February 14, 2017

A New Year’s Message from the State Historian

Devin Lander

Greetings and Happy (Belated) New Year! 

2017 is a huge year for History in New York State.  Throughout the year we are celebrating several important and exciting anniversaries including the 200th anniversary of the beginning of construction of the Erie Canal, the 100th anniversary of women being granted the right to vote in New York State, the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I and the 240th anniversaries of New York’s first State Constitution and the Battles of Saratoga.  The NYS Museum is celebrating the 2017 anniversaries with three major exhibits, among other programming.  The first exhibit, “A Spirit of Sacrifice: New York State in the First World War,” opens April 15th, the second, “Enterprising Waters: New York’s Erie Canal,” opens September 16th and the third, “Votes for Women: Celebrating New York’s Suffrage Centennial” opens November 4th.  And opening April 7th 2018 is another exhibit called “The Art of the Erie Canal.”  A busy year indeed!

As you know, the Office of State History has a new website (http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/research-collections/state-history) that went live in October, 2016.  We continue to highlight News relevant to the field, as well as Events, Historian Notes, Resources, and the Meet the Historian section.  We will be specifically highlighting any events related to the 2017 anniversaries in their own section which is currently being created.  We will also be adding a “New York Minutes” section to the website that will feature important and/or interesting events that took place in New York’s history for each day of the year.  We will be seeking images that highlight these events from institutions across the state.  If you would like to submit content to the website, including any and all historical events, please send an email to: statehistory@nysed.gov.   

The Office of State History sent out a series of survey’s to elected officials in the fall/winter of 2016 looking for information and perspectives on the positions of local government historians.  There were 200 replies to this survey and the data has been collected, tabulated, and posted on the website.

Using the available information on the web, the Office of State History has also compiled a list of local/state history courses available at colleges and universities in the state.  This information has also been added to the website.  As always, if anyone notices incorrect or outdated information posted, please contact statehistory@nysed.gov.   

On December 6th, 2016, the NYS Museum hosted a gathering of the newly formed New York State History Advisory Group.  This Advisory Group was brought together at my request to provide guidance and suggestions to me related to the field of history in New York, including opportunities and challenges.  The group is purely advisory and volunteer in nature and includes representatives from various perspectives including local government historians, state agencies, the National Park Service, heritage areas, academia, historic preservation, and history museums.  The intent is for the group to meet twice a year and for the members to serve two-year terms to ensure a rotating diversity of viewpoints and perspectives.  The mission of the Advisory Group is to advise the State Historian on ways to strengthen the capacity of New York’s historical programs and history community to carry out the preservation, management, interpretation, teaching, learning, research, publication, study and use of New York’s state and local history and to elevate history as a field of endeavor at the national, state and local level.  I would like to thank the following Advisory Group Members for agreeing to serve on the first NYS History Advisory Group:

New York State History Advisory Group 2017 – 2019



John Bonafide

Historic Preservation Office, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation  

Ross Levi

Vice President of Marketing Initiatives, Empire State Development/NYS Division of Tourism

James Folts, PhD

Head of Researcher Services, New York State Archives; Fellow, New York Academy of History

Bob Radliff

Executive Director, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

Amy Bracewell

Superintendent, Saratoga National Historical Park

Kenneth T. Jackson, PhD

Jacques Barzun Professor of History & Social Science, Columbia University;

Fellow, New York Academy of History

Lisa Keller, PhD

Professor of History, SUNY Purchase; Fellow, New York Academy of History

Paul D’Ambrosio, PhD

President and CEO, NYS Historical Association/Fenimore Art Museum and the Farmers Museum

Marci Reaven, PhD

Vice-President for History Exhibitions, New-York Historical Society; Fellow, New York Academy of History

Gerald Smith

Past Board President, Association of Public Historians of NYS; Broome County Historian

Jay Di Lorenzo

President, Preservation League of New York State

Amie Alden

Executive Chair, Government Appointed Historians of Western NY; Livingston County Historian

Alexandra Parsons Wolf

Executive Director, Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities

Sara Ogger, PhD

Executive Director, Humanities New York

Craig Steven Wilder, PhD

Professor of American History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Fellow, New York Academy of History

Bruce Dearstyne, PhD

Author and Historian

Adjunct Professor, University of Maryland

Stefan Bielinksi

Community Historian

The People of the Colonial Albany Live Here Website;

Fellow, New York Academy of History

Carol Kammen

Tompkins County Historian; Fellow, New York Academy of History

Judith Wellman, PhD

Professor Emerita, SUNY Oswego; Director, Historical New York Research Associates; Fellow, New York Academy of History

Ivan D. Steen, PhD

Director, Center for Applied Historical Research; SUNY Albany

Melissa Brown

Executive Director, The Buffalo History Museum

John Haworth


Monica Mercado, PhD

Senior Executive, National Museum of the American Indian—New York City

Assistant Professor, Colgate University

Eva M. Doyle

Retired Public School Teacher/Historian/Columnist

At the December 6th meeting, there were several points of interest that were discussed by the group.  One topic discussed was updating the document “Duties and Functions of New York State’s Local Government Historians,” which is being amended and is now posted on the website.  It is a brief document that serves as a de facto “job description” for local government historians.  It can act as a guiding document for local government historians as the Association of Public Historians of NYS (APHNYS) works to create a comprehensive manual.

Another topic that generated much discussion was the possibility of changing NYS History month from November to a different, more accessible, month.  November tends to be a problematic month because so many historic sites that might host History Month programming and events close after Columbus Day.  The Advisory Group discussed what possible months may be better and suggestions included October (which is already Archives Month) and possibly April (which is the month when New York’s first Constitution was ratified).  April might run into some of the same issues as November with many sites not opening for their season until May.  To change History Month from November to another month requires an amendment to the existing law which would require an act of the Legislature.  Further input from the field is welcomed going forward. 

As we move forward into the busy 2017, there are several priority items that I will be working on.  I will continue to assist State and local efforts related to the major anniversaries for Women’s Suffrage, World War I and the Erie Canal.  Events, exhibits, and programs related to these anniversaries will be highlighted on the Office of State History website and I will be working with entities such as the NYS Women’s Suffrage Commission, the NYS World War I Centennial Commission, and the NYS Canal Corporation and Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor to highlight and promote their work throughout the year.

Hoping to build on the success of the training day hosted at the NYS Museum and sponsored in partnership with the Association of Counties, APHNYS, and the NYS Association of County Clerks on October 14th, 2016, I will be working to expand upon it and include all local government historians.  By developing new partnerships, and with continued support from the Office of Cultural Education, my hope is to facilitate a two-day training program for local government historians of all types.  Understanding the barrier that lack of travel funding sometimes presents, I will be focusing on finding funding to reimburse travel expenses for those willing and able to attend and providing online access to the programming for those unable to attend in person.

As always, I will continue to work with organizations and individuals of all kinds with the main goal of elevating the study, practice, promotion and teaching of New York’s history.  I will be attending gatherings of historians and partner groups whenever possible to learn and discuss ways to strengthen the historical enterprise across New York.  I look forward to working with you all.  I can be reached via email at devin.lander@nysed.gov if you have any input or suggestions and please check the website often for updates, news, and grant opportunities.


Devin Lander

New York State Historian