Is resurgence in the interest in history a sign of the time? It seems so as two initiatives to promote the importance of history and heritage of New York both use signs as a means to the end.
At the 2012 conference of the Association of Public Historians of New York State on Long Island, the William G. Pomeroy Foundation used that opportunity to announce that their organization was taking their interest in historical markers statewide.
What had begun as a local program in the Syracuse area had slowly evolved into an interest to promote the history of New York across the entire state.
Now using a schedule and merit based system the Foundation will fund up to two markers per county on a yearly basis. This wonderful opportunity will give a chance to many smaller, but important sites to be recognized. The makers will cover events, structures and other items that were in existence 1850 or prior. The announcement was made at the APHNYS conference since it is the local government historian in every town, village, city, borough and county that knows those sites who would be eligible for consideration.
A second initiative also uses both signs and the local historian to tell our history. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office recently announced the Paths Through History Initiative. This effort is being developed to create signs along the New York State Thruway to increase awareness in our history. A panel of historians will help to create the criteria and direction. The governor’s office sought the assistance for leadership in this effort by asking the APHNYS office for the list of all appointed historians.
This list has been used to bring many of these historians as the core group on the workforce groups for this initiative for each of the Regional Economic Councils that were created last year. Each of these councils has a heritage tourism component and this initiative can be tied to that effort. This initiative is seeking the input from historians at the ground level.
These workforces are forging their own criteria and unique perspective on their history from the base up, rather than from the top down. It allows for a truly regional approach that will help to develop a truer model of heritage tourism. It also may allow for future development of sites, and to create a sense of regional identity rather than one based only on parochial interests.
Whatever direction these workforces may take, time will tell. A statewide meeting of these groups and other interested agencies will be held shortly. At that meeting both APHNYS and local historians will be present. The historian of the local municipalities is the heart of both of these recently announced initiatives, and I for one can truly say – it is about time.
Photo: A new sign commemorating the newly rediscovered birthplace of Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, erected by the Johnsburg Historical Society in Warren County.
Gerald Smith is President of the Association of Public Historian of New York State.