When the 36th annual Conference on New York State History convenes at Niagara University on June 18-20, 2015, it will once again provide a forum for all of New York’s historians to discuss their work and learn from each other.
Conference organizers – who include representatives of all the major historical organizations in the state – expect this year’s meeting to build upon last year’s success at Marist College. The 2014 conference shattered previous years’ attendance records and showcased the excellence, diversity, and importance of the work that New York’s historians were doing. The conference schedule featured not just the first rate scholarship of academic historians, but also the significant work of local and community historians, museum curators, historic preservationists, archivists, librarians, teachers, and other history professionals.
Again in 2015, the Conference on New York State History aspires to be more than just another conference. Its principal sponsors – the New York State Historical Association, the New York Humanities Council, the New York Archives Partnership Trust and the New York State Museum (both under the New York State Board of Regents and State Education Department), and Niagara University – are all committed to strengthening the statewide history community and enabling it to better serve the public. History professionals educate the public in many ways – not just in classrooms, but at museums, historic sites, and in local communities. And when historians work together successfully, they raise the quality of life in New York by changing people’s perceptions of their community and surroundings. For example, when people develop a deeper appreciation for their heritage, they begin to view buildings and landscapes as cultural and historical assets rather than just real estate. And when that happens, people become motivated to invest their time and money in New York and make their communities better places to live and more attractive places to visit.
The 2015 conference will feature a variety of sessions that address such topics as Native American responses to modernity, post-colonial religious disputes, the lives of New York women in the Civil War, and the effects of twentieth century government planning on local communities. Historic preservationists, meanwhile, will demonstrate the ways in which the latest technologies are affecting cultural resource management programs. Museum curators and conservators will discuss the benefits of coordinating their work with each other. County historians will address the changing nature of their work. And community historians and librarians will describe a cutting-edge project that collects and preserves the history of selected ethnic communities.
Also, the conference will again serve history teachers and educators by addressing topics such as the incorporation of local primary sources into the Common Core, a K-12 framework that offers a new paradigm for social studies instruction, teacher involvement in community-wide Underground Railroad historical activities, and an overview of New York State History Day. Education sessions are scheduled on Saturday, June 20 and teachers will be eligible for continuing education credits through Niagara University.
Three featured speakers – Sam Roberts, Urban Affairs Editor for the New York Times; Judith Wellman, Underground Railroad and women’s history scholar; and S. G. Grant, social studies educator – will deliver the following talks:
Sam Roberts, award-winning journalist and author of numerous books on New York State history, will deliver the keynote address. He will discuss his latest book, A History of New York in 101 Objects, and the importance of New York State history to his work.
Judith Wellman will present the annual Wendell Tripp Lecture, entitled “History of the People, by the People, and for the People: The Role of the Citizen Historian.” Dr. Wellman formerly taught history at SUNY Oswego and is currently active with historical groups across the state.
S. G. Grant is a Professor of Social Studies Education at Binghamton University, the author of five books on history teaching, and the project director for the New York Social Studies Resource Toolkit project. He will discuss the future of history education in his luncheon talk, entitled “Wither No More: The Resurgence of Social Studies.”
A new feature this year is the opportunity for conference goers to attend off-site sessions while touring Buffalo and Niagara Falls. A Thursday afternoon tour invites attendees to visit adaptively re-used houses of worship with representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office and discuss ways these historic buildings can adjust to changing times and remain important features of community life. On Saturday morning, attendees can hear from historians and planners engaged in the multi-million dollar restoration of Niagara Falls State Park (which incorporates many parts of Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision for the Niagara Reservation). The tour will also include stops at Stedman’s Bluff, Goat Island, Luna Island, and the Cave of the Winds.
The 2015 Conference on New York State History will be another memorable learning experience for all who attend it. Perhaps more importantly, it will be another example of the ways in which New York’s historians, educators, curators, preservationists, archivists, and librarians are becoming a public history model for history professionals across the country.