New York Historys New Contributor Carol Kammen

Please join us in welcoming Carol Kammen as our third new contributor here at New York History. Kammen is Tompkins County Historian, a Senior Lecturer at Cornell University, and the author of several books including On Doing Local History: Reflections on What Local Historians Do, Why, and What It Means and The Peopling of Tompkins County: A Social History.

Kammen has worked as a local historian for what she calls &#8220a great number of years,&#8221 teaching local history at Tompkins Cortland Community College and now at Cornell. She has researched and written about her area’s history in a weekly newspaper column, in Heritage, the magazine of the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA), and in several books.

She has lectured and written about the problems, joys, ethics, sources, and themes of local history, including a series of articles for NYSHA’s journal New York History (1980-1985) issued as Plain as Pipestem (Heart of the Lakes Press, Interlaken, NY). When the American Association for State and Local History asked her to write a book about the problems and possibilities of local history, the result was the now popular On Doing Local History.

Her first post, about upstate women in the Civil War, will appear later this morning.

Photo courtesy Jason Koski, Cornell University Photography.

The Epidemic: Power, Privilege, and Public Health

The Epidemic: A Collision of Power, Privilege, and Public Health by David DeKok tells the story of how a vain and reckless businessman became responsible for a typhoid epidemic in 1903 that devastated Cornell University and the surrounding town of Ithaca. Eighty-two people died, including twenty-nine Cornell students.

Protected by influential friends, William T. Morris faced no retribution for this outrage. His legacy was a corporation—first known as Associated Gas & Electric Co. and later as General Public Utilities Corp.—that bedeviled America for a century. The Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979 was its most notorious historical event, but hardly its only offense against the public interest.

The Ithaca epidemic came at a time when engineers knew how to prevent typhoid outbreaks but physicians could not yet cure the disease. Both professions were helpless when it came to stopping a corporate executive who placed profit over the public health. Government was a concerned but helpless bystander.

For modern-day readers acutely aware of the risk of a devastating global pandemic and of the dangers of unrestrained corporate power, The Epidemic provides a riveting look back at a heretofore little-known, frightening episode in America’s past that seems all too familiar. Written in the tradition of The Devil in the White City, it is an utterly compelling, thoroughly researched work of narrative history with an edge.

David DeKok is the author of Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire (Globe Pequot Press), which previously appeared as Unseen Danger. A former award-winning investigative reporter for the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he has been a guest on Fresh Air and The Diane Rehm Show.

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VT Archeologist Named Historic Preservation Officer

Vermont’s long-time State Archeologist has been named State Historic Preservation Officer and Director of the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation. Giovanna Peebles will assume the post immediately, according to Kevin Dorn, Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

“Giovanna Peebles has served the people of Vermont as State Archeologist since 1976. Her long experience in this field and in historic preservation overall, as well as her passion for our state’s extraordinary heritage, makes her well-qualified to take over as State Historic Preservation Officer for Vermont.”

As State Historic Preservation Officer, or SHPO, Peebles, is responsible for administering the state’s historic preservation program under the federal National Historic Preservation Act and under the Vermont Historic Preservation Act.

“I’m looking forward to continuing the important work of the Division for Historic Preservation in helping keep Vermont the special place that it is,” Peebles said. “Vermont’s people are deeply connected with the history of their state and their own community, and they value and are proud of that heritage. Historic preservation is a large part of what makes Vermont look like Vermont and I’m honored to continue serving Vermonters in this new capacity.”

Historic preservation is also an important economic development tool, Peebles said, noting that money spent on the rehabilitation of historic buildings benefits the state’s economy as local contractors often perform the work.

Peebles takes over from acting SHPO Nancy Boone, who had held the position since 2008 when Jane Lendway, who had led the Division for Historic Preservation since 2003, retired after 33 years in state service.

Peebles, 58, of Montpelier, joined the Division for Historic Preservation, part of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, in 1976 as Vermont’s first State Archeologist.

She has undergraduate and graduate degrees in anthropology, respectively, from Cornell University and Idaho State University and has published numerous scholarly works and has given many presentations on various aspects of Vermont archeology and history locally and nationally. Peebles is currently a candidate for a PhD in anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Her dissertation centers on a recent initiative for which she received a national grant to create a prototype Internet-based Vermont archeology “museum” to share the wealth of information about the state’s 12,000-year-old history.

During her tenure she has been a passionate advocate for Vermont archeology, working from the beginning with federal and state agencies, non-profits, developers, and landowners to develop processes to protect archeological sites and sensitive lands whenever possible.

Recently she helped establish the Vermont Archaeology Heritage Center in South Burlington, where a large portion of the state’s collections of artifacts, many of which had been held out of state, can be accessed by students and scholars in one place.

The Division for Historic Preservation currently has 12 full-time staff and includes grant and technical assistance programs devoted to the rehabilitation and continued use of historic buildings- protection and interpretation of archeological resources- assistance to communities, developers, and landowners- administration of the 10 state-owned historic sites- and heritage education.

Cornell Puts 80,000 Public Domain Books Online

In an effort to make its materials globally accessible, Cornell University Library is sharing tens of thousands of digitized books with the Internet Archive. The new collaboration re-purposes nearly 80,000 books that the Library has already digitized in-house or through its partnership with Microsoft and Kirtas Technologies. All the books are in the public domain, printed before 1923 mainly in the United States. They cover a host of subject areas, including American history, English literature, astronomy, food and wine, general engineering, the history of science, home economics, hospitality and travel, labor relations, Native American materials, ornithology, veterinary medicine and women’s studies.

The collaboration with Internet Archive is another step in Cornell University Library’s participation in mass digitization initiatives. Earlier this year, the Library announced an expanded print-on-demand partnership with that allows readers to pay for reprinting of books on an individual basis.

To see Cornell University Library’s contributions, visit