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Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service Part II

This post is the second in a series investigating Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, an NPS-commissioned study with implications for the NPS historic sites in New York, the state counterpart with the NYSOPRHP historic sites, as well as for historic sites in general. For Part I, click here.

Imperiled Promise, proposes “a new vision of history” designed to “lift history out if its often marginal state” by stressing its place as a core activity.

So positioned, history can help the NPS better guard the precious resources in its care, and propel the agency toward greater relevance to American civic life….to fulfill its promise of creating an inspired, informed, and thinking citizenry.

The deliberate use of the word “civic” signifies the commitment to the vision of local/state/national history as in integral part of the social fabric of the community, a fabric that is being unraveled even more so today than in 2011 when the report was written. The ongoing controversies about Confederate memorials testifies to the power of historical memory to the present and of the need to bring it out into the open and see the light of day. Since many NPS sites are military battlefields, it should not be surprising that the NPS also is on the frontlines of the cultural battlefields as well. Similarly many other sites, especially colonial, have had the experience of re-evaluating the lives and events of the people associated with the site. Engaging the public in a discourse is fraught with danger and not something all historic sites are equipped to do. But ignoring the past is no solution either.

The authors of the study sent out over 1500 survey forms to NPS staff with history as part of their job description. The positions included rangers, historians, and curators and some archivists and archaeologists based on the government employment codes. Retired people were contacted, parks were visited, and group sessions were held at the annual meetings of the Organization of American History (OAH) and National Council on Public History (NCPH). It should be noted that former New State Historian Bob Weible had been head of the NCPH and that City of Rochester Historian and APNHYS board member Christine Ridarsky has become more involved with NCPH in the last few years. Marla Miller one of the authors who presented at the workshop in 2014 prior to the NYS History Conference is now the Vice President and she informed me at the Massachusetts History Alliance meeting in June at Holy Cross, that the annual NCPH conference would be in our area in 2019.

The Introduction to Part I of the report paints a dire picture. The actual word used by the authors is “distressing.” There appears to have been “a decades-long decline in the relative investment made in ensuring that history scholarship and interpretation remain sound and robust.” One source described the study as “a renewed reminder of the historical staffing crisis that has been growing like a noxious weed in the National Park System over the past decade.” The place of history within the organization is not good:

Even when the consequent attitude toward history is not outright disdain, there is a dreadful tendency to view historic sites as somehow emasculated by the absence of geysers, waterfalls, granite grandeur, and genuine law enforcement challenges.

This blunt and bleak assessment highlights the enormous obstacles confronting any serious attempt to elevate the status of history within the organization.

To gain a better understanding of what is really happening on the ground, the authors examined the history staff of the NPS. They found that these individuals “are dispersed and often only loosely connected.” Even the 182 individual “historians” by job title out of 22,000 total staff including seasonal and temporary don’t necessarily do “history” as someone outside the bureaucracy would understand it. One respondent wrote that history in the NPS is “sporadic, interrupted, superbly excellent in some instances and vacant in others.” A critical shortcoming identified is one which will resonate with the New York history community: “neither the chief historian’s office, nor any other single entity within the service, clearly speaks on history’s behalf or has responsibility for overseeing all history work throughout the NPS.” Gosh, I wonder how that situation could exist or be a problem. I am shocked. Shocked to find out that no one is in charge here.

The authors, who themselves are historians by training and profession, recognized that there is a problem across all history organizations including museums, colleges, universities, schools, and public programs. The challenge they identify is to make history, historical thinking, and historical training relevant and intelligible. As an example of critical thinking, suppose a President of the United States claimed that a certain Secretary of State was the worst one in American history and that America has been a loser in all the treaties it has signed (so we are going to return Alaska to the Russians, thank you very much Secretary of State William Seward of Florida and Auburn, New York for that folly!). On what basis was that historical conclusion reached? On what basis can it be challenged?

The authors bemoan the popular perception of history as “either a boring recital or memorized facts or a series of arcane and tedious debates about esoteric subjects.” To those one might add that contrary to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, people are entitled to their own facts. In this environment when people have the right to alternative facts it is difficult to make the case the NPS should encourage and foster critical thinking skills as part of a park visit. Of course, the report was written when there was a former professor in the White House. Times have changed. What do you as a ranger when confronted with someone who prefers an alternate universe? Rangers don’t have the option to change the channel.

The author’s discovered some ingrained institutional issues that compromised the position of history within the NPS. An internal divide is expressed through the shorthand of “nature” and “culture.” Within the culture realm there is another division, this time between:

Cultural resources management or the preservationists who protect the physical remains of the past, and interpretation or education-oriented processes aimed at fostering public appreciation for the resources and introducing larger narratives of the American story.

According to the consultants, the past 40 years of the NPS has been a confining of history, historical research, and history programs to preservation. The story began in 1935 with the passage of the Historic Sites Act. Suddenly a nature and scenery organization had thrust upon it responsibility for historic sites (just as happened to the Office of Parks in New York). There already was an NPS Chief Historian beginning in 1931 tasked with an education mission for the nature sites. As it turned out, the Chief Historian had an academic history background and he envisioned the history sites as classrooms for the teaching of history. Therefore he needed a history staff. Since all this was happening during the Depression, he was able to hire Ph.D.’s in history and soon had a staff of 60. But the marriage of history preservation behind the scenes and history presentation to the public was a tense one.

By the 1960s, the preservationists had won the battle. Broad historical themes were out and targeted messages conveying specific information about the specific site one was in. With the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the new National Register of Historic Places operated under the umbrella of the National Park Service. The result of various shifts in department organization and practices was according to one survey respondent that NPS historians are “buried under compliance and a variety of bureaucratic mandates.” Instead of practicing the craft of history, the NPS historian survey respondent wrote: “Much of our professional talent in the cultural resources disciplines spends the bulk of its time on resource management” and not applied research. Furthermore, there is a gap between history or what passes for it in the NPS and the best professional, scholarly practices in history. That discrepancy is part of the reason for this study through the Organization of American Historians. That discrepancy is part of the reason why professional historians were asked to conduct the study. That discrepancy is part of the reason why professional historians with an emphasis on public history were asked to conduct this study.

With this background in mind, we can now turn to:

1. What was recommended?
2. How does it applies on the state level to government owned and operated historic sites.
3. What are the lessons for non-federal and non-state history museums and societies?

To be continued.

History Conferences, Cultural Heritage and Tourism

Mohawk Valley History

Local history organizations in New York State create history conferences. This comparatively unexplored facet to the history community provides examples, lessons, and insight into what is being done and potentially what could be done.

In the past few weeks, I have participated in the third-annual American Revolution Mohawk Valley Conference organized by the Fort Plain Museum and in the Erie Canal 200 Bicentennial Conference organized by the Oneida County History Council and the Canal Society of New York. I should note that during this period I was the recipient of frequent notices about the Peterboro Civil War Weekend the same time as the American Revolution conference. I further note that I have occasionally attended French and Indian War and American Revolution Conferences at Fort Ticonderoga, Underground Railroad Public History Conferences organized by the Underground Railroad History Project of The Capital Region, and baseball conferences in Cooperstown. I exclude from this discussion such annual organization conferences as by APHNYS, MANY, and the NYSHA back when there was a state history conference. I also am referring to multiday events that potentially require lodging by the participants.

As we all know, New York is rich in local, state, American and even world history. Becoming aware of that history and then immersing oneself in it sometimes requires more than a one-hour talk or tour. These history conferences provide a welcome opportunity for diehard aficionados, the educated, the biologically-connected, and local boosters to join together in an intellectual and physical shared experience…in some cases year after year.

Let me review some of the non-content lessons learned from these conferences. By that I mean I am not going to dispense content knowledge about the American Revolution or the Erie Canal, but to share observations about the conference experience.

Lesson #1 – It can be done . Kudos are deserved for the volunteer efforts by the local organizations who undertake the daunting task of organizing a conference. As someone who has organized both day-conferences and week-long Teacherhostels/Historyhostels, I know from personal experience that everything always takes longer than expected or desired and there always is more involved than originally anticipated. I strongly recommend that sessions be held at APHNYS and MANY about the logistical and organizational challenges in putting together such events.  While it may not be possible or advisable to put together to rigid a procedural manual, there are lessons to be learned and benefits to be gained by sharing what is involved. In the meantime I encourage all such conference organizers to submit a post to New York History Blog on what is involved in organizing a conference.

Lesson #2 – Conferences generate revenue.  The Erie Canal conference included 106 registrations including 72 who paid for a conference dinner at a restaurant, 82 who participated in a bus tour, and 86 who paid for a canal cruise.  I don’t have the comparable numbers for the American Revolution conference but registration was in the range of 200 people, there were over 100 people at the conference dinner at a catered meal at an historic site, there were two 55-seat buses on the tour I took.

As an example of the revenue generated, consider my dinner-table companions at the American Revolution conference. Two people from North Carolina and Kansas had flown to New York, rented a car, and stayed in a motel. Two had driven from out-of-state and one from downstate (me) and stayed in a motel (and I know there was travel expense for at least one other – I don’t take notes at the dinner table so some of the details have been forgotten). The net result is that our one table generated more travel revenue than all the local Path through History events since the project was launched on August 28, 2012, have produced.

A few years ago, I think it was in the food court at Empire State Plaza in Albany where I saw Gavin Landry and Ross Levi of I LoveNY, I mentioned the potential of promoting history conferences as way of bringing people to (upstate) New York and generating revenue. As I recall, Ross responded favorably to the suggestion as something that should be done. It is something that should be done. As part of the REDC funding process there should be a bucket for funding history conferences.

Lesson #3 – Conferences create actual paths through history even when they aren’t on a Path through History weekend. At the Erie Canal conference there was a one day bus trip. Admittedly that bus tour was best for real canal buffs but let’s face facts, for almost anything you think of there are bound to be fans. Our local archaeology society in Westchester had a lecture recently on the discovery of the skeleton of King Richard III at a carpark in England. We had people from New Jersey and Philadelphia drive to attend a 45-minute lecture by the excavator. Who knew there was a King Richard III fan club? Thank you William Shakespeare. The point is not everybody is interested in something but there is a segment of the population interested in practically any aspect of New York State history if organized and promoted right. Whose job is it to do that?

As it turns out, one of the presenters at the Erie Canal conference was Dana Krueger, who is an organizer and member of the MANY board. Her presentation showcases what can be done and what isn’t being done. Interest in canals is a worldwide phenomenon. Naturally there is a conference for canal people. This year the World Canal conference will be in Syracuse due to the Erie Canal bicentennial. In her presentation Dana mentioned the various other canal activities besides the conference itself:

  • There is a special one-day early-bird tour on the shipwrecks of Lake Champlain with lodging and travel arrangements from Albany.
  • There is a two-day pre-conference tour on the Champlain and Eastern Erie Canals following immediately upon the special one day early-bird tour with travel and lodging arrangements from Albany.
  • There is the third annual two-day cycling tour of the towpath through the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park which involves lodging and apparently is held independent of the World Canal conference.
  • There is a three-day post conference Erie Canal tour from Syracuse to Buffalo.

 

The World Canal Conference website also mentions the possibility of additional “itineraries” through the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. That website contains nine “itineraries.”

Don’t these tours and itineraries seem a lot like paths? How come none of these events are even listed on the Path through History website? Is the promotion for these tours limited to people who will attend the conference? Isn’t it possible that people would be interested in such early-bird, pre-conference, and post-conference tours in years when there is no canal conference or by people who are not going to attend the conference in Syracuse this year? Are these one-time tours or the beginning of a sustained repeatable development and promotion of paths through history based on one of the themes of the Path through History project? As one who has attended the Tourism Advisory Council meetings, I can say without hesitation, the World Canal Conference is a separate agenda item treated as a onetime event with no ongoing considerations for upstate tourist travel.

A similar situation occurred with the American Revolution conference. Two tours were offered. One repeated the one I had taken the first year…and was sold out by the time I registered for the conference this year. It focused on sites between exits 27 and 29 in the New York State Thruway depending on whether one was coming from the east or the west. The Exit 27 to 29 history organizations in Montgomery and Fulton counties have created a website call Mohawk Country and produced two brochures. Combined they feature about 20 sites. Individually, they tend not to be destination sites on their own. But these organizations take the collaboration and cooperation mantra seriously. Collectively Montgomery and Fulton counties have created the basis for a Mohawk Valley Path through History. Now what they need is tour operators. Recently Norm Bollen of the Fort Plain Museum addressed the Montgomery County legislators on the value of cultural heritage tourism. For these sites to put together bus tours outside the annual conference would be great achievement. Montgomery and Fulton counties should request the creation of Pathfinder as part of the REDC funding for this year. A little help from the state would be nice.

Finally I would like to share the experience of the annual conference of the Society for Industrial Archaeology held in Albany in 2015. Although it was two years ago, I have been saving the information for the right post and now is the time. Look at the trips this conference sponsored keeping in mind the specialized nature of industrial archaeology.

First there were the all-day trips with lunch and transportation provided

  • Schenectady and vicinity
  • Power and Transportation including the Amtrak and New York State Canals repair shops, the Port of Albany, Erie Canal at Waterford, and the Mechanicville Hydroelectric Plant, built 1897, oldest continuously operating plant in the nation with original equipment in service.
  • Port of Coeymans where sections of the new Tappan Zee Bridge were being assembled; Scarano Boat Building, Port of Albany, builder of passenger ferries, cruise boats, and historic replica vessels; SUNY College of Nanoscale Engineering & Science, Albany, R&D facility for the microchip industry with complete prototyping lines.
  • Hudson-Mohawk Industries in Cohoes, Troy, and Waterford.
  • Bridges, both the manufacturing of them and those that have been built.

 

Participants had the option of choosing only one tour since all five were offered on the same day. One can see that combined, they would create a one-week program based in Albany. Quite obviously the focus of the tours was for specialists but how difficult would it be to create history tours involving Albany, Cohoes, Schenectady, Troy, and Waterford. Actually the problem would be limiting the tour to just five days! I speak from experience having created Capital Region Teacherhostels/Historyhostels and having scouted sites that couldn’t be included even in a week. Somehow the conference organizers were able to put together five one-day tours.

In addition to these tours which were part of the conference price, one also could take

  • day bus trip to Sharon Springs
  • four 1.5 to 2.5 hour tours in Albany during the course of a day
  • day bus tour for Landmarks of the Hudson-Mohawk Region through historic industrial districts of North Albany, Watervliet, Cohoes, Waterford & Troy. One bus returned via Albany Airport for those who need to catch early afternoon flights.

 

How’s that for planning.

I have championed the creation of Pathfinders. These are people who would have the job of doing what these conference organizers have done but with the intention of creating repeatable sustainable tours. It is truly tragic with all tens of millions of dollars expended on touting New York, so little is devoted to building the infrastructure, the actual creation of tours for people to take.  All tourists are just supposed to wing it by surfing the Path through History website to create one-time tours specifically for themselves. Makes you wonder how many people actually use the site to create such self-guided tours before traveling to New York.

What Are History Societies Doing and What Can the Regents and Governor Do to Help Them?

George Bailey Contemplating an Alternative Reality

Courtesy of Wikipedia

If a tree falls in the woods and no one sees it, has anything happened? If an historical society does something and no other history society knows about it, has anything happened? I am not referring to the lectures, tours, and exhibits which history museums and societies routinely do. Instead I am referring to something a little out of the ordinary, the kind of item one might present at an APHNYS or MANY conference.

The dissemination of ideas is difficult. There is no easy way to accomplish the task. Certainly notices can be published and distributed. The reality is many municipal historians are not members of APHNYS and APHNYS does not have a way of advising its members of best practices or innovative ideas. The same is true for history organizations and MANY. Even if one does present at the annual conference, only some of the members attend and even fewer attend an individual session because there are concurrent sessions. So there is no easy way to share original ideas or actions that go above and beyond the call.

Since I read New York History Blog, I read about many events in the state including ones I cannot possibly attend. For me to go to upstate for a single lecture, tour, or exhibit is a misuse of my time. However, I do attend various conferences and will be reporting on some of them.  Since I distribute my own blog, I also am the recipient of newsletters from history organizations. Sometimes they arrive as enewsletters, sometimes as emails, sometimes as Word or PDF attachments, and sometimes by mail. By no means do these notices cover the state, but they do provide a window into what’s going on out there.  In this post, I would like to share some items that I consider to be a bit unusual and worthy of attention. This is not a scientific survey nor is it comprehensive. It’s just some excerpts from the random notices I have come across.

Greece Historical Society

The annual report for 2016 of the society states:

The all volunteer Society’s purpose is to collect, preserve, research and share local history with the community. We strive to provide the community with an awareness of the past, an appreciation of the present, and a vision for the future, giving a sense of “roots” and a greater feeling of belonging.

Clearly this society operates under the Tonko vision of local history and not the Cuomo one. I suspect pretty much every local society has in its mission statement and/or annual report something similar to what the Greece Historical Society has.  If that’s the mission, then shouldn’t tax dollars be aimed at helping it fulfill that mission rather than to call for the Greece Historical Society to become a tourist destination site for busloads of Chinese?

The Society reports that it held eight monthly Tuesday evening lectures featuring local historians, authors, and humanities scholars in 2016 averaging 85 guests per evening. While no individual lecture deserves mention in this post the cumulative effect of lecture programs does. These numbers mean a total of 680 people participated in the lecture programs of this one society. What would the state-wide total be? Does anyone have any idea how many residents and visitors from nearby communities both individually and through repeat attendance are connecting to local history through lecture programs?  I recall one dark and cold February night attending a lecture at the Mabee Farm location of the Schenectady Historical Society where I could just barely find a parking space since well over 100 people were there (I was on my to a conference starting the next day so I was able to attend. I did not drive from Westchester just for it!). Did I mention it was a dark cold night in February? With snow on the ground? At a site not on a main well-lit road but on a narrow dark one? It’s not quite, if you offer it they will come, but overall I would say there is little appreciation or even awareness for the numbers of people who collectively attend lectures through their local history societies. Remember the Lyceums? There still are buildings with that name in many communities. Remember Chautauqua and the circuit Chautauquas that barnstormed the country like baseball teams and circuses use to do. Not everyone is trapped by their electronic devices. Sometimes people like to be with other people in a social and intellectually stimulating setting that reaffirms community identity.

Lock 52 Historical Society of Port Byron

In response to the post New Approaches for Historical Societies and History Museums by Bruce Dearstyne on March 21, 2017 for New York History Blog, Mike Riley, the president of the Lock 52 Historical Society of Port Byron, expressed the concerns of history societies throughout the state.  He specifically referred to suggestions made in the post about what history societies can do.

(T)here is the realization that with 8 volunteers who average in age of 75 to 90, it is unlikely that any (of the suggestions in the post) will be adopted. We are in a slow death spiral to the day when we close the doors for good. We can look back and say that all these good folks started helping the society when they were in their 30’s to 50’s, and they remain as the foundation for anything we do. There are no new 30, 40 or 50 year old’s taking their place. And as the folks age and pass, the open hours get cut, or the displays don’t get changed. It becomes a fight for life, attracting visitors almost becomes secondary, which of course harms us greatly, I really don’t know if there is an answer. As a society we just don’t value these civic engagement activities as we use to. I know I am not alone. I am in a race to digitize photos and get them out there on the web so at least if the Society closes, some of the history will be saved and available to people. 

Clearly Riley belongs to the Tonko side of the vision of local history as an essential component of the social fabric on the community. Clearly also that fabric is fraying. There is a need to rethink the standard history society model especially as it relates to the large number of small municipalities throughout the state. It is time for some new thinking about the position of the municipal historian, the municipal history society, the local library, and teacher training and the school curriculum and their intertwining. Here is where the history community really needs leadership from the Regents and the Commissioner of Education. 

Putnam County Historian (technically not a history society)

The historian’s office held a free digital scanning initiative to secure military memories of the past for future generations. Local families with military memorabilia are invited to make appointments through the County Historian’s Office to have old letters, documents, photographs and assorted military memorabilia scanned and recorded on a memory device such as a USB or burned to a disk, free of charge. Being the repository for the memory of a community, doesn’t simply mean waiting around for people to dump things in your lap. It is legal to be proactive. In fact, if the regulations for municipal historians are ever rewritten, I would include a requirement to be proactive. How many people would want the job then?

Warwick Historical Society

Once upon a time back in 2013, a group of 4th graders were digging behind one of the historical houses of the Warwick Historical Society. This time besides the usual bits and pieces of commonplace objects, they struck paydirt, a decorated brick. As the work continued in 2014 with two ‘archaeologists,’ average age 76, unearthed the wall of home of “Rocking Chair Benny Sayre.” Sayre (1865 to 1940), the keeper of Baird’s Tavern across the street. George Knight, one of the excavators also was busy cleaning up his own grounds. One type of item frequently found was small bottles.  “Warwick back in the day was higher than a kite,” said Knight. So it seems. These little bottles were considered medicine that, not unlike today’s Oxycontin, turned out to have a serious drawback. “We had a substance abuse problem here over 100 years ago,” said Warwick town historian Richard Hull. “In the 1890s up until World War I, there’d be itinerant merchants who’d come into town to sell elixirs to relieve pain, headaches, relieve depression and so forth. They spiked these concoctions, so that when they sold them people became quite addicted in some cases,” he said. The Women’s Temperance League may have been a response not only to alcohol abuse, but also to these un-talked-of habits. Everyone likes to ogle the opium bottles. They’re scintillating in a way that stone walls just aren’t. That bugs Knight, although he’s good natured about it.

The historic society wasn’t always this go-go-go. “As you can imagine, it was very dry,” said President Mark Kurtz, who stopped by the dig. “There’s become excitement, with the kids that visit.” Every fourth grader in the Warwick school district takes a tour every year, and the middle school just launched a Sustainable Architecture class that will be taking a field trip to the historic society’s properties.  “We’re starting a bunch of brand new reach outs to the school district,” he said. “The point is to make this history become important to people, and that’s the time to reach them.” Lisa-Ann Weisbrod, the society’s new director, said, “It’s amazing how much is going on. It’s a historical society. How busy can it be? It’s crazy.”

This report from the society’s website entitled What’s under Warwick highlights several important developments

  1. the creation of a monthly enewsletter by the Orange County historian Johanna Yuan reporting on the activities in the county, something all county historians should have to do as part of the job.
  2. the outreach to the schools in a literally hands-on experience – which will not stop at 4th grade as the junior archaeologists track the project through the duration of their k-12 education (and then become members of the historical society as adults)
  3. the funding issues the Society experienced for support of the dig versus stabilizing a building
  4. the unusual nature of the Society which owns multiple buildings and is creating the equivalent of an historic district for the residents of the community to experience.

Chalk up another one for the Tonko vision over the Cuomo vision.

White Plains Historical Society

The society compiled a list of 20 streets named after American Revolution figures. I write about the importance of a sense of place as an essential component to the health of the community. One way to foster a connection between residents and their own municipality is to know not simply the name of the streets of the community but the reason for the name of the streets. While the naming of streets after military (and political) heroes might seem obvious, it also is true the residents of communities today don’t know the why streets and buildings have the names they have or why statues were erected (unless Confederate). History societies have the opportunity to engage the public in “Why that name?” Even numerically named streets or tree-named streets are cultural clues to the thinking of the people who named them. The grid in Manhattan is the most famous example but smaller versions exist in many communities. It is not just coincidence that there are a lot Maple, Elm, and Walnut streets either. We can learn about our past by understanding the names that were bequeathed to the organization of space.

 

As I mentioned at the onset, these examples aren’t meant to be comprehensive or inclusive. Nonetheless they represent a good cross section of the trials and tribulations on the history community at the grass roots level and the exemplary efforts by volunteers. A little help would be nice.

Vision of New York State History: Lessons from Harlem

Harlem Preservation Conference

The different approaches to local and state history championed by Representative Tonko versus Governor Cuomo manifested itself in some recent blogs on New York History Blog and the Adirondack Alamanack. These pieces were not written in conjunction with my post on the subject but help to flesh out on the local level what is actually at stake if the social fabric model is jettisoned on behalf of the economic/transactional model. In this blog, I focus on one event that could be replicated in communities throughout the state, specifically:

Harlem Preservation Conference April 29th

On Saturday, April 29, twelve community-based organizations held a day-long forum titled “Harlem and the Future: Preserving Culture and Sustaining History in a Changing Environment” (“Harlem and the Future”) at CUNY to discuss the changes, the best practices, and the imminent challenges that are affecting Harlem’s social fabric, built environment, and cultural heritage. Harlem’s first historic preservation conference comes at a time of change to this iconic neighborhood. The welcoming remarks were by Manhattan Borough President Gale A Brewer.

HOW MANY OTHER COMMUNITIES HAVE HAD OR SHOULD HAVE A SIMILAR CONFERENCE?

Sessions were held throughout the day to address the issues raised in the conference notice. They may be summarized as follows:

Cultural Heritage

Harlem is not just a geographic locale in Upper Manhattan, but a diverse African-American community with a rich history represented by a remarkable architectural heritage. While the success of the play “Hamilton” has led to an explosive growth in visitors headed uptown to see the Hamilton Grange historic site, the physical embodiments of Harlem’s cultural heritage have long been simultaneously celebrated and threatened. Who decides what stories are preserved and retold?  What is the cultural brand of Harlem and does it represents the community as a whole.

The musical “Hamilton” ends with “who will the story?”, the exact question challenging every community.

In response to my blog on the vanishing of local history, I received a reply from Camille Linen, creator of Flashbacks, a musical covering the 350 year history of the Town of Rye where we both live. She wrote:

Flashbacks has just become a part of the Port Chester fourth grade curriculum so Port Chester is now a grassroots exception to the Vanishing Breed title.

Maybe Flashbacks can serve as a model for others in the area, to start,

Last year we had Rye, Rye Brook and Port Chester fourth graders at the Capitol Theatre performance. The teachers were all given copies of the teacher/artist/historian written curriculum and were very pleased with the program.

This year I was unable to obtain enough funding for the theater performance, but worked to get it established on solid ground in the Port Chester district curriculum.

Using the arts to deliver local history was the deciding factor.

Let’s meet sometime over the summer to brainstorm.

Flashbacks was the subject of my post What Works: Flashback to Your Community’s Heritage. In that post, I touted the benefits of history storytelling as performance at the local level. My suggestions then and still roughly applicable today were:

  1. We need to do a better job reaching out to all the schools in the local school districts.
  2. We need to do a better job of reaching into the community through its civic, social, and religious organizations.
  3. We need to do a better job of reaching into the business community for financial support.  The musical mentions four current businesses. Talk about product placement!
  4. We need to reach out to the high school drama/theater clubs to participate.
  5. We need to provide better photo opportunities, both for the Town Supervisor giving the certificates to each class and for the students with the cast. The students really loved seeing the people on stage up close and personal in costume, even though they already knew some of them.
  6. We need to build on this event with additional civic activities including mock sessions in the town and village halls, visits to the county and state chambers, walking tours of the town, and the use of apps with maps, photos, and stories.

Whether it is preserving the heritage of the village of Port Chester which will reach its sesquicentennial next year or of Harlem which once was a Dutch village before it became part of a larger political entity or to your own community, we need to link our youth to their local heritage through the arts.

Built Environment

Harlem’s built environment, from its ornate brownstones to its human-scale character, tells the story of the neighborhood’s development and evolution. Unfortunately, much of Harlem’s physical fabric has been lost to demolition, both by neglect and redevelopment, over time.

Landmark designation has proven itself to be an important tool in the fight to preserve character and manage change but it may not always be the most effective nor desirable way to protect a neighborhood. How can Harlem residents reinforce their community’s identity while also adapting to growth and development?

The reference to “physical fabric” raises an important and often overlooked component of history heritage. We exist physically and our sense of touch shouldn’t be limited to a mouse or touchscreen. People need to see, touch, and physically experience their community. This means walking, this means observing, this means touching. The brain needs the physical sensations to aid in creating the memories that will endure even when physical contact is lost. When I took teachers behind the scenes in some museums where they then could touch physical artifacts from thousands of years ago, the experience resonated and was remembered even if the artifact was simply the piece of a broken pot. Touching is part of the human experience and by separating that sensation from local history, we separate people from the past.

And what are the buildings in the community? What are their stories? For example, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum has made the stories of the people in the apartments the basis of the tourist experience. What are the stories in the buildings of your community? Here is where there are opportunities for high school senior service projects to connect students to their own community. Let them work with the local historians and preservationists to document using the technologies which are second nature to them, to tell the stories and place them on the web. When a building is demolished it is part of their heritage which is being destroyed as well. Before the refrain of “Another one bites the dust,” wipes out the past, let’s encourage the next generation to help their community to tell its story by becoming familiar with what that story is.

Social Fabric: What’s the New Religion? Churches at Risk

The beautiful stone churches of Harlem stand out as landmarks in the neighborhood. While these buildings have lasted decades, the congregants that utilized them reflect the evolving character of the community. Throughout their history, Harlem’s churches have served as a home and well-spring in shaping the neighborhood’s social dynamics. In particular, the role of the church in Harlem’s African American community is evidenced in everything from music to the civil rights movement. Today, technological and demographic shifts, both globally and locally, have reshaped the way Harlemites interact with one another and created new “congregations” outside of religious institutions. These changes leave congregants, preservationists, and residents asking what’s to become of the buildings imbued with historical, architectural, and social value.

Consider the example of a community where the old architecture is being demolished to be replaced by roads and cookie-cutter high-rise apartment complexes. The people have rallied together to save their common memory. They have created a blog with stories about 60 sites in their community. They have created an online discussion group for their community with about 100 members including local artists, architects, and scholars to discuss and plan how to preserve their community’s heritage. Many of its churches and synagogues have been destroyed. Finally it dawned on them that the surviving architectural treasures might have tourist appeal but it might be too late.

They complained that the character of their district had been destroyed. As one sociology professor put it, “Cultural preservation means nothing to real estate developers and the government. Nothing is being considered but economic interests.”  They complained that the city lacked good channels for local scholars and preservationists to communicate with the government. The city is Harbin in the former Manchuria now part of China with a Russian heritage of both Russian Orthodox and Russian Jews (“A Chinese City with a Russian Past Struggles to Preserve Its Legacy,” NYT 6/5/17).

St. Sophia Cathedral in Harbin China.
Gilles Sabrie for the NYT

Today in New York and America, students can study the role of religion in the social fabric of every community but their own. Today adults travel the globe visiting the physical expressions of religion without knowing what it is in their own community. The pyramids may have lasted for millennia but they are dead structures of a dead society. But the questions people asked and wondered about have remained and our common to all cultures. Especially in New York, one doesn’t have to travel far for a close encounter of a different kind. The social fabric of a community is intangible but it can be glimpsed in the tangible expressions of it. When we only know our own kind and at this moment, the social fabric unravels. We always are part of something larger than ourselves whether we realize it or not. Understanding the social fabric of our home community begins a journey that helps us to understand the community of the starship earth.

Considering Harlem’s cultural heritage panel, experts will evaluate the cultural brand of Harlem, which has attracted global attention, and reflect on whether it now represents the community as a whole. On the topic of the built environment, panelists will discuss retaining identity and a sense of place, as defined by the physical environment, cultural legacy, and inhabitants, the effectiveness of working with landmarks designation, building community activism and forging private-public partnerships while also adapting to growth and development. And lastly for the community’s social fabric, using the church as a microcosm of a community in transition, leaders from Harlem’s churches will consider how contemporary needs and uses may revitalize and breathe new life into Harlem’s historic church buildings.

The Harlem Preservation Conference is a worthy undertaking. It should be replicated in communities which are not political entities in their own right and those that are. I do not know what the results were of the conference and what the next steps (if any) the participants have chosen to take. I do know a journey begins with a single step and community preservation conferences are an excellent first step to reknitting the social fabric at the local, state, and national level.

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.

 

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 (http://www.fenimoreartmuseum.org/about_us/press_room/press_releases/fenimore_art_museum_amends_charter) for further information.

and:

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.

Getting to Know You: Familiarizing I LoveNY with You

“Getting to Know You” from The King and I

I LoveNY conducts familiarization tours. The purpose of these tours as one might expect is to familiarize tour operators with potential tourist destination sites in the state with the hope that they will organize tours to them. These familiarization tours involve bringing people to the actual locations and meeting the local staff who operate the facilities. Based on this first-hand exposure, the tour operators will be better able to plan and develop tours or so the theory goes.

Prior to the tourism convention in New York in January, I LoveNY conducted three familiarization tours to Central New York, Dutchess County, and Long Island.

New York State Division of Tourism is accepting applications for:

Pre-New York Times Travel Show FAM Tours for Travel Trade and Media

‘It’s All Here and It’s Only Here’ in New York State
January 24 – 26, 2017

Please see below for an opportunity to discover fascinating travel destinations in New York State.
Develop new travel packages and stories through the latest itinerary ideas all before attending the New York Times Travel Show.

Meals, accommodations, and transportation to and from New York City are included.
There is no cost to attend.

Applicants were asked to identify themselves as travel agent, tour operator, media, or other and to select from the three trips.

Space does not permit the full details of the tours. Remember, all tours leave from Manhattan. The places visited are provided below.

Central New York Familiarization Tour: Three Days
Day 1
1:00 pm Arrive in Binghamton
Endicott Visitors Center – Tour
Bundy Museum of History & Art – Tour
Carousel at Recreation Park – Ride
Lost Dog Café – Dinner
DoubleTree by Hilton – Overnight

Day 2
Classic Car Museum
Turning Stone Resort Casino – Turning Stone is a resort that features luxurious hotel accommodations, a full-service destination spa, gourmet restaurants, celebrity entertainment, five championship golf courses, a sportsplex, a dance club and bars and a world-class casino (table games, slots, poker and more). Currently, Turning Stone is undergoing several changes, upgrades and renovations and will be home to outlets in the future.
Fort Stanwix National Monument
Hotel Utica
Saranac Brewery /
OR
Utica Zoo
Overnight in Cooperstown

Day 3
National Baseball Hall of Fame
Fly Creek Cider Mill
Ommegang Brewery
Stop in one of: Fulton, Montgomery or Schoharie county.
Depart for NYC – arrive back at 5 PM

The detailed information is provided only for Turning Stone Resort Casino. Regular readers of my posts may recall that in January, 2016, I participated in a workshop at this site on behalf of the Oneida Nation.  One would scarcely know from the description in the familiarization tour that there was any connection between the casino as a resort and the Oneida.  This is consistent with the reality that there are no Indian Paths through History.  One also wonders if any attempt was made to create an extended visit such as a Utica Path through History, Rome Path through History, or Cooperstown Path through History, all of which are comparatively easy to do (not easy, work is involved!). Two of these locations also are Amtrak stops thus adding another dimension to the crafting of a seamless week-end or longer program for tourists.

Dutchess County Familiarization Tour: 3 Days
The Dutchess County tour is not itemized by day. Travel from New York was by train, presumably Amtrak, to the Poughkeepsie stop. No lodging information was provided. The last site listed is in Beacon where there is a Metro North train station. The places listed are:

Walkway over the Hudson (by the Poughkeepsie train station)
Culinary Institute of America (lunch?)
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum and Home of FDR National Historic Site
Richard B. Fisher Center for Performing Arts at Bard College (evening performance?)
Staatsburgh State Historic Site
Rhinebeck – lunch and shopping
Crown Maple at Madava Farms
Millbrook Vineyards & Winery
Dia:Beacon

This familiarization tour contains several historic sites. There already is a bus shuttle from the Poughkeepsie train station to the Roosevelt complex so at the federal level such integration is operational. Based on the sites listed here one can easily see the potential for a Beacon Path through History, Poughkeepsie Path through History, Roosevelt Path through History, and Great Estates of the Hudson Path through History. There is no indication from the material presented whether any of these possibilities were explored during the familiarization process.

Long Island Familiarization Tour: Two Days
Day 1
Long Island Children’s Museum, Garden City
Vanderbilt Mansion & Planetarium
Long Island Museum of History Art and Carriages

Day 2: RIVERHEAD and the NORTH FORK
Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center
Baiting Hollow Winery and Horse Rescue
Wickham’s Fruit Farm
Greenport – including Maritime and LI Rail Road Museum
Harbes Family Farm
Catapano Dairy farm, Peconic

Nassau and Suffolk counties aren’t necessarily the first places one thinks of for history tours. Certainly the NPS site at Sagamore Hill, the home of Theodore Roosevelt from 1885 until his death in 1919, comes to mind. Then again there is the infamous ignorance of the American Revolution show on AMC about the spy network based in Setauket.  Exactly why Virginia advertises on a show set in Long Island to visit the sites of the American Revolution in Virginia while New York does not, has never been explained. There literally is no excuse for such an omission.

Based on this limited sample, no effort by I LoveNY to support the creation of actual paths or itineraries tour operators can create in support of New York State history appears to exist. This is consistent with the absence of funding in the REDC process for the Path through History and the absence of dedicated staff to this project. For example, where are the familiarization tours for:

American Revolution in New York (with and without Hamilton)
Erie Canal (now starting its bicentennial)
Hudson River Art
Immigration
Iroquois/Indian Nations
Underground Railroad
War of 1812 (northern New York is still part of the state and could use some help)
Women’s Suffrage (now in its centennial)?

As it turns out, Gavin Landry and Ross Levi will be the plenary speakers at the upcoming annual conference of the Museum Association of New York (MANY). Perhaps instead of presenting a useless and irrelevant press release about how great I Love NY has been for New York State tourism or providing a body count of isolated local events on Father’s Day and other times that generate no tourism, they could address issues that directly relate to the history community instead. How about an acknowledgement that I LoveNY really has not done such a good job meeting the needs of the history community and asking what it should do better to help:

  • Familiarization tours that support the development of paths through history
  • REDC funding that support the development of paths through history
  • Asking the TPA’s to convene county and regional meetings with the grassroots history community which I Love NY would attend.

Wouldn’t that be more useful?

NY State History Month: Another View

November is New York State History Month. The goal of this initiative certainly is a worthy one. Naturally as historians, a primary source document such as a press release invites a close reading of the text. That’s what historians do and government publications are not exempt from such scrutiny. The exercise is quite productive and one can learn a lot from doing it.
Continue reading “NY State History Month: Another View”

Suffrage Centennial: Historians, NYS Tourism Officials Clash

In early October, the New York Cultural Heritage Tourism Network under the leadership of Spike Herzig, a member of the Tourism Advisory Council, hosted a meeting in Seneca Falls for the Women’s Suffrage Centennial.

There were about 85 attendees, mainly from the central New York region. The purpose was to meet, learn, and plan for the upcoming centennials of women gaining the right to vote in New York State (2017) and the United States (2020). The event’s agenda was abandoned as members of the history community began to air their frustrations over Empire State Development’s role in heritage tourism. Continue reading “Suffrage Centennial: Historians, NYS Tourism Officials Clash”

New York State Heritage Areas: Real or Not?

New York State has heritage areas – 19, scattered around the state.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP) defines these areas on its website: Continue reading “New York State Heritage Areas: Real or Not?”