Marking John Browns Struggle For Human Rights

One hundred and fifty-three years ago this week John Brown led an anti-slavery raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, part of the radical movement of tens of thousands of Americans struggling to undermine the institution of slavery in America before the Civil War.

It’s often said that just one thing secured Brown’s place in the hearts of millions of Americans &#8211 his execution and martyrdom. But there is another more important reason to celebrate the life of John Brown &#8211 his courage in standing against unjust state and federal laws, the press, and popular culture in the cause of basic human rights. Read more

John Warren: Why Fort Anns Battle Hill is Significant

On Saturday an event in Fort Ann, Washington County will highlight Battle Hill, the site of the Revolutionary War Battle of Fort Anne. A company has plans to mine the battlefield, where an estimated 100 to 200 men were killed, wounded, or captured, and a group of local historians and volunteers has come together to oppose the plan. You can read more about the mining threat to the battlefield and the planned event here, but I thought a look at the importance of the Battle of Fort Anne was worth a look.

The story of Fort Anne’s Battle Hill really begins about 30 miles north at Fort Ticonderoga. Read more

Company Wants to Mine Fort Anne Battlefield

A battle is brewing in Fort Ann, Washington County. Troy Topsoil has purchased part of Battle Hill, the site of the Revolutionary War Battle of Fort Anne. The company hopes to mine the battlefield, where an estimated 100 to 200 men were killed, wounded, or captured.

A group of historians and volunteers has planned a day of events to highlight the history of the Battle of Fort Anne, including an afternoon roundtable discussion on the current threat to the battlefield this Saturday, April 28th at Fort Ann Central School.

&#8220This place has remained undisturbed for over 235 years, then Troy [Topsoil] obtained the property and has cleared out trees, built roads, installed culverts and drilled wells, in order to operate a sand and gravel pit,&#8221 Fort Ann Town Historian Virginia Parrott, who opposes the project, told me, &#8220To most people in town including the Fort Ann American Legion Post 703, this is a desecration of sacred ground as people have fought and died here in the name of freedom, and are buried on Battle Hill.&#8221 [You can read more about the history of Battle Hill here].

&#8220That whole hill is a battle site,&#8221 Parrott had previously told the Glens Falls Post-Star. &#8220There was thousands of troops there. We’re not talking about a little group of soldiers &#8230- like Roger’s Rangers that went out with 10 or 12 people. We’re talking about Burgoyne’s entire army.&#8221

Anthony Grande, speaking for the mining company, said an archaeologist report commissioned by his company showed no one was buried in the area targeted for the open pit mine. &#8220The battlefield is south of me where there is an issue,&#8221 Grande told the Post-Star. &#8220It’s definitely south of there, probably 3,000 to 4,000 feet. I’m not exactly sure.&#8221 The company is seeking to open a 30 to 40-acre mine on Battle Hill.

Several historic sources report that at least six men are buried at Battle Hill according to Parrott, who has been town historian since 1975. The site has never been listed on state or national registers of historic places, although the Town of Fort Anne installed a plaque at the site in 1929 and the American Legion places flowers on one of the graves each year. The lack of established protection for important American battlefields is common. &#8220Of the nation’s 243 Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefields, 141 have been severely impaired or destroyed&#8221 a recent report by the Department of Interior’s American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) concluded (2007).

Battle Hill was classified as a Principal Battlefield, Priority 2, Class C site in that report, meaning that it was home to a “nationally significant event&#8221 and the &#8220site of a military or naval action that influenced the strategy, direction, or outcome of a campaign or other operation.&#8221 Furthermore, the report found that &#8220The endangered Class C sites in this category should be the focus of immediate and direct preservation measures by state and local governments and organizations. These sites may not survive without immediate intervention.&#8221

Tanya Grossett, surveyed the battlefield in 2001 for that report and concluded, with help of Jim Warren of NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation and Chris Martin of NYS Archives and Records Administration, that the quarry does fall within the core of the battlefield. Paul Hawke, director of the American Battlefield Protection Program concurred with that finding after a tour of the site last Tuesday.

The land is owned by Gino Vona. According to a story last week in Post-Star, &#8220Vona said he’s offered to donate a small sliver of the site, about 20 or 30 acres, for preservation and he questions whether stalling a project that could create jobs, for the sake of historic preservation, is an appropriate governmental move.&#8221

&#8220These men fought against the king who was taking their things. Many of them were just regular, hard-working people,” Vona told Post-Star reporter Jon Alexander, “Aren’t we talking about doing the same thing?”

The company had applied for a permit to mine the location in August 2009 which did not include a state Historic Preservation Office review and was denied. The company submitted a new application at the end of 2011. The public will be able to comment on the project officially after the application is ruled complete by the NYS Department of Conservation.

The event on Saturday is sponsored by the Washington County Historical Society and will feature Author Karl Crannell, Fort Ticonderoga Chris Fox, Kingsbury historian Paul Loding, and Matt Zembo from Hudson Valley Community College.

The event will begin run from 11 am to 4 pm. There will be a memorial service at Noon- the roundtable discussion will follow at 1 pm at the Fort Ann Central School Auditorium.

Major Study Finds Park Service History Imperiled

A new report examining the practice and presentation of American history at the National Park Service (NPS) from the Organization of American Historians (OAH) conclude that &#8220the agency’s ability to manage its sites&#8230- has been imperiled by the agency’s weak support for its history workforce, by agency structures that confine history in isolated silos, by longstanding funding deficiencies, by often narrow and static conceptions of history’s scope, and by timid interpretation.&#8221

&#8220All but a handful of&#8221 of NPS historians responding to a survey conducted for the study painted a &#8220bleak picture&#8221 of the state of the agency historical efforts:

&#8220They describe NPS history as &#8216-an afterthought’ relegated to &#8216-small cubicles and minor sideshows’ and therefore either &#8216-stagnant and irrelevant to today’s generation and issues’ or &#8216-moribund, old-fashioned, and largely irrelevant, with a couple of spots of fearlessness and innovation.’ It is &#8216-erratic,’ one respondent says, &#8216-outstanding in some places, awful in others.’ &#8216-Underfunded, undervalued, underutilized and misunderstood,’ summarizes another, while several express a sense of decline: history in the Park Service, respondents asserted, is &#8216-deteriorating’- &#8216-losing ground’- and &#8216-threatened.’

The report highlighted several specific shortcomings at NPS including, among others:

An underemphasis and underfunding of historical work as priorities shifted to natural resources, law enforcement, and other concerns-

An artificial separation of cultural resources management from interpretation-

An artificial separation of natural resources interpretation from cultural and historical

An overemphasis on mandated compliance activities at the expense of other ways history
can be practiced- and

A misperception of history as a tightly bounded, single and unchanging “accurate” story, with one true significance, rather than an ongoing discovery process in which narratives change over time as generations develop new questions and concerns, and multiple perspectives are explored.

The report makes or endorses nearly one hundred recommendations including:

A concerted effort to invest in adequate staffing and restored funding for history-

Formal and informal mechanisms to improve communication and reduce isolation both within and beyond the agency to &#8220maximize synergies with an array of external partners&#8221-

A number of professional training, competency and historian employment recommendations-

Make NPS scholarship more widely available, both within and outside the agency-

Establishing a History Leadership Council, comprising the agency’s most talented and influential historians and interpreters, and a History Advisory Board &#8220comprising the nation’s leading public history professionals from beyond the agency—the most innovative curators, the most insightful scholars, the most savvy administrators&#8221- and

Encourage the OAH and the history profession to expand support history in the NPS.

The report is the result of a 2008 request by the NPS chief historian’s office to undertake a study of “the State of History in the National Park Service.” The report was produced by four historians: Anne Mitchell Whisnant (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Marla Miller (University of Massachusetts Amherst), Gary Nash (University of California, Los Angeles), and David Thelen (Indiana University).

The report’s methodology included an electronic questionnaire sent to over 1,500 members of NPS’s permanent staff who have some responsibility for history, solicited perspectives
from retired and current NPS historians and administrators, and also external stakeholders such as historians in colleges and universities who have worked closely with the agency. The report’s producers visited dozens of parks and conducted seven large-group listening sessions at annual meetings of the OAH, National Council on Public History, and National Association for Interpretation. They also consulted OAH-sponsored site-visit reports, NPS administrative histories, and previous studies including the 1963 Leopold Report as well as the 1966 study With Heritage so Rich.

The full report, Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service is available online [pdf].

John Warren: A New York History Site Update

It’s been two months since I announced that we’d be taking this site to the next level, and how far we have come! More than a dozen organizations and individuals from around the state have answered the call to contribute to this online effort to help foster a sense of shared mission and purpose among New York historians of every stripe.

Among those that have already joined us as regular contributors are State Historian and Chief Curator of the New York State Museum Robert Weible and President of the Association of Public Historian of NYS Gerald Smith– long-time public historians like Wanda Burch, who recently retired as site manager of Johnson Hall State Historic Site and Tompkins County Historian and AASLH columnist Carol Kammen– Northern New York historian Lawrence Gooley– and the two gentlemen who provided much of the impetus for this effort Bruce Dearstyne, who served as guest editor, for Public Historian&#8216-s NYS issue, and Peter Feinman, Director of the Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education.

An equally esteemed list of those who have agreed to begin contributing in the coming months includes folks from the New York State Historical Association, the New York Folklore Society, the Museum of the City of New York, the NYC Archivists Round Table, NYS Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, and the North Star Underground Railroad Museum.

We’re still in need of contributors, and in the coming weeks I’ll be reaching out to some of the less represented sectors of New York history. Given the response so far, I’m confident we’ll be growing in some exciting new ways. Suggestions for new contributors can be sent to me via e-mail by clicking on my by-line above, or left below in the comments.

In the meantime, spread the word about what we’re up to, and contribute to the discussions. You can follow us the following ways:

Taking New York History to the Next Level

Regular readers of this online newsmagazine about New York State’s history should be happy to learn that we’re stepping it up a notch. The state has one of the richest histories in the United States, a tremendous opportunity for education, economic development, and creating social, cultural, and political links to our shared past.

This site’s aspirations are to provide what Bruce Dearstyne has called New York’s &#8220historical enterprise&#8221 an opportunity to collaborate and connect with history lovers and practitioners in order to help foster a sense of shared mission and purpose among New York historians of every stripe.

&#8220Too many programs are struggling with unclear missions, undefined audiences, and inadequate resources,&#8221 Dearstyne recently wrote on these pages. &#8220There are several state programs in the history arena, but coordination among them is limited and there is little sense of common purpose in the state’s history community.&#8221 I couldn’t agree more.

For the past several years I’ve edited New York History as a daily journal of news and events. That serves as a good base, but the more important goal is to explore the hard issues that trouble New York’s historical enterprise, from a variety of perspectives.

Regular readers may not be aware that I founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005. The site has been very successful by featuring some 20 contributors intimately familiar with life in the Adirondacks and drawing one of the largest online readerships in the Adirondack region. In 2010, Adirondack Almanack was honored by the Adirondack Mountain Club for &#8220outstanding talent and journalistic achievement in building an online, independent news source for the Adirondacks.&#8221 I expect nothing less for New York History. Hopefully, if you’ll join us, we’ll begin today to take our first small steps toward Dearstyne’s &#8220common purpose in the state’s history community.&#8221

Taking New York History to the next level will mean more commentary around public history issues, cultural resource economics, legislative efforts, and the concerns of the various disciplines (cultural history, political history, economic history, preservation, etc) the stat’s rich history deserves. It will require those with something important to say about New York’s historical enterprise to stand up and be counted.

Our audience are those interested in New York History, including lay people interested in learning more about the history of the state, history professionals interested in keeping up with what others around the state are doing, educators and academics interested in making connections to state and local history, and those concerned with historical cultural resource management more generally.

Beginning this week we’ll see new contributors and an increasing number of commentaries comparing and contrasting state history issues, exploring the problems of local historians, state historic sites, academia, and more. No doubt some toes will be stepped on, there will be some critical comments and commentary. Hopefully some old machinery will be taken apart to study is wheels and gears, to suggest some new fuels or encourage new operators to run that machinery in new ways.

Shortly we’ll I’ll be introducing our first new contributor, Peter Feinman, founder and president of the Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education. Over the next weeks and months we’ll be rolling out new contributors from a variety of disciplinary and regional perspectives.

I’m confident the site has great potential and I welcome those interested in contributing regularly or a single guest essay to contact me ([email protected]).