Geneseo to host conference convening New York state’s local historians

The History department (pictured above) is hosting a local conference. Distinguished professor of history Michael Oberg has organized the conference and intiative that links up students and local historians. This conference is scheduled for Saturday Feb.16 (Josie Kwani/associate photo editor).

Distinguished professor of history Michael Oberg is pioneering a conference and initiative that is the first of its kind in New York state. The initiative works to link up local historians with students so they can work together on projects about local history. 

Oberg specifies in his blog that the state is required to have hundreds of local historians within specific towns, but they are often passed over and not utilized for the valuable knowledge they have. 

“That reality has become increasingly clear to me over the course of this past year, as I began to survey the public history landscape in New York State. It is a shame. The academic history community has largely ignored local historians,” Oberg said. “As I began to meet local historians and talk with them, it struck me that we in the academy could be doing so much more and that we had overlooked an extraordinarily valuable community of historians doing extraordinarily valuable work.” 

The conference, which will take place Saturday Feb. 16, attempts to begin to remedy this problem. Geneseo now has a program that establishes internships for students with local historians in order to incorporate local history into their education. 

Oberg also explained that at the department’s annual Teachers Day, which will be March 15, the organizers will discuss incorporating local history into the K-12 curriculum. 

Eighty-five people plan to be at Geneseo for the Saturday Feb. 16 conference. 

“Local historians, municipal historians, county historians, [and] directors of historical societies will be here and students who are interested in pursuing these internships will be there. And we’re going to talk about how to do this. This is [the] first step, how to create it,” Oberg said. “So, we’re going to have a guest speaker … Taylor Stoermer, who is one of the big names in the field of public history and local history. Then we have a panel discussion about how to do that.” 

The panel will consist of Interim Associate Provost for Student Success and professor of history Joseph Cope, New York State Historian Devin Lander, a local historian and a student. While the conference is at full capacity, internships with local historians will be available to any students interested. 

Oberg went on to emphasize that students and local historians both benefit from these partnerships as students bring new valuable skills such as work with technology and local historians bring valuable knowledge.

History students, like history adolescent education major junior Simon Goslin, have expressed excitement for the program. They think it is mutually beneficial for both parties and a great opportunity for students to earn experience in the field. 

“I’d say it’s a win-win for everyone involved, local histories are often neglected in the grand scheme of things by any of the higher academic fields. I know personally, I’ve done a little bit of local history in my town and I had a great time,” Goslin said. “It’s a really good way to have a community connection to the work you do. It’s a great way to network with people if you’re going to be looking for a job in the future, if you’re going to be looking for a career, as a historian, as a museum curator, as anybody who has a part in that.” 

History students, like history major junior Sarah Healy, also are happy about the program because it brings a new perspective into their learning. 

“I think when you’re a student in history it can be really hard to connect what you’re looking at to real life. It seems like you’re looking at things from other places and about other people,” Healy said. “I think the fact that they’re local historians not just like historians from elsewhere in the state is really cool because it drives home the point that history happens here.”

Goslin, who hopes to be a middle or high school teacher in the future, was excited about the prospect of engaging K-12 students in the program. He explained that it would have improved his education experience if more local history had been incorporated into his education.

“It was something I hadn’t realized, but I haven’t learned anything about New York history since fourth grade. That was the last time I heard about it,” Goslin said. “You hear [about the] Revolutionary War or you hear about the Battle of Saratoga and maybe that’s it. There’s a place for it in the curriculum [because] it’s going to engage a different type of student.”

Even students outside of history, like English adolescent education major junior Catie Henzel, took an interest because of Geneseo’s rich historical background.

“I don’t know much about the history department, but I think it’s pretty cool. I know Geneseo has a lot of history with immigrants coming over here from Europe and I’d think there’d be a lot of cool things to [learn about] that are kind of falling by the wayside,” Henzel said.