in the story of the American presidency.

Typically these New Yorkers were governors. Typically the people who took the leap into national politics at the highest level had honed their skills and made a name for themselves through being the governor of the Empire State. They had executive political experience. They had participated in the making of the sausage. They had engaged in the horse trading. So when they made the leap to the next level they were ready or as ready as one could be without having been a successful general. The epitome of this preparation occurred in the 1944 election when the candidates of both major parties had New York State gubernatorial experience.

The tradition died in 2016. Once again there were two New Yorkers running for national office. Since the loser of the race is not the issue here, I will refrain from any comments about her. As for the winning candidate, here is what I wrote in August months before his victory:

Our two Empire State presidential candidates are not identical. Since everything you need to know you can learn from Star Trek, it is appropriate to turn there for insight. In the episode, The Children Shall Lead, the children on an outpost are rendered orphans but display no trauma over the horror of losing their parents. The cause is a beast called “Angel” by them and named Gorgan. The richly costumed sleekly haired human looking monster is skilled in exploiting their pain to service his gain. He dominates them and in the ways of science fiction takes control of the Starship Enterprise.

Not to worry. Kirk’s dedication to the spirit of Star Trek prevails. His hero and role model is, after all, Abraham Lincoln. He takes back his ship. He takes back his crew. He returns the Enterprise to its rightful path. He defeats the monstrosity that has temporarily commandeered them. In the final showdown between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, Kirk calls on the deceived children to see the ugliness of the monster who led them astray. He tells them:

Without you children he’s nothing.
The evil remains within him.
Look how ugly he really is.
Look at him and don=t be afraid.

With each phrase, the children see more and more of the truth and the image of the monster becomes uglier and uglier. In the end, Gorgan is revealed as the grotesque monster he always was underneath his superficial exterior. As befitting his debased nature, when exposed for the disgusting ugly incarnation of evil that he is, his parting words to his former admirers who now spurn him are:

Death to you all!
Death to you all!
Death to you all!

Perhaps the first person on the international scene to see the truth of our President was the Russian leader. It is easy to understand why our immature child President would want Macho-Macho Man to be his BFF but how long could he deceive the Russian strongman? During the presidential election, a question about the nuclear triad had stumped the future President. In a phone call between Macho-Macho Man and the immature child president, the Russian raised the issue of START, he wanted to negotiate the terms for a possible extension of the strategic arms treaty. Naturally, he was unable to do so since he was conversing with a person as ignorant then as he had been earlier. Instead Macho-Macho Man witnessed a blithering idiot babble about how America is a loser in all treaties. This was the moment of truth. This was the moment of revelation. This was the moment of eyes being opened. Our immature child President may still be of use to Macho-Macho Man, but not as an adult leader.

For Republicans in Congress, the moment of truth occurred during the horse-trading in the vain effort to resuscitate the doomed Trumpcare bill. This was a time of governing not campaigning. All the slogans from the professional political wrestling arena, all the hissy-fit tweets in the wee hours of the morning, all the simpleminded solutions were no longer sufficient. What worked on the campaign trail where one speaks in “poetry” proved useless when the need arose to govern in “prose.” The Republican representatives observed first-hand, up close and personal that the immature child president had nothing to offer. He had no vision. He had no ideas. He had no skill in negotiating. He had no ability to make a deal. He was useless. Sad.

This experience calls to mind the analysis of Jonathan Rauch in an article entitled “Amateur Hour” (The Atlantic, November 2015), from a year before the election. He wrote that Americans did not want as president “people who had zero elective experience.” He opined that a real break with the existing pattern would be the election of someone with no political experience at all. He noted Obama’s very limited political experience and that of the candidates only Ted Cruz could “match Obama’s exalted standard of unpreparedness.” Rauch expected amateurs to self-destruct.

That being said, Rauch recognized that this time around, the situation was different. He wrote:

That said, there has never been a tantrum quite like the one that ensued when a pompadoured, potty-mouthed billionaire shot to the top of Republican polls without being a Republican in any meaningful sense, and without possessing political experience in any sense at all, and without saying anything coherent or even intelligible, and without having any chance of winning the presidency.

With hindsight, we can easily observe the shortcoming of his analysis. Rauch was exactly right in his description of our immature child President and exactly wrong about what Americans wanted, especially given the shortcomings of his second-tier opponent foolishly extolled as the best prepared candidate ever. The American people did not yet see the truth.

Rauch continued with a ringing declaration that “the Donald is not, in fact, going to be president of the United States.” I recall reading one smugly silly Electoral College forecast just before the election where the learned voice-of-reason columnist sought to calm concerned people by confidently asserting there would be another Democratic victory comparable to the two triumphs of Obama. The blue states were a lock, many of the battleground states would be won, and some red states might even flip blue. The well-educated can be ignoramuses too. I confess that I too anticipated a meltdown which has yet to occur.

Rauch concluded his article with the claim that:

amateurism is a much better qualification for The Apprentice than for high political office. Being [a] fresh [candidate] is one thing. Half-baked is another.

Rauch’s prognostications for the election proved false but his depiction of our immature child president is spot on. In another article in the same issue of The Atlantic, Adam Goodheart writing about the Salem Witch Trials, offered this unexpectedly sage insight into the presidency today:

Almost anyone who has ever been 11 years old still knows how it feels to dwell in a world where…whole empires of fantasy are built amid the geography of the everyday…and where the ultimate prize is getting a crowded roomful of adults to pay attention. A preteen has little sense of the consequences for herself, much less for another person, let alone an entire village or province. What she does have, though, is an acute appreciation of the struggle for power―and, quite often, a well-honed skill at manipulating those who hold authority.

When our immature child president was an unruly disruptive 13-year old class smart-aleck-dumb-aleck, he was sent to military school in the vain hope that he would grow up. We live with the consequence of that failure. He remains skilled in manipulating We the People who hold authority. Not a majority of We the People, not a plurality of We the People, not even as many as Mitt Romney won after running the worst presidential campaign ever (how would he even know that?), but enough in the right places to win.

The question for the American people is at what point will We the People learn what Macho-Macho Man and the Republication representatives have seen for ourselves? At what point will the American people realize that Trumpcare targeted us for Worsecare? At what point will the American people realize that the Trump budget targets us for God-Awful Government? At what point will the American people realize that we have been flimflammed, conned, hustled, and slicked by an immature child whose dual goals are to be the center of attention and make rich people richer? Has the moment of seeing the ugliness of the Gorgan finally arrived? Probably not; after all, there is no Kirk to offer an alternative and no Lincoln either.


Image from

The New “New York State History Advisory Group”

AP  Ben Gorenstein credit  posted by News Channel 13

On June 2, 2016, I wrote “The New York State Historian Position: Creating the New York State History Advisory Coalition.” In my post, I noted the vacancy in the position for the Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Cultural Education. The Office of Cultural Education includes the New York State Archives, the New York State Library, and the New York State Museum which includes the New York State Historian. The position is still vacant. Normally, I do not send my posts to the New York State Regents, the entity overseeing the New York State Education Department which includes all these facilities. I did that time and received a reply from Roger Tilles of Long Island, the chair of the Regent subcommittee for the Office of Cultural Education. I will send the Regents this post as well.

In that post, I also referred to a letter written to Governor Cuomo by Ken Jackson, the founder and president of the New York Academy of History (NYAH). At the previous annual meeting of the Greater Hudson Heritage Network (GHHN) in October, 2015, Ken, Lisa Keller, a colleague at NYAH, and I had lunch and discussed the Path through History project. Ken had been on the now-disbanded history advisory of that project. Its disappearance was the subject of the post  “RIP The Path Through History Taskforce” a few weeks earlier on September 29, 2015.

Also as reported, during the summer of angst, another set of letter had been written by Judy Wellman and Carol Kammen, well-known scholars and advocates for state and local history, the Underground Railroad, and Women’s History Trail. Their open letters to the powers that be sought to raise issues of pressing concern for the history community. Their efforts may be considered advocacy on behalf of that normally voiceless community.

One suggestion made was the creation of New York State History Advisory Board. For example, there is a Tourism Advisory Council created by the Governor with state and non-state members. As far as I can tell, I am the only member of the public, meaning someone not on the agenda or in the tourist business, who has attended any of those meetings. The point here is there is no inherent reason why the Regents couldn’t create an official history advisory group it wanted to.

As to the members of such an advisory group, the NYAH has its own advisory board consisting of:

*Kenneth T. Jackson (Committee Chair), Barzun Professor of History, Columbia University
Carol Berkin, Distinguished Professor of History Emerita, Baruch College
Laurence Hauptman, SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History
*Lisa Keller, Professor of History, Purchase College SUNY
Susan Lewis, Associate Professor, Deputy Chair and Graduate Advisor, Department of History, SUNY New Paltz
Dr. Dennis J. Maika, New Netherland Institute.

Expanding on that list of concerned historians, the open letter of Carol and Judy was also sent to state officials:

*Rose Harvey, Commissioner, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
*Thomas J. Ruller, Archivist, New York State Archives
*Gavin Landry, Director, I Love New York

and to non-state government people:

*Amie Alden, Executive Chair, Government Appointed Historians of Western New York [and Livingston County Historian]
*Paul D’Ambrosio, President and CEO, New York State Historical Association
*Jay DeLorenzo, Executive Director, Preservation League of New York State
Carol Faulkner, President, Upstate New York Women’s History Group
Peter Feinman, Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education (blogger)
Lynn (Spike) Herzing, Director, New York Cultural and Heritage Tourism Network [and member Tourism Advisory Council]
*Carol Kammen, Historian, Tompkins County [and Fellow, New York Academy of History]
*Lisa Keller, New York Academy of History
Devin Lander, Executive Director, Museum Association of New York [now Erika Sanger]
*Sara Ogger, New York Humanities Council (subsequently renamed Humanities New York)
*Gerry Smith, President, Association of Public Historians, New York State
John Warren, New York History Blog
*Judith Wellman Director, Historical New York Research Associates [and Fellow, New York Academy of History]

I suggested in my post some additional individuals in the private sector with a statewide perspective to be considered for an advisory board:

Robert E. Bullock, The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government
*Bruce Dearstyne, former archivist and author/blogger/columnist
John McEneny, former municipal historian and state legislator
Bob Weible, former state historian

and representatives from the New York State Archaeological Association/New York Archaeological Council and New York State Council of Social Studies among others.

The names with the * mean those people or a deputy are now on the new New York State History Advisory Group.

At the conclusion of my post last June, I identified seven agenda items for discussion by the history advisory committee. I then asked: “Who is willing to host the first meeting? Who would attend?”

I did receive a reply from an upstate college willing to host such a meeting in August. Between 15-20 people agreed to attend including some on the list above. Others wanted to but were unavailable that day. We were very eager to have Devin participate as the new state historian. One advantage this proposed group had was since it was not part of the state government it could directly contact any government official. Once Devin declared his intention to form an advisory group through his position as State Historian, the meeting fell through and was not held.

Now we have an advisory group. As reported in New York History Blog:

The New York State Museum has announced the creation of the New York State History Advisory Group. The group is expected to meet, according to an announcement sent to the press, “periodically to advise the New York State Historian on issues related to the history field in New York State, including suggestions pertaining to local and municipal historians, academic history, historic preservation, and heritage tourism.” The Advisory Group’s suggestions and recommendations are “purely advisory in nature and are nonbinding” the announcement said.

The members of the advisory group are listed below by sector.


*Bruce Dearstyne, PhD Author and Historian Adjunct Professor, University of Maryland *Kenneth T. Jackson: PhD Jacques Barzun Professor of History & Social Science, Columbia University; Fellow, New York Academy of History
*Lisa Keller, PhD Professor of History, SUNY Purchase; Fellow, New York Academy of History
Monica Mercado, PhD Assistant Professor, Colgate University
Ivan D. Steen, PhD Director, Center for Applied Historical Research; SUNY Albany
*Judith Wellman, PhD Professor Emerita, SUNY Oswego; Director, Historical New York Research Associates; Fellow, New York Academy of History
Craig Steven Wilder, PhD Professor of American History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Fellow, New York Academy of History

For the non * people, I do not know Monica Mercado. Ivan Steen has been actively involved in the teaching of public history and attends various state conferences which I also attend. Former Jefferson County Historian Laura Lynne Scharer wrote a 275-page municipal historian handbook entitled “What Am I Supposed to Do?” (published in 1997) drawing on her work as one of his graduate students. Certainly it is time for an update.

I briefly met Wilder at the annual conference of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) last summer in New Haven. He spoke in a session on “Universities and the Legacy of Slavery.”  Although he teaches at MIT and therefore might not seem appropriate for a New York State History Advisory Group he is from Brooklyn and attended Columbia where his teacher was Ken Jackson. He is a member of Ken’s NYAH as are several of the advisory group members.


*Amie Alden, Executive Chair, Government Appointed Historians of Western New York [and Livingston County Historian] was the subject of a post on July 18, 2012
* Carol Kammen Tompkins County Historian; Fellow, New York Academy of History
*Gerry Smith, now the former President, Association of Public Historians, New York State [and still Broome County Historian and Binghamton City Historian]

Museums and Historical Societies

Melissa Brown Executive Director, The Buffalo History Museum
Marci Reaven, PhD Vice-President for History Exhibitions, New-York Historical Society; Fellow, New York Academy of History

I don’t know either of them although I do know people at the N-YHS. The Buffalo to New York combination is geographically inclusive. What’s missing is the voice for the smaller historical societies and museums such as from the Executive Director of MANY, Devin’s former job.


John Haworth Senior Executive, National Museum of the American Indian-New York City
Bob Radliff, Executive Director, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor
Amy Bracewell, Superintendent, Saratoga National Historical Park

The national representatives are a diverse group. John is part of the Smithsonian, in New York, and once participated in a social studies conference at my request. I was just at his site a few days ago for a program. My Saratoga Teacherhostels/Historyhostels were before Amy was there and she does get my posts. Bob is a dedicated reader of my posts and with the bicentennial of the Erie Canal coming up, this is the ideal time for him to be on the committee. I have been in contact with some canal people about a Wedding of the Waters re-enactment which I intend to write about in the future when/if the details are fleshed out.

I maintain an NPS email distribution list of 120 people with a response rate averaging 43%


*Jay Di Lorenzo, President, Preservation League of New York State
Alexandra Parsons Wolfe, Executive Director, Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities

I do not know these people and neither one reads my posts. I maintain a preservation email distribution list of 99 people throughout the state with a response rate averaging 22%.


* NYSOPRHP  John Bonafide, Historic Preservation Office, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation,
and Historic Preservation
* I Love NY   Ross Levi, Vice President of Marketing Initiatives, Empire State Development/NYS Division of Tourism
* NYS Archives James Folts, PhD Head of Researcher Services, New York State Archives; Fellow, New York Academy of History
Stefan Belinksi Community Historian The People of the Colonial Albany Live Here Website; Fellow, New York Academy of History [formerly New York State Museum]

Three of these people are members of representatives of their departments. One notes the absence of the NYS Library.

I maintain a tourism distribution list of 277 people including I LoveNY, the county TPAs, and various regional and private tour groups and operators with a response rate averaging 26%.

I maintain an NYSOPRHP and NYSED email list of 246 people with a response rate averaging 26%.

Interestingly, the heads of these departments do read my posts.


Eva M. Doyle Retired Teacher, Historian and Columnist

* Sara Ogger, PhD Executive Director, Humanities New York

I have attended various meetings of HumanitiesNY including in their Manhattan office, received funding from them, and have a good relationship with them.

Overall, the advisory group represents a diverse range of sectors within the history community including geographically. Some of the responses to New York History Blog expressed concern about the lack of representation from the North Country and the Mohawk Valley (save for the Erie Canal). One could also add the Hudson Valley. There are limits as to how many people an advisory group can have before it becomes unwieldly. It was a challenge to get people together to host the first meeting. Since it will be meeting only “periodically,” suggesting less frequently than monthly or quarterly and more often than annually, one can see the challenges ahead for this group even if it was an official one with actual responsibilities, duties, and funding.

I hope that there will be public dissemination of the results of the meetings. I hope that there will be statewide grassroots meetings so the history community has an opportunity to express concerns that will be communicated to Devin. Naturally I hope that the advisory group will be officially recognized by the Regents/Education Department. I pledge to do my share in spreading the word to the sectors identified above as well as to the thousands of people in the history community on my distribution list.

Note: Since this post was written Marck Schaming, Director of the New York State Museum, has been named the Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Cultural Education.

History Anniversary Funding

Lockport Erie Canal Locks

There is always an anniversary somewhere. For the state, three come to mind now: the Women’s Suffrage Centennial, World War I Centennial, and the Erie Canal Bicentennial. State funding for anniversaries has been problematic over the years to be polite about it. Each time has been an exercise in reinventing the wheel, seeking out legislative support, lobbying for a pittance, and constantly laboring to scrounge up funds for a threadbare program.

The REDC funding process does not address this problem. There is no history bucket for applicants. No anniversary bucket. The logical source for such funding would be through the State Historian’s Office, a position which has been degraded in recent years and is now making a bit of comeback. A serious problem is that the state historian along with the museum, archives, and library, are all under the jurisdiction of the Board of Regents and therefore not directly under the control of the Governor. The REDC funding buckets are. Could the Governor extend the REDC funding to include them? Could the Regents establish their own funding mechanism to compensate for this shortcoming? Even if they could, who is going to ask them?

In the meantime, the New York Canal System operates independently and does provide funding through the REDC applications. In this post, I examine how it distributes its funds and comment on the lessons to be learned through this anomalous source of history anniversary funding by the State.

Canalway Matching Grant Program (Canals) – up to $1,000,000

The Canalway Grants Program is a competitive matching grant program available to eligible municipalities and 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations along the New York State Canal System. Funding is for capital projects that enhance economic and community development along the canal corridor and are consistent with the goals of the Regional Economic Development Council Plans.

Notice that the description specifically identifies capital projects as being within its purview. As will be seen, awards also can be for marketing and/or developing history-related programs. Below are all of the awards granted by the New York State Canal System in county order.


City of Cohoes Cohoes Visitor Center
This project will create an engaging Canal exhibit for the Cohoes Visitor’s Center in time for the Erie Canal bicentennial celebration and will feature a model lock and other model machines. The project is part of a larger revitalization effort to support tourism in Cohoes.
Amount: $62,000

This award easily could be part of Marketing NY. One would think all visitor center funding for history exhibits could be done through I LoveNY or through the State Historian.

Erie Canalway Heritage Fund Inc.
Matton Shipyard Structural Preservation Initiative
This project will stabilize three original buildings at the Matton Shipyard in Cohoes at the junction of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers.
Amount: $148,000 in addition to $182,936 from Marketing New York for an Erie Canal Waterway Trail

In this instance, the applicant was able to leverage funding from two sources, one a capital improvement and the other a tourist award. But as Cohoes shows, the waterway trail could have been funded through New York State Canal System.  Here is an example of where knowing how the system works pays off.


Canal Society of New York State
Erie Canal Bicentennial Exhibition Collaboration
This grant will fund a joint collaboration with the NYS Canal Society and the Erie Canal Museum to do state-wide outreach for the Erie Canal bicentennial through the design and fabrication format that will be utilized throughout the eight years of the bicentennial.
Amount: $39,000

Clearly this award is an anniversary one. One may anticipate eight years of such awards to the applicant. The issue is not the legitimacy of the award but the structure through which history anniversary awards are awarded. Undoubtedly, Women’s Suffrage Centennial which will extend through 2020 would love to have such a secure source of funding.


Lockport Locks Heritage District Corporation
Lock Tender Tribute
This grant will fund updates and improvements to the Erie Canal Museum, located at the base of the Flight of Five locks.
Amount: $85,000

Here we see a new wrinkle in the funding process: capital improvement awards based on the historical sector. Imagine a scenario where American Revolution sites applied for funding to one source while immigration museums and municipal historical societies applied to two additional funders. Again, the issues not the merit of any individual application but the dysfunctional structure without a clear source for history organizations.


Rome Area Chamber of Commerce
Rome Canal Bicentennial Program
This grant will fund a series of art and culture events to promote the Erie Canal bicentennial in the City of Rome.
Amount: $97,000

The awards of the New York State Council on the Arts but one may observe the overlapping jurisdictions.


Madison County Signage Plan for the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park
This project will develop and install wayfinding signage within the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park, which spans three counties (Onondaga, Madison, and Oneida) and contains the longest and one of the only remaining portions of the original Erie Canal system.
Amount: $30,000


City of Schenectady
Mohawk Harbor Visitor Center and Large Vessel Dockage
This project will include the construction of a walking trail, visitor’s center with public restrooms and approximately 75 feet of large vessel dockage space.
Amount: $150,000


National Womens Hall of Fame
Center for Great Women
This project is phase three of a project that will transform the empty Seneca Knitting Mill into the Center for Great Women – the headquarters of the National Woman’s Hall of Fame. Work will include demolition, construction, interior build-out and site work of the first floor of the Mill, creating 4,200 square feet of habitable space for exhibits.
Amount: $125,000 in addition to the $250,000 from Marketing New York

Obviously this award is a bit of a surprise. Who would expect a grant to renovate a knitting mill into a woman’s hall of fame in the canals category?  And this ignores the additional two grants for another $800,000 from two other funding sources. The four awards refer to “rehabilitation,” “demolition,” “transform” and 4200 square feet of exhibit space. Again the merit of the award is not the issue. Since none of the four awards even mention suffrage, I will address the suffrage awards regardless of funding source in another post.


Corning Museum of Glass
New York Waterways GlassBarge
This grant will fund the Corning Museum of Glass’ project to install a mobile glass blowing studio on a Canal barge to provide demonstrations to the general public at waterfront locations along New York’s
Amount: $144,000 in addition to $57,830 from Marketing New York


Wayne County
Canal Trail Lock 26 Pedestrian Bridge redecking
This grant will provide funding for materials and installation of a former railroad bridge in Wayne County in order to remove the biggest off-road obstacle to extending the Erie Canalway Trail to connect with Seneca and Cayuga Counties.
Amount: $120,000

As one surveys the awards in this category, one observes the lack of clarification in the scope of each funding agent. It would be very easy to move awards from one category into another one. In a sense that is what happens as applicants from around the state and in different regions seek to identify the most likely source for approval of their request. Once again, the merits of individual applications are not the issue. Imagine if all the history-related awards were grouped together and under a single source. Now imagine a request for that exact sum of money which has been awarded through scattered funding sources was now under the label of history funding. The outcry would be ferocious. Instead we make do a procrustean bed funding process.


I picked the etching because I preferred its historical look to a photograph of the canal today. The drawing comes from  ClipArt ETC.  The source is Benson John Lossing, ed. Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History (vol. 3) (New York, NY: Harper and Brothers, 1912). It looks like it is a drawing of the locks at Lockport. For a photograph, see Low Bridge Productions.

Should Andrew Jackson Have Banned Catholics?

Field of Dreams in the City on a Hill

For centuries the City on a Hill has been buffeted by the tides of religious strife threatening to undo the realm that the eyes of the world are upon. We all remember the dread experienced by the Puritans when confronted by the quaking Quakers. These fearsome advocates of all that is unholy challenged the Visible Saints to stand guard to protect what God had rendered. And what about the Baptists, the Methodists, and Lord only knows what other religious monstrosity would invade our defenseless shores? It’s a wonder the City on a Hill even survived the religious onslaught to come.

Worst of all were the Catholics. Wave after wave of Catholics washed up to undo the work of the Elect of God. The demise of the America can be traced to the failure of Andrew Jackson to stop the encroachment of Catholics when he had the chance. Now we all pay the price for his ineptitude starting right here in New York.

Samuel F. B. Morse was upset, very upset. The Hudson Valley was being overrun by the wrong kind of people. Everything he hoped to accomplish was being threatened by the new immigrants who were overwhelming the natives (who now included Dutch and Germans as well as English) of good stock. Here is how the painter and future inventor of the telegraph described the situation in Foreign Conspiracy against the Liberties of the United States (1835) based on a series of articles he had written for the New York Observer:

Foreign immigrants are flocking to our shores in increased numbers, two thirds at least are Roman Catholics, and of the most ignorant classes, and thus pauperism and crime are alarmingly increased. . . . The great body of emigrants to this country are the hard-working, mentally neglected poor of Catholic countries in Europe, who have left a land where they were enslaved, for one of freedom. . . .They are not fitted to act with the judgment in the political affairs of their new country, like native citizens, educated from their infancy in the principles and habits of our institutions. Most of them are too ignorant to act at all for themselves, and expect to be guided wholly by others [the priests].

Morse’s ire against a supposed great papal conspiracy was, if not a majority opinion at the time, very popular. And we recognize the idiom he used as well:

If Popery is tolerant, let us see Italy, Austria, and Spain open their doors to the teachers of the Protestant faith. The conspirators against our liberties . . . are now organized in every part of the country; they are all subordinates, standing in regular steps of slave and master . . . the great master-slave Metternich, who commands and obeys his illustrious Master, the Emperor [of Austria-Hungary]. . . . It is a war, and all true patriots must wake to the cry of danger. They must up and gird themselves for battle. It is no false alarm. Our liberties are in danger. The Philistines are upon us.

Morse’s song is still sung today. His words have been updated to our words: “If Popery is tolerant (today we would say “If Islam is a religion of peace”), let us see Italy, Austria, and Spain (today we would say “Syria, Iran, and Libya and four others”), open their doors to the teachers of the Protestant faith (today we would say “if they want to build a mosque”).

Morse was not finished: “Where Popery has put darkness, we must put light. Where Popery has planted its crosses, its colleges, its churches, its chapels, its nunneries, Protestant patriotism must put side by side college for college, seminary for seminary, church for church.” Morse called for naturalization laws to prevent the lifeboat of the world from capsizing: “Our naturalization laws were never intended to convert this land into the almshouse of Europe.” Morse didn’t want Europe’s tired, its poor and its enslaved masses incapable of being free-he didn’t want the Catholics and he certainly didn’t want the Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Jews of Eastern and Central Europe whose odyssey to American shores had yet to begin in earnest in the mid-1830s. Don’t send your wretched refuse to me. Instead, he wrote that,

we must have the [naturalization] law so amended that no FOREIGNER WHO MAY COME INTO THIS COUNTRY, AFTER THE PASSAGE OF THE NEW LAW, SHALL EVER BE ALLOWED EXERCISE THE ELECTIVE FRANCHISE. This alone meets evil in its fullest extent.

At the time Morse and others were writing such things there was a great concern in the land that the Mississippi Valley, not yet the heartland, and America in general were under siege. The papal minions were fanning out across the country spreading their pagan ways among God-fearing Protestants and they had to be stopped. America had to be saved from the clutches of this global religious conspiracy of people not capable of freedom and liberty and slaves to their overseas master.”

“War must be fought” is Morse’s title for chapter 9.

As already noted, Morse by no means was alone in his views about the threat to America. The Know-Nothing Party arose in large part out of anti-Catholic bigotry, and it had non-trivial support in its day. But it also had its detractors, and against these Morse also took aim. Writing in 1835, Morse characterized the media for saying his chosen war was “the fruits of an intolerant, bigoted, fanatical spirit, and the revival of ancient prejudices,” but he would have none of it: “We have fallen on strange times, indeed, when subjects of the deepest political importance to the country may not be mooted in the political journals of the day without meeting the indiscriminating hostility and denunciations of such journals.”

In the decades to follow, another wave of Catholics swept across America irrevocably changing the realm until the field of dreams was no more and all was nightmare. Consider these reports from Iowa.

The report of one of the Methodist Upper Iowa districts at the 1883 Conference contained the following concern about events in its district:

Upon the river borders Catholicism and German rationalism press upon us.  Rum and Rome and Rationalism practically coalesce while Protestantism, pressed into the minority, instinctively “rises and retires.”

In the Upper Conference, as Methodist districts were known, the battle against foreign elements resumed with gusto in 1885.  The Conference resolved to support the Evangelical Protestant Association in its efforts to evangelize the foreign population amidst the large cities of the country:

Whereas, the growth of Romanism and its efforts to obtain power, demand that active exertions be made to preserve our institutions from its insidious attacks; and

Whereas, the most successful method of awakening the power of Romanism is the conversion of its followers …

 Resolved 1st.  That we cordially endorse this evangelistic agency and pray that it may become more and more efficient in reaching the foreign Romanish population in our land.

The missionary activity stressed by the Upper Iowa Conference in 1887 was domestic not foreign in scope.

Throughout a wide area on either side of the Mississippi river, a foreign immigration has been steadily driving out our native population and has so weakened our Churches as to make it impossible in some cases and difficult in many, to maintain our existence.

The threat of Romanism and infidelity loomed large on the Midwestern plains.

According to the 1890 census, Iowa was divided between 40% pietist (Protestant) and 29% liturgical (Catholic) with 31% nonmembers, a clearcut sign that the battle waged to protect America was being lost.

The battle against Catholicism at the local level in the Upper Iowa Conference region can be tracked in the annual report of the districts.  For example, in 1892, Decorah reported an heroic effort against the depletion of its eastern borders: it was fighting the good fight to hold the territory for Protestant Christianity.  Dubuque Methodists declared than even in the midst of a Roman Catholic population, it was not dead.  This conflict was no idle matter to the people who had settled the prairies only a few decades before only now to find themselves fighting for their cultural and religious life in the land they regarded as home.

The 1899 Conference report from the Davenport district asks the question:

Am I in the United States of America, or Scandinavia, or the Emerald Isle, or Germany?

Now these alien immigrants from Scandinavia and Germany among elsewhere continued to overrun the land threatening the Methodist and therefore American way of life.

The Decorah district in 1902 reported a disturbing trend in the once-Methodist lands:

the stranger has got possession of the gates, and the native American Methodist farmer seems, and feels himself to be, a stranger in the new surroundings.  Germans, Scandinavians, Bohemians and Irish are buying the farms all the more easily, because the American early settlers have reached years when they wish the rest they have earned and the advantages of town life and have the means to gratify the desire.  The new occupants bring with them Romanism, Lutheranism, or hatred of all churches, and whatever the form it is in the antagonism to Methodism.  Notwithstanding, we are still optimistic, because we believe in God, the gospel go-ahead-itiveness, which last is a synonym for Methodism.

The Pope had designs on Iowa as Decorah reported.

The principal embarrassment to our work, as all well know, is the outgoing of our original New England and Middle States’ people and the incoming, principally of people from the countries of Europe and alien to our Methodistic type of Evangelical religion.  Those people who are Protestant are of the state-church type of Lutheran sacramentarians.  The major part of them are however, papists.  Rome evidently has designs on fair Iowa.

First the City on the Hill had been swept away by the incoming flood of Irish Catholics. Then the field of dreams had been plowed under due to the incoming flood of German Catholics. How much more indignity could the American people endure?

Little did they know that Italian Catholics were about to arrive. “Why have you come, Joe DiMaggio?” sang the anthem of the beleaguered Americans. Those Italian Catholics will never sing to “My Way.” They will only sing to their way. Can anyone even imagine at Yankee Stadium, the great stadium to America’s national pastime at the city at the center of the universe, that Italian Catholics could sing the praises of New York New York?

Woe is us. Even as I write these words the Irish American Heritage Museum is hosting a Governor Martin Glynn Symposium on February 18 in honor of New York’s 40th Governor and its first Irish American Roman Catholic Governor. What’s next? A Catholic President? Catholics on the Supreme Court? Papal Law becoming the law of the land, our Constitution in tatters, people eating pizza?! American is undone all because Andrew Jackson lacked the right stuff to do what is necessary to protect the country from the threat from abroad. We should all be on our knees in prayer giving thanks that our President today will not make the same mistake Andrew Jackson did when he allowed those religious aliens to settle in our country and establish foreign rule even in Middle America!


Portions of this post appeared in “The Methodist Upper Iowa Conference: From Wilderness Settlement to Middle-American Melting Pot,” Methodist History 2009 47/4:226-241 and “The Immigrant Experience in American History: Who Is an American?” American Interest, June 27, 2012,