If there is one thing historians should know, it is that “things change.” After all, without change, history would have no meaning. And historians would have no jobs. Face it. Everyone may love history. But the reason some of us collect paychecks, practically speaking, is that we perform the unique and essential service of helping people understand history—not so we can all venerate the past but so that we can change the way things are and make history ourselves. Read more
Office of Cultural Education
Lessons From the French and Indian War Commission
In the past decade, the New York State Legislature desired to create three anniversary commemoration commissions. The Commissions were necessary to bring together persons qualified by experience to coordinate and facilitate commemorations and activities.
In 2002 and 2004, the Hudson – Fulton- Champlain Quadricentennial Commission, and the French and Indian War 250th Anniversary Commemoration Commission (FIW) were created. In the past three years, three bills to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812 (1812) with a Commission have been vetoed by Governors Patterson and Andrew Cuomo.* Read more
Some Sources for Ideas and Inspiration
The posts here at New York History demonstrate the robustness of New York’s historical enterprise and the creativity and energy of people working in the field. But the posts also show the need for more leadership, coordination, resources, and new approaches. This post lists some sources from beyond New York that might provide useful perspectives for discussions about strengthening the historical enterprise in our state. (It is an expanded version of the list in my article in Public Historian last August.) Read more
Whats On Your New York History Reading List?
Another one bites the dust. That was the message of a recent article in the New York Times (Mourning a Cultural Hub Disguised as a Used Bookstore, November 28, 2011) about the closing of a book store in Metuchen, NJ. As one patron of the bookstore noted of the owner, “(H)e turned it into a kind of a clubhouse for the community [where everyone knew your name] and somehow it worked.” Read more
Peter Feinman: County Historical Societies
This is the third in a series of posts on the New York State History infrastructure. The previous ones were on County Historians and Municipal Historians. These posts draw on my experiences in initiating a series of county history conferences in the Hudson Valley this year and on Teacherhostels/Historyhostels I have conducted such as the one to the Mohawk Valley this past summer prior to Irene. Read more
State Museum Exhibits Burns Archives Photos
A new exhibition – Shadow and Substance: African American Images from The Burns Archive – has opened at the New York State Museum, showcasing rarely-seen photographs from one of the largest private photography collections in the world.
Open through March 31, 2012 in the Photography Gallery, the exhibition allows the viewer to perceive how African-Americans were seen by others and how they wished to be seen. These images do not tell a complete story of the past, but their eloquent shadows provide unique glimpses into the lives of African-Americans over the past 160 years.
The 113 images in Shadow and Substance include portraits, snapshots and photographs of celebration, tragedy and quiet joy, work and family, strength and perseverance. From early images of slaves and Civil War soldiers to new voters and political activists, the exhibition is filled with illustrations of achievement and shocking evidence of intolerance. Some images may not be suitable for young children.
The images were culled from the comprehensive Burns Archive of Historic Vintage Photographs that include specializations in medical and health care, death and dying, sports and recreation, in addition to images of African-Americans. The collection was amassed by Dr. Stanley B. Burns, an ophthalmologist, collector and curator in New York City who was the founding donor for several photography collections, including those of the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Burns has authored several books including “A Morning’s Work: Medical Photographs from the Burns Archive & Collection, 1843-1939”- “Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America” and “Forgotten Marriage: The Painted Tintype and Decorative Frame, 1860-1910.”
The traveling exhibition is organized by the Indiana State Museum and curated by Dr. Modupe Labode, assistant professor of history and public scholar of African-American History and Museum Studies at Indiana University.
The State Museum is a program of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Cultural Education. Located on Madison Avenue in Albany, the Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is free. Further information about programs and events can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877 or visiting the museum website at www.nysm.nysed.gov.
New-York Historical Society to Reopen
The New-York Historical Society will re-open its landmark building to the public at 11:00 a.m. on Veterans’ Day, Friday, November 11, 2011. A three-year, $65 million renovation of the Central Park West building has sensitively but thoroughly transformed the face of the institution — the first museum established in New York.
The Historical Society will remain open on November 11 until 11:00 p.m., offering free admission during that day to veterans and active service members and to children under 13, and free admission for all visitors after 6:00 p.m.
Entering the Historical Society, renovated by the firm of Platt Byard Dovell White Architects, visitors will encounter:
* an admissions area incorporating the ceiling from Keith Haring’s original “Pop Shop,” donated to the Historical Society by the Keith Haring Foundation
* a multi-media installation in the reconfigured Great Hall where the new Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History introduces major themes of American history through stories and figures from New York’s past- to include a selection of objects from the Historical Society’s collection
* a new facility, the DiMenna Children’s History Museum and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, designed especially to engage young visitors as History Detectives exploring the richness and wonder of America’s past
* the first major special history exhibition in the renovated building, Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn, an exploration of the interconnections among the American, French and Haitian revolutions
* an art exhibition drawn from works in the Historical Society’s collection: Making American Taste: Narrative Art for a New Democracy offers for the first time an in-depth look at the 19th-century paintings and sculpture collected by the New Yorkers who founded and built the Historical Society
* an Italian-themed dining facility operated by the Starr Restaurants group, offering a light menu throughout the day and full restaurant service at night
“I believe 11-11-11 – November 11th, 2011 – will be marked as the most important date for our Society since its founding 207 years ago,” stated Roger Hertog, Chairman of the Board of the New-York Historical Society in a prepared statement to the press.
“The world has long known that the New-York Historical Society holds unmatched collections in its museum and library,” stated Louise Mirrer, President and CEO. “More recently, people have also begun to know us for our vibrant special exhibitions, which bring complex historical themes to life. But we have never before opened ourselves up to the public with such light and transparency, or provided the kind of immediate access to our objects and ideas that we will offer when we re-open in November. It’s as if, at entry level, we are going from being a beautiful treasure house to a great showplace of the American experience.’”
Renovating a Landmark
On the exterior, the renovation project creates a wider main staircase and expanded main entrance on Central Park West- better sightlines into the building from the street- a redesigned 77th Street entrance with improved accessibility for school groups and visitors with disabilities, and illumination to highlight the architectural features at night.
Inside the building, the project creates the Historical Society’s first new gallery on the ground floor, the 3,400-square-foot Great Hall- renovates and improves the adjacent Robert H. Smith Auditorium- provides for the new restaurant, renovated Museum Store and Rotunda on the 77th Street side- and establishes the DiMenna Children’s History Museum and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, designed separately by Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership.
The building was designed and constructed in 1903-08 by York and Sawyer, a firm established by architects who had trained with McKim, Mead and White. York and Sawyer was also responsible for projects including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Bowery Savings Bank, New York Athletic Club and several of the buildings at Vassar College. In 1938, two new wings were completed at the Historical Society, designed by Walker and Gillette. The current renovation is the most ambitious construction project at the Historical Society since that 1938 expansion.
To increase the street presence gained through the renovation and heighten the building’s identity as a cultural destination, the Historical Society will install bronze statues of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass at the east and north stairways. The statues are fabricated by Studio EIS.
Creating the Great Hall Exhibition
For the first time, visitors coming into the Historical Society from Central Park West will immediately see into the heart of the building, thanks to a reconfiguration of the entrance space and the opening of a vista to the interior through a broad wall of glass. Visible at once through the glass will be the Great Hall— redesigned to house the Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History. The Gallery is the first permanent installation at the Historical Society to illustrate the themes addressed by the institution, provide an overview of the priceless collection and orient visitors to the experiences they may encounter.
The principal components of the Great Hall exhibition will be:
Created by the New York-based artist Fred Wilson (who represented the United States at the 2003 Venice Biennale), this sculptural installation takes objects from the Historical Society’s collection and arranges them into a complex and engaging environment, where the possible meanings of the artifacts seem to shift as the visitor walks through the space. Originally conceived for the Historical Society’s 2006 exhibition Legacies: Contemporary Artists Reflect on Slavery, the work incorporates items ranging from a section of wrought iron balustrade from the original Federal Hall, where George Washington took the oath of office as President, to slave shackles and an anonymous tobacco shop figurine of an African American man.
Through the Lens of New York
A dozen large-scale, high-definition digital screens affixed to the columns in the Great Hall will present a continuous, thematic slideshow of hundreds of treasures from the Historical Society’s collections. On the other side of the columns, touch-screen stations will allow visitors to investigate large themes that represent points of intersection between the histories of New York City and the United States: slavery, capitalism and commerce, toleration for dissent, immigration and diversity, expansion and westward movement, and the development of America’s low and high culture.
A ten-foot-high display case beyond the columns will showcase large-scale maps, architectural drawings, documents and other works on paper, which previously could not be exhibited because of their size and light sensitivity. In its first version, this changing installation will include the 8-foot-square Popple map (1733) of British possessions in North America, flanked by the Montresor map of New York City (1776) and the Battle of Long Island Map (August 27, 1776).
Founding New Yorkers
The centerpiece of the Great Hall will be an installation about New York’s critical role in United States history during the early Federal period, from around 1776 through 1804, the year of the Historical Society’s founding. A contemporary reinterpretation of a nineteenth-century salon-style art installation, the wall will feature a dense hanging of paintings, documents, artifacts and video monitors, divided into fiv
e sections: The American Revolution in New York- Mercantile New York City, Coffee House Culture and the Expansion of Urban Space- The Inauguration of George Washington and New York City as the First Capital- The Hamilton-Burr Duel and the Political and Banking System- and The Founding of the New-York Historical Society and the Forging of an American Culture. A dynamic concept developed by the David Small Design Firm (Cambridge, MA) will allow visitors to learn about the web of relationships among the events, ideas and people depicted on the wall by using touch-screen monitors only a few feet from the objects themselves.
Here is New York
Facing Founding New Yorkers will be Here is New York, a display of approximately 1,500 photographs taken by the people of New York City on September 11, 2001, and immediately afterward. These images by 790 contributors were first collected in an almost impromptu exhibition in SoHo soon after 9/11. Accompanying the photography installation will be a large fragment of a fire truck destroyed during the 9/11 attack.
The Dying Chief Contemplating the Progress of Civilization
At the opposite end of the Great Hall from Founding New Yorkers and Here is New York will be an installation of Thomas Crawford’s sculpture The Dying Chief Contemplating the Progress of Civilization (ca. 1856). A version of this important work is installed in the sculptural pediment over the U.S. Capitol’s east front.
History Manholes and History At Your Feet: Floor Cases of Urban Archaeology
In 1918, the New-York Historical Society founded the Field Exploration Committee, headed by the amateur archaeologists William Calver and Reginald P. Bolton, to explore and document historic sites in New York City and State and to recover and catalogue their artifacts. This work made the Historical Society a pioneer in the field of urban archaeology years before it became a professional discipline. Twelve manhole-like, circular exhibition cases, installed flush to the floor, will be dispersed throughout the Great Hall, showcasing relics such as arrowheads, military buttons, a colossal oyster shell excavated at an extant nineteenth-century tavern and a clock from the World Trade Center debris. The manholes will be part of a lively history-themed, educational scavenger hunt for visitors called, “History At Your Feet.” Through these objects, visitors of all ages will be introduced to the notion that history is all around us, even underfoot, in the modern city.
Keith Haring’s “Pop Shop” Ceiling Fragment
The ceiling over the admissions desk will be adorned with a fragment from Keith Haring’s “Pop Shop,” a store in the SoHo area of lower Manhattan that sold the artist’s graffiti-inspired t-shirts and souvenirs until after his death in 1990.
Bringing History to Life for Children
Located in a 4,000-square-foot vaulted space on the building’s lower level is the new DiMenna Children’s History Museum and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, both designed to engage families.
The DiMenna Children’s History Museum, designed by Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, invites children to become History Detectives, learning about the past through the use of historical artifacts and replicas, illustrations and interactive elements. The core of the experience is a series of three-dimensional pavilions, where children can identify with figures whose enterprise and creativity changed the course of our history. These biographical pavilions will introduce children to:
o Cornelia van Varick (ca. 1692-1733), daughter of Margrieta Van Varick, textile merchant in 17th century New York
o Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), the orphaned immigrant from the West Indies who became a Founder of the United States
o James McCune Smith (1813-65), the son of an enslaved woman who became the country’s first university-trained African American physician-
o Esteban Bellan (1850-1932), a Cuban youngster who became the first Latino to play professional baseball in the United States
o an Orphan Train girl (ca. 1890), one of the many New York City children transported by the Children’s Aid Society to new homes in the Midwest- and
o a New York “newsie” (ca. 1890), one of the children who eked out a living selling newspapers on the street
In other interactive experiences, young visitors will be able to go to the polls at the Cast Your Vote pavilion- deliver a presidential address at the First President kiosk, featuring a representation of Federal Hall- use the Historical Viewfinder display to see how selected sites in New York City have changed over time- and add their voices to the Children’s History Museum at the installation You Are An American Dreamer, Too.
At the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, young visitors and their families will find an area to sit and read children’s books, and to use interactive displays to explore rare books, manuscripts and maps from the Historical Society’s collection. Surrounding these interactive elements will be artifacts related to the volumes on display.
The development of Children’s History Museum and Library educational materials is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Tracing the Course of Revolution
The New-York Historical Society was born in 1804 in the aftermath of revolutions—in America, France and Haiti—that reverberated like rolling thunder back and forth across the Atlantic, with consequences that are still felt today. To mark its re-opening in 2011, the Historical Society will present Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn, the first exhibition to relate the American, French and Haitian struggles as a single global narrative.
Spanning decades of enormous political and cultural changes, from the triumph of British imperial power in 1763 to the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, Revolution! traces how an ideal of popular sovereignty, introduced through the American fight for independence, soon sparked more radical calls for a recognition of universal human rights, and set off attacks on both sides of the Atlantic against hereditary privilege and slavery. Among the astonishing, unforeseen outcomes was an insurrection on the French possession of Saint-Domingue, leading to the world’s only successful slave revolt and the establishment in 1804 of the first nation founded on the principles of full freedom and equality for all, regardless of color.
Richard Rabinowitz, founder and president of American History Workshop, serves as chief exhibition curator. Thomas Bender of New York University and Laurent Dubois of Duke University have served as the co-chief historians for Revolution!, drawing on the scholarship of an advisory committee of distinguished historians and specialists.
Following its presentation at the New-York Historical Society (November 11, 2011 – April 15, 2012), Revolution! will travel to venues in the U.K., France, and elsewhere in the United States. Educational materials and programs will be distributed internationally, including in Haiti.
State Museum, Library, Archives Closed Saturday
The New York State Museum, State Library and State Archives will be closed to the public on Saturday, September 24 due to semi-annual routine maintenance of electrical systems in the Cultural Education Center.
The Cultural Education Center is closed on Sundays. The State Museum, Library and Archives will reopen on Monday, September 26.
The State Museum, Archives and Library are part of the Office of Cultural Education (OCE) and are programs of the New York State Education Department. They are located on Madison Avenue in Albany. Admission is free. Further information can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877 or visiting the OCE website.
Meet New Netherland Centers Resident Scholar
Dr. Eric Ruijssenaars, the New Netherland Research Center’s first Senior Scholar in Residence and founder of Dutch Archives, a historical research firm in Leiden, will discuss his research at a luncheon on Wednesday, October 5 at the National Register-listed University Club of Albany, 141 Washington Avenue at Dove Street. The buffet lunch will begin at 12:00 noon, with the presentation commencing at 12:30 p.m., followed by a question and answer period.
Although a specialist in the history of Russia and the Netherlands, he is also a scholar of the Bronte sisters’ time in Brussels and has published two books on the subject.
He is currently researching the life of Abraham Staats. In 1642, Staats arrived in the Dutch colony of New Netherland to serve as a surgeon on patroon Kiliaen van Rensselaer’s vast estate, Rensselaerswijck, which is now part of Albany and Rensselaer counties. Over the course of his life, Staats became a magistrate of the court, a captain of the burgher guard, the owner of a sloop that made regular trips to New Amsterdam (New York City), and an Indian language translator. Something of an oddity in rough-and-tumble New Netherland, he remained a very respectable man and was, for that reason, regularly called on to mediate disputes between his less respectable and more litigious neighbors.
The New Netherland Research Center is a partnership of the New Netherland Institute and the New York State Office of Cultural Education. It continues and extends the work of the New York State Library’s New Netherland Project, which since 1974 has preserved, transcribed, translated, and published 17th century documents in order to make the history of the Dutch colonial presence in North America more broadly accessible for study.
The University Club of Albany Foundation, Inc. is presenting this event, and one need not be a member of the University Club to attend. The cost for the luncheon and lecture is $25. Reservations are required and may be made by calling the University Club at 518-463-1151.
Photo: The Abraham Staats House, one of the finest surviving buildings from the Dutch Settlement of the Raritan Valley in New Jersey.
Judith Wellman Keynotes Annual Peterboro Tea
Dr. Judith Wellman, well known scholar and author on the history of women’s rights and the Underground Railroad, will be the keynote speaker on Sunday, September 25 at 12:30 p.m. at the Annual In the Kitchen Bloomer Tea held at the Smithfield Community Center in Peterboro to celebrate Elizabeth Smith Miller’s birthday and women’s rights heritage. Miller, daughter of Ann and Gerrit Smith, is credited with creating a trouser costume in the mid 1800s that became a symbol of the women’s movement.
Dr. Wellman, author of The Road to Seneca Falls, will describe Peterboro’s role in the women’s movement, including the influence of Gerrit and Ann Smith during the summers that Elizabeth Cady Stanton spent in Peterboro, the debates over dress reform, and the inclusion of women in the Liberty League convention. Wellman states, “Everybody knows about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her work for women’s rights. But few people understand how important her cousins, Gerrit and Ann Smith and their daughter Elizabeth Smith Miller, were in shaping her reform agenda. Stanton and Elizabeth Smith Miller had a lifelong friendship, based on their shared sense of humor and their commitment to women’s rights (including dress reform). From Gerrit Smith, Stanton gained access to ideas and people at the highest levels of antislavery organization. (If you) want to hear the backstory of the Seneca Falls convention, come to this talk!”
Judith Wellman, Ph.D., is Historian and Principal Investigator, Historical New York Research Associates, and professor emerita, State University of New York at Oswego. Wellman has more than 30 years of award-winning experience in research, teaching, cultural resource surveys, and grants administration in U.S. history, women’s history, local history, Underground Railroad history, and historic preservation.
After earning her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia in 1974, Judith Wellman taught history at the State University of New York at Oswego. She teaches two online courses through the SUNY Learning Network and the State University of New York at Oswego: “Doing History Locally” and “Historic Preservation and Heritage Tourism.”
Judith Wellman has worked as a consultant and principal investigator on award-winning projects with the National Park Service, the Mary Baker Eddy Library, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the U. S. Department of Education, the Preservation League of New York State, the New York State Office of Historic Preservation, the New York Council for the Humanities, the Documentary Heritage Program of the New York State Archives, National Public Radio, the U.S. Department of Education, the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History, and a wide variety of local historical, genealogical, teachers, women’s, and preservation groups. She also regularly gives papers at major scholarly conventions, including the Organization of American Historians, Association for the Study of African American Life, and the National Council on Public History.
Judith Wellman is a member of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, the American Association for State and Local History, the Association for the Study of African American Life, and the National Council for Public History. She is a member of the Preservation League of New York State and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She is listed as a researcher for cultural resource surveys with the Preservation League of New York State and with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. She has served on the boards of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, the Women’s Museum and Leadership Center, the Heritage Foundation of Oswego, and the New York State History Advisory Board of the New York State Education Department. She is currently Coordinator of the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse Museum.
Wellman’s keynote Peterboro on the Road to Seneca Falls follows a tea catered by The Copper Turret of Morrisville NY and served by ladies attired in the Bloomer costume of Peterboro. Debra Kolsrud will describe ongoing history activities in Stanton’s hometown of Johnstown NY. Maxine Getty and Jody Luce will read Miller and Stanton letters. There will also be basket raffles and door prizes.
The tea is a presentation in a series of programs offered by the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark in Peterboro made possible, in part, by a PACE grant from the Central New York Community Foundation. $35 reservations required by August 27. $40 reservations by September 17. Seating is limited. Send check to Smithfield Community Association (501c3) PO Box 42, Peterboro NY 13134 or visit www.inthekitchentea.com