The Historian’s Responsibilities
1.) Research and Writing
The primary function of the Historian is to interpret the history of Orleans County and to disseminate that history through appropriate mediums. The Historian regularly authors a weekly column in the local news outlets including The Batavia Daily News and the Orleans Hub. A biannual historical journal, The Pioneer Record, will be published electronically by the Department of History to further promote the study of local history within the ten townships and four villages making up Orleans County.
Another important function of the Historian is to interpret the history of Orleans County by providing educational opportunities and presentations to organizations within the community. Such opportunities include teaching courses or workshops on local and regional history, serving as an educational resource for NYS and local history in the fourth and seventh grade school curricula, consult with area historical organizations with the development of exhibitions and publications, and lecturing to various community groups. Available presentation/lecture topics are available HERE.
3.) Historic Preservation
The Historian’s role in historic preservation is two-fold. Regular efforts are made by the Historian to ensure that the community’s built environment is preserved for future generations. The Historian will assist community members with preparing applications for the Register of State and National Historic Places or applications for National Historic Landmark status. Other projects may include the identification of historic structures, cultural resource surveys, and the historic marker program.
The Historian is also tasked with preserving the manuscripts, records, documents, photographs, artifacts, and other historic materials. Aside from preservation of materials within the County Department of History, the Historian also consults with area historical agencies and libraries on preservation practices and the identification of historic items.
4.) Advocacy, Organization, and Tourism
The final responsibility of the Historian is that of advocate and organizer. With the rise of Heritage Tourism in New York, many historians are responsible for leading efforts to promote county-wide tourism initiatives. The Historian is also asked to lead and organize effort to commemorate important national, state, and local anniversaries, drawing upon their knowledge of the past to promote such celebrations in a tasteful manner.
The Historian is expected to act as a fund raiser and grant writer, leading efforts to financially support local history initiatives. Also, the Historian will lobby with local government agencies to develop legislative initiatives aimed at promoting local history.
Additional Responsibilities of the County Historian
The County Historian also supervises the activities of town and village historians, offering guidance and support, and serving as a liaison between local historians and the State Historian. It is the responsibility of the County Historian to hold regular meetings of the town and village historians, to promote collaborative projects, and to assist local historians whenever possible.
As a public officer, the Historian is responsible for making the materials within the County Department of History accessible to the community. Regular hours will be held and adequate effort will be made to make any and all materials available for public consumption.
The New York State Arts and Cultural Affairs Law states that local historians cannot conduct individual, on-demand genealogical research using government funds. Therefore, research requests on families located outside of Orleans County cannot be responded to. It is understood that the Historian will retain information pertinent to families within the county as they relate to larger historical events. Information can be provided to researchers however, the Historian cannot conduct further research beyond what is retained within the department’s files. Research requests will be forwarded to the Orleans County Genealogical Society.
The Development of New York State’s Historians
A 1911 fire at the State Capitol building in Albany combined with a lack of established historical societies and the destruction of primary source materials throughout the state led to the passing of the “Historian’s Law” in 1919. With the passing of that law, New York became the first state to develop a network of officially appointed city, town, and village historians.
With the conclusion of the First World War in November of 1918, the first task for New York’s newly appointed local historians was to record the involvement of New Yorkers in the war. By 1921, the State realized the need for appointed historians in the five boroughs of New York City and passed an amendment to the Historian’s Law. Twelve years later another amendment was passed, requiring the appointment of county historians. Prior to 1933, sixteen of the fifty-seven counties had appointed historians.
In 1927, New York State Historian Dr. Alexander Flick worked diligently to establish a state historic marker program with the intention of encouraging local historians to research and verify the information found on each marker. This program remains a vital responsibility of the local historian. After World War Two, New York State Historian Dr. Albert Corey pushed for local historians to systematically organize the resources within history departments to increase the public’s access to materials.
In 1976, the passing of the United States Bicentennial meant the role of the local historian would increase. It was the responsibility of historians across the State of New York to lead efforts in celebrating the bicentennial, establishing committees, and promoting the history of the United States. Four years later, New York celebrated its own bicentennial and local historians took on a similar role yet again. Following the passing of these monumental milestones, historians returned to their core responsibilities of research, education, and local preservation projects.