What does New York’s historical community want?
In the wake of NYSHA’s demise, Ken Jackson and his colleagues have addressed an open letter of concern and protest. Peter Feinman included the letter in a recent post and followed with a response from Paul D’Ambrosio in another post. John Warren continues to report on developments, attesting to the essential importance of the New York History Blog.
State Historian Devin Lander is doing an outstanding job but he is still working without staff. New York passed its 240th anniversary last spring with no official commemoration. The Researching New York Conference last month was one of the best ever, but the New York State History Conference has been discontinued. November, New York State History Month, has come and gone once again with little public attention. The demise of NYSHA leaves a big gap in the state’s historical enterprise.
Many people in the state’s historical community are concerned with some of the recent events. There are renewed calls for an advocacy group (the new Massachusetts History Alliance might be one model), lobbying the legislature, etc.
All of that is very positive.
But what should we ask for?
We need something by way of an agenda or list of objectives, something that gets all of us in the concerned history community pulling in the same direction. The rest of this post constitutes one attempt at a preliminary draft, just to get the discussion restarted. It is probably too long and we would need to be selective. Some are my ideas; most are suggestions from discussions with historians around the state over the past few years. Some of these have been proposed and discussed before; some are new.
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. (The current mission of the Office of State History)
1. Elevate the State Historian’s role and capacity to lead, coordinate, foster, and support efforts to achieve the goal.
1.A. Upgrade the State Historian’s position to a level commensurate with its responsibilities.
1.B. Provide the State Historian with adequate staff and other resources.
1.C. Continue the State Historian’s Office of State History website as a key source for guidance, advice, information on model programs, and other information.
1.D.Expand the State Historian’s advisory services.
2. Strengthen the role and elevate the status of officially designated local government Historians.
2.A. Distribute and publicize the State Historian’s document Duties and Functions of New York State’s Local Government Historians and use it to define expectations for the work and role of Historians.
2.B. Develop a companion publication on The Value and Importance of Local History, emphasizing the multiple roles of history including strengthening a sense of community and providing insights into contemporary issues and events. This would make the case for history for a public audience, local government officials, and associations of local governments.
2.C. Develop strategies to ensure recognition and support of local Historians by the governments where they serve.
2.D. Develop training venues for Historians, including at conferences and online.
2.E. Commemorate the Centennial of New York’s Local Historians in 1919 by reviewing the history, assessing their status, and, most important, developing plans to further strengthen their roles.
3. Increase online sources of information on state and local history.
3.A. Identify and secure resources to fully support the New York History Blog and increase its role as the central independent forum for information on New York’s historical enterprise.
3.B. Develop an online Encyclopedia of New York History.
3.C. Expand the availability of historical materials and accounts online.
4. Improve the capacity of historical societies, history museums, and other public history programs to carry out their work and engage the public.
4.A. Develop a website or social media for sharing and discussing issues, models, and best practices from history programs in New York but also drawing on associations such as the American Association for State and Local History, the National Council for Public History, programs in other states and Canada and other sources as appropriate.
4.B. Provide training and development opportunities for historical program directors, staff, and trustees, emphasizing leadership, management, advocacy, and funding and support.
4.C. Develop strategies to substantially increase access to historical sources and history generally via the Internet and the Web.
5. Expand the teaching of New York state and local history in the schools and at the college/university level.
5.A. Expand and strengthen connections between (a) teachers and schools and (b) officially appointed local government Historians, historical societies, and other public history programs.
5.B. Develop a social studies curriculum for at least a full year’s coverage of New York history, either separately or integrated into U.S. history, at the middle or high school levels.
5.C. Increase the number of New York State history courses in SUNY colleges and university centers and in private colleges and universities.
6. Increase research and publication of New York state and local history.
6.A. Continue the Researching New York Conference each year.
6.B. Develop a second annual conference similar to (or a revival of) the New York State History Conference.
6.C. Ensure the continued publication of New York History as a peer-reviewed, scholarly journal.
6.D. Establish and support a new online journal, which might be called New York State Historical Journal, to supplement current publications such as New York History, Hudson River Valley Review and New York Archives. Special emphasis might be on the strongest papers given at the Researching New York Conference. Or, it might be more of a popular journal.
7. Expand efforts to promote the value, importance, and usefulness of New York’s state and local history.
7.A. Initiate a statewide history association as a successor to NYSHA.
7.B. Develop a New York State History Advocacy Group.
7.C. Continue the State Historian’s New York History Advisory Group as an advisory and advocacy group.
7.D. Develop and implement strategies to capitalize on New York State History Month (November), including strategies, a press kit, local activities, and essays on New York history in the schools.
7.E. Designate April as New York Statehood Month and use it to commemorate New York State’s origins and key themes and events in its historical development.
8. Develop or expand sources for support of New York state and local history.
8.A. Identify foundations, philanthropic sources, businesses, and other non-government sources that would be interested in supporting state and local history.(The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and Historica Canada might be two possible models.)
8.B. Expand and strengthen the state’s Path Through History program.
8.C. Develop proposals for funding under the state’s Regional Economic Development Councils grants.
8.D. Strengthen the state historic sites program.