The Hudson River Valley Institute Blog
By Jason Schaaf
On June 12th through the 14th Marist College and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum hosted the 35th Conference on New York History. The New York State Archives Partnership Trust along with the New York State Museum and the Hudson River Valley Institute joined together to make this year’s conference a great success. With over 300 people participating, this year ranks among the highest in attendance.
The first day of the conference was held at the FDR Library’s state of the art Wallace Center. I’ve gone to several conferences at this site and am always pleased with how well things are organized and presented. The staff there is always great. The opening session fittingly concerned Creating Collaborations among those involved in New York State history. It worked to set the tone for many of the panels I sat in on that made a point of drawing people from several fields and disciplines in an attempt to bring the subject material to life in a highly nuanced many.
There were several key note speakers present over the course of the conference. The most famous of which was arguably documentary film maker Ken Burns who spoke at the Wallace Center. He took the opportunity to show scenes from his upcoming documentary, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, set to premier on PBS in the Fall of 2014. Mr. Burns took a few questions from the audience but being a film lover that I am I found myself wishing he could have spoken for much longer. Still it was a very nice experience.
Aside from Ken Burns I was able to enjoy several other high profile speakers. For example we had the chief historian and VP of the History Channel, Libby O’Connel talk on Thursday evening which I sadly had to miss. But we also enjoyed talks from Myra McPherson on Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin entitled The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Sufferage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age. I was particularly fond of this talk as it covered a subject I knew very little of an as Mrs. McPhearson is a journalist by trade, she brought an interesting perspective to storytelling that was pleasantly different than the academic approach. Other key note speakers included Barnet Schecter speaking on the 1863 Draft Riots of NYC and Douglas Brinkley talking on FDR’s close association to the Hudson Valley.
The conference also featured a host of panels. Having a deep affection for New York History, I frequently had to make difficult choices on which to attend as there were always three panels per time slot. I spent time in the ones that spoke to the remembrance of 9/11 which, being such a sensitive issue to all New Yorkers, was handled with care and professionalism yet offered many interesting ways to look at how that horrific event is remembered. I also sat on a panel on landscape architecture as well as another on the Roosevelts. In each of these the collection of presentations and perspectives raised interesting questions and points of interest. I can say that I was able to take something away from my experience in each. Finally I chaired a panel on Place Based History with Debi Duke of Teaching the Hudson Valley, Shaun Boyce of Arlington High School and Susan Stessin of the Town of New Paltz. It turned into quite the lively panel as is so often the case when discussing issues that pertain to education and its goals and limitations. All said and done, it was a pleasure to chair and I felt that a good discussion was had.
So in conclusion, the Conference on New York State History for 2014 was a well-organized and attended event. It was mentioned on numerous occasions how this one came close to breaking previous attendance records. The panels were lively and the speakers were highly informed and diverse. It’s a conference that anyone interested in New York history, be they educators, site administrators or casual fans should pencil into their summer schedules for the upcoming years.