Tompkins County historian Carol Kammen has been awarded the 2020 Lehman Prize for Distinguished Service in New York History. She is being recognized for her career writing, promoting, and contributing to local community history. Kammen has served as county historian since 2000. The award is given annually as a part of the New York Academy of History’s mission to promote and honor outstanding and life-long contributions to New York history, and is named for former New York State Governor Herbert H. Lehman.
When asked to reflect on her experience and achievements, Kammen stated, “I came to Ithaca in 1965, and sort of fell into doing history. My kind of history was not the kind of history people had done, until the 1960’s it had been about old families, battles, and institutions, whereas I was interested in women, people of color and different ethnicities, and of mobility. Not only did people come and go, but people who came here moved around a lot. People’s lifelong search for something better interested me.”
Kammen has spent her career raising the profile of what it means to be a county historian, including the publication of numerous books and pamphlets, promotion of relevant commemorations, and lecturing across the country on the opportunities and problems of local history. Her most recent publication, Achieving Beulah Land: the long fight for suffrage in Tompkins County, written with Elaine Engst, uncovers Tompkins County’s role in supporting women’s suffrage in the late 19th century through the 1917 New York State constitutional amendment granting women’s suffrage. Kammen’s books are frequently used in classrooms throughout the U.S. as a lens on studying local history.
Kenneth T. Jackson, president of the New York Academy of History stated, “For more than a generation Carol Kammen has set the standard for local, county, and state history in the United States. She has been a strong advocate for New York State and has generously shared her enthusiasm and expertise with everyone around her. The Herbert H. Lehman Prize is testimony to her numerous accomplishments.”
Legislator Mike Lane, having co-chaired the Tompkins County Civil War Commemoration Committee with Kammen stated “In her mission of making local history relevant, she consistently elevates the conversation and has a commitment to collaboration with other local and regional historians. Tompkins County is proud of the contributions to helping us understand and make sense of our past as we work toward a better future.”
The New York Academy of History is a not-for-profit organization consisting of people who have distinguished themselves in the practice of New York history. It aims to encourage its study, advocate for its strength, and represent the interests of those who work in classrooms, archives, historical societies, libraries, and other venues. Kammen was selected for the prize by a jury of her peers and will be recognized in a (rescheduled) gala to be held by the Academy.
Kammen summed up her approach to local history stating, “It is important to help people find a sense of community, if we know about a place we’re not just passing through.”
Read more about Carol Kammen's work as Tompkins County Historian.