In recent weeks I have had the opportunity to attend and participate in three regional and county history community meetings. These included the annual meeting of the Greater Hudson Heritage Network; a meeting of Region 3 (mainly the Hudson Valley) of the Association of Public Historians in New York State (APHNYS); and the Sullivan County History Conference
These three meetings provided opportunities to meet with colleagues, discuss important issues, and learn what’s happening. What follows are some highlights from those meetings.
Greater Hudson Heritage Network
The Greater Hudson Heritage Network (GHHN) holds its annual meeting in the Hudson Valley region and draws from people outside the region as well. There day-long conference included plenary speakers, concurrent sessions and lunch. This year Lisa Keller of Purchase College was the host. There is a fee to attend.
At the conference GHHN Executive Director Priscilla Brendler spoke about (among other topics) the Path through History programs. There were flyers for the June 18-19, 2016 dates and she urged people to participate in this program. This is an improvement I, and others here at The New York History Blog, have been advocating for – announcing the Path through History weekends in advance to not leave people scrambling at the last minute.
One change I wasn’t aware of was the relationship between GHHN and the Path through History weekend. A flyer distributed at the meeting lists a GHHN phone number and email address for contact, questions, and updates. It would seem that operating the Path Weekend has been outsourced to GHHN. That organization already operates some programs on a statewide basis and this appears to be another example of its expansion beyond the Hudson Valley. The history community would benefit from having a similar organization statewide, although it should be noted that GHHN tends to focus on the back-end of historical site operations and less on history itself or outreach.
The keynote speaker at the conference was Professor Ken Jackson. He was the keynote speaker at the event that launched the Path though History in 2012. He had been personally recruited by Governor Andrew Cuomo to participate in the now defunct Path through History Taskforce which never really did much and was more for show. Jackson referred to the project as one of “noise” and “not much else.” It was not well run or thought through. Cuomo takes credit for it, but doesn’t do much for it. The financial support is down. Nothing Jackson said was new to regular readers of The New York History Blog.
The contrast between the talks by Priscilla Brendler and Ken Jackson could not have been greater. Here in the briefest of time spans, one was able to experience the official view from the Albany-Manhattan bubble and the reality outside the bubble. Admittedly, I enjoy moments like this because they make writing these posts so easy.
APHNYS Region 3
The Association of Public Historians in New York State meeting was excellent. It was organized by Suzanne Isaksen, APHNYS regional coordinator and Town of Montgomery Historian, and hosted by Mary Ellen Matise, Village of Walden Historian. The meeting was held in the historic village hall and public library and we were welcomed by the mayor. This was a day-long program with lunch on our own. There was a small fee.
Three speakers from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP) presented: Dan McEneny, Jennifer Betsworth, and Matthew Shephard. The program provided an overview of the Division for Historic Preservation and its programs, the process and criteria for National and State Register listings including tax advantages, and the new Cultural Resource Information Database (CRIS). We had the opportunity through CRIS to see maps identifying the cultural resources right in Walden where we were meeting. The database is a remarkable tool and if the history signs or markers could be added, it would be a terrific resource for the history community. You can not only see a site but access detailed information on it. This new website requires some thoughtful thinking and conversations with the history community on how it can best be used and developed. It can be found at https://cris.parks.ny.gov.
This session, which could be repeated throughout the state and at statewide conferences, made me notice what I think is a missing ingredient in the public historian training. As the “New Historian” session at the APHNYS state conference made clear, people become public historians in their communities often with little training or guidance. While there is some information at the APHNYS website (guidelines which need to be updated), municipal historians don’t necessarily know that APHNYS even exists. The challenges of being a municipal historian were the subject of Orange County Historian Johanna Yaun’s recent post to New York History Blog.
All public historians should receive (and be required to receive) state-funded training in Albany. Such training should include the State Archives, Library, and Museum, NYSOPRHP and the New York State Historian. The program should include touring the facilities, meeting the staff, learning about the resources available, and the related rules, regulations, and requirements of being a municipal historian. A one-week training program would improve the professionalization of the municipal historian across the state, enhance the status of the position to the local mayors, town supervisors, and country executives, and help counter the isolation of the municipal historian. Funding would require a concerted effort by the history community to advocate for it, an activity which is conspicuously absent at present.
Sullivan County History Conference
The Sullivan County History Conference was another excellent event organized by John Conway, Sullivan County historian and a frequent contributor here at the The New York History Blog. It was held at the Sullivan County Community College and the free program (including lunch!) was funded by the Delaware Council. This is an example of what every county should do. Over 70 people attended this day-long event despite the snow flurries and the near-freezing weather.
The conference focused on the state of history. Speakers included full time county historians Johanna Yaun and Will Tatum III from Orange and Dutchess counties. County history conferences were held in those counties in 2011 (before their time) and I hope they will have one-day programs of their own soon. Johanna Yaun held a mini-conference this summer which John Conway and I attended, and which helped serve as a catalyst for the Sullivan County meeting.
Their were a variety of presenters. Linda Oehler-Marx, a former teacher, spoke on the issue of finding a place for local history in the new social studies framework. This is a vital issue and there needs to be more discussion between the history community and teachers about how to incorporate local and state history into the classroom even without field trips.
Social media was addressed in general terms by Johanna Yaun in her presentation and by Matt Colon, Director of the Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands. When I first became involved in local history the State Archive Records Administration (SARA) grants were to microfilm records. Times – and technologies – have changed. County-level workshops on how to take advantage of new technologies would be really useful.
The conference ended with a presentation by Kristina Heister, Superintendent of the National Park Service’s Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River site. Much of her talk focused on the NPS centennial in 2017. She also mentioned Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, a study commissioned by the NPS. Some of the recommendations are appropriate not only for the NPS sites in New York but for NYSOPHP as well. According to Kristina Heister, implementation of the study is still a work-in-progress.
Of course, no history conference would be complete with noting the comments made about the Path through History. Although there were some perfunctory remarks made about its continued existence, the comments to the audience that it was an “ill-fated debacle” with no history community participation got right to the heart of problem. One suggestion was a statewide letter-writing campaign addressed to Governor Andrew Cuomo.
History conferences are a lot of fun and I recommend more of them at the county and regional level. It also would be nice to have a master calendar for such county, regional, and state conferences. Maybe our next State Historian could take the lead.