In an effort to better preserve the region's history, Long Island historians came together Saturday to swap resources at a summit that organizers said is the first of its kind.
Nearly 70 historians who work in Long Island’s many villages, towns and historical societies gathered in Roslyn for the event. There, they learned about grant resources and preservation tools.
Organizers hope that historians can work together to secure funding and share project ideas.
“The communities that do well and are drawing those tourists, they’re leaning on their history,” said Devin Lander, New York State historian and one of the event’s organizers. “It’s very important that we talk about the relevance of what we're doing.”
Lander said similar networking events have been held upstate on the county level or for historians who choose to join organizations like the Association of Public Historians of New York State. There is also an Association of Suffolk County Historical Societies (ASCHS), but nothing that brings so many historians together regionally.
ASCHS officials announced at the conference they would change their name to the Long Island Historical Societies, in an effort to welcome Nassau County groups.
New York law requires that incorporated villages, towns and boroughs have their own historian, said Howard Kroplick, historian for the Town of North Hempstead and an event co-organizer. However, the law does not dictate what kinds of resources those historians should have or how the job should work.
According to a survey Kroplick conducted of 22 village and nine town historians, job descriptions and salaries widely range. Most of the historians said they worked part time, and 27 percent never release any kind of report on the work they have done. More than 90 percent of village historians work from home and almost none are paid.
Kroplick said his survey also found that the top two concerns among the surveyed historians were saving historic buildings and projects and obtaining funding and resources.
That’s where Saturday’s summit came in. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., historians listened to presentations on funding programs for everything from preserving churches to historic signs, discussed their personal projects and learned tips to better share their work with their communities. The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, which provides financial support for historical preservation projects around Long Island, funded and helped organize the event.
Ideas ranged from how historical groups can open up their collections to schools and students to digital resources that make historical records and collections easily available online. Historians also emphasized how to explain the importance of their work to the community — preserving a village’s central historic church, for example, also benefits community services like day care centers and food pantries that use the space, they said.
"The historian's job is to look at the past and give context for the present and the future," Southold Town historian Amy Folk said.
Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara M. Russell said historical groups can thrive by coming together. Events like Saturday's summit are key in making those connections happen, especially for smaller groups that can't afford to make trips to Albany, where state resources are concentrated.
"Most towns on Long Island, their histories are intertwined, the families are intertwined, so to get to know the other local historians can only help what you do in your own towns," she said.