Empire State Engagements
with Dr. Robert Chiles
Empire State Engagements
with Dr. Robert Chiles
A conversation with Dr. Jennifer Lemak, Chief Curator of History at the New York State Museum, about her book Southern Life, Northern City: The History of Albany's Rapp Road Community (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press/Excelsior Editions, 2008). We discussed African-American life in Albany during the Great Migration, the unique history of migration to Albany from Mississippi, and the remarkable endurance of the Rapp Road community despite radical transformations to the surrounding area.
A conversation with Dr. Kara Murphy Schlichting of Queens College, City University of New York, about metropolis-makers on the periphery, the heroism of local libraries, the hubris of hipness, and her revisionist environmental history of the making of modern New York City, New York Recentered: Building the Metropolis from the Shore (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago, 2019).
A conversation with Dr. Catherine O'Donnell of Arizona State University about her book Elizabeth Seton, American Saint (Ithaca, N.Y.: Three Hills/Cornell University Press, 2018). We discussed young Elizabeth Seton's formative years in New York City, the intellectual forces and family tragedies that informed her spiritual journey, the evolution of American Catholicism, and Mother Seton's remarkable journey from despair to serenity and, ultimately, sainthood.
A conversation with New York State Museum senior historian and curator Ashley Hopkins-Benton about her panel exhibition on the history of the Pride Center of the Capital Region, as well as her work to recover and incorporate more LGBTQ+ history into the museum's content.
A conversation with Dr. Alyssa Maldonado-Estrada of Kalamazoo College about her book Lifeblood of the Parish: Men and Catholic Devotion in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (New York: NYU Press, 2020). We discussed her experiences over six years of ethnographic work engaging the parish community; reading tattoos as devotional texts; playfulness and devotion in masculine spaces; the rich history of Italian-American Catholicism in Williamsburg; the the financial realities of community devotion; and the endurance of this parish, tradition, and community--despite decades of challenges ranging from reactionary clergymen to Robert Moses to gentrifying hipsters.
A conversation with New York State Museum senior historian and curator Brad Utter about his recent exhibit on the Erie Canal "Enterprising Waters," as well as his book of the same title (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press/Excelsior Editions, 2020). We discussed the research process, evolving vision, and geometric constraints of curating an exhibit on this scale; the serendipitous discovery of an enormous canal-era windlass within the museum's holdings; the politics, economics, and engineering of the canal's creation and expansion; the influence of the canal on various New York cities and cultural movements; and the enduring legacies of the Erie Canal.
A conversation with author Brad Edmondson about his book A Wild Idea: How the Environmental Movement Tamed the Adirondacks (Ithaca, N.Y.: Three Hills/Cornell University Press, 2021). We discussed evolving meanings of "forever wild," the growing momentum for a more assertive preservationism in the 1960s, the role of the Rockefeller brothers to Adirondack policy, the creation of the Adirondack Park Agency, frustrations among North Country residents with the state's changing role in the region, and the value of elevating character-driven stories within policy history. This conversation was hosted as a live event by the Northshire Bookstore, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and we are grateful for their hospitality and generosity.
A conversation with author, historian, and mariner Jessica DuLong about her book Saved at the Seawall: Stories from the September 11 Boatlift (Ithaca, N.Y.: Three Hills/Cornell University Press, 2021). We discussed the remarkable stories of courageous and humane improvisation by New York mariners that converged to form the largest boatlift in history. We also talked about New York's maritime heritage, the evolution New York harbor, September 11 as a transportation emergency, reassessing conceptions of heroism, public memory of September 11, and the author's service aboard the retired 1931 New York Fireboat JOHN J. HARVEY.
A conversation with Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne about his New York History article "The Debut of the Administrative State in New York" (102.2), as well as his books The Crucible of Public Policy (Albany: SUNY Press, 2022) and The Spirit of New York 2nd ed. (Albany: SUNY Press, 2022). We discussed the legal decisions about state regulatory power that affirmed legislative delegation, progressive administration in early 20th century New York, the crafting of workers' compensation, the under-studied importance of Alton B. Parker, the Capitol Fire of 1911, Last of the Mohicans, Hamilton, and more!
A conversation with Dr. Jeff Broxmeyer of the University of Toledo about his book Electoral Capitalism: The Party System in New York’s Gilded Age (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020). We discussed how democratization of politics transformed the economic motives of political actors, Boss Tweed as a businessman, Tammany banking, Roscoe Conkling's use of patronage, the centrality of Morton, Bliss to the G.O.P., the remarkable endurance of Levi Morton, the importance of New York State to national partisan competition, the motives of rank and file partisan actors, and radical challenges to this Electoral Capitalism.
A conversation with Dr. Marsha E. Barrett of the University of Illinois about her new article "'Millionaires are more Democratic Now': Nelson Rockefeller and the Politics of Wealth in New York," which appears in vol. 102.1 of New York History (Summer, 2021). We discussed Rockefeller's use of wealth to court advisers as well as supporters and to pursue both political and policy objectives; New York voters' views of wealth in politics; the early 1970s as a time of changing attitudes about disclosure and campaign finance; Rockefeller's executive style and broader ambitions; his relationship with Jackie Robinson and his paradoxical legacies on civil rights; Empire State Plaza as an architectural metaphor for Rockefeller's gubernatorial temperament; and the meaning of "Rockefeller Republican."
A conversation with Dr. Lizabeth Cohen, Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies and Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of History at Harvard, who discussed her Bancroft Prize-winning book "Saving America's Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age." Dr. Cohen explored the importance of Logue's Yale experiences, labor activism, and New Deal liberalism to his later career as an urban planner and his work in New Haven, Conn., and Boston. We engaged in particular with Logue's career in New York State: as head of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller's Urban Development Corporation and later the South Bronx Development Organization, exploring the opportunities and pitfalls of regional planning, the politics of suburban zoning, the triumph of Roosevelt Island, the importance of federal funding, and the lessons of Logue's long public career
A conversation with photographer and historian Marisa Scheinfeld about her book The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America's Jewish Vacationland (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2016). We discussed the rise of the Borscht Belt and its place in Jewish American history and U.S. popular culture, her childhood memories of the region, the legal and physical perils of her work at these sites, and her efforts to document and convey the history, ruins, nature, pathos, and possibility of the shuttered Catskill resorts that transformed twentieth-century America.
A conversation with Dr. Daniel Macfarlane about his book "Fixing Niagara Falls: Environment, Energy, and Engineers at the World's Most Famous Waterfall" (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2020). We discussed conflicting meanings of the falls for Indigenous People, sojourners mesmerized by their beauty, and entrepreneurs with utilitarian industrial visions and dreams of hydroelectric generation; the political dilemmas of managing such a valuable yet vulnerable resource on an international border; the role of Robert Moses in ramrodding power projects to completion in the postwar period; the remarkable re-engineering and re-construction of the falls themselves; de-watering Niagara; and the enduring appeal and splendor of the falls today, despite their "artificial" nature.
A conversation with Dr. Michael B. Boston of SUNY Brockport about his revisionist work on the business strategy of Booker T. Washington and his efforts to increase African-American entrepreneurship through the National Negro Business League, including in New York City, the subject of Dr. Boston's latest article for New York History. We discussed the importance of Washington's business strategy, its application nationally, and the ways in which the NNBL affected the growth of Black New York. We also discussed the importance of nuance and context for historical assessments of Washington and his rivalry with W.E.B. Du Bois, as well as his longer legacy. Additionally, we discussed Dr. Boston's works on African Americans in Western New York, including his scholarship on the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls, his work on the abolitionist Dr. P.H. Skinner, and his forthcoming monograph for SUNY Press, Blacks in Niagara Falls (2021).
A conversation with Prof. Melissa Franson, PhD candidate in the History Department at Binghamton University and an instructor in the history department at SUNY New Paltz, about her New York History article “'Wide Awakes, Half Asleeps, Little Giants and Bell Ringers': Political Partisanship in the Catskills of New York During the Elections of 1860 and 1862.” We discussed how local economic concerns, infrastructural aspirations, and generational divides informed regional politics in the Catskills on the eve of the Civil War; the role of racism and anti-slavery in informing those politics; the centrality of newspaper editors to 19th century partisanship; and the contradictions between primary evidence and accepted local narratives about the political and military motivations of the region at the time of the Civil War.
A conversation with Dr. Thomas J. Balcerski of Eastern Connecticut State University about his New York History article "'The Little Spark of Manhood I Have Left': Governor Thomas Melville and the Aged Seamen of Sailors' Snug Harbor," and his recent monograph Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). We discussed his research into homosocial spaces, heavy-handed discipline, and conflicts and resistance at the Sailors' Snug Harbor on Staten Island; evolving social responses to aging in America; the long road from graduate research paper to published article; the male friendships that shaped Antebellum politics—particularly that of James Buchanan and William Rufus King; historical assessments of the Buchanan presidency and the need for nuance in pondering Buchanan's personal life and friendships; and the role of historians in the public sphere.
A conversation with Dr. Melissa Fuster of Tulane University about her book Caribeños at the Table: How Migration, Health, and Race Intersect in New York City (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2021). We discussed the transnational history of the inter-related cuisines of Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican migrants to New York City; the evolution of these communities' relationships to food and to the broader life of New York City in the twentieth century; the rise of "The Big Mango"; the importance of understanding how race, class, imperialism, and other structural factors shaped caribeños' foodways historically as well as in our own time; the importance of overcoming simplistic descriptions of culture in crafting public health and nutrition policies; and the endurance of caribeño cuisines in twenty-first century New York.
A conversation with Shayla Colon of the Albany Times Union about her series "Two Sides of Pearl Street" on the history and contemporary challenges of Pearl Street, Albany, N.Y. We discussed Pearl Street's heyday as a vibrant shopping district, its importance as a center for working-class immigrants and African American migrants from the Great Migration. She also described how the visions of Governor Rockefeller and Mayor Corning, urban renewal projects like the Empire State Plaza and the South Mall Arterial, and policies such as redlining, led to disruption and disinvestment and led to significant differences between North and South Pearl Street that influence the day to day experiences of contemporary residents.
A conversation with Dr. Clarence Jefferson Hall, Jr., about his book A Prison in the Woods: Environment and Incarceration in New York's North Country (Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 2020). We discussed the history of incarceration in New York State, the relationship between prisons and the Adirondack environment, the political, social, and economic motives for creating more prisons in the North Country, the relationship between the 1980 Winter Olympics and the expansion of the prison system, the racial motivations and implications of state correctional policies, and why the history of prisons and the history of the surrounding environments are inextricably intertwined.