So what is the City Historian supposed to do? The State of New York has mandated the four specific roles of the Historian.
1) "The first, and primary, responsibility of the Local Government Historian is interpretation of the past. This involves research and writing on aspects of your muni for publishing in books, magazines, and newspapers. From the law: “The best local historians have upheld high standards of gathering and evaluating evidence, making thoughtful and appropriate generalizations, writing well-organized and readable narratives, and sharing their work with others through the most appropriate mediums.”
2) Teaching and Public Presentations
"As historian, you may teach courses in local and regional history, serve as a resource to teachers in the fourth and seventh grade local history curriculum, serve as a content consultant, speak and lecture to community groups, and participate in radio and TV talk shows to disseminate local history."
3) Historic Preservation
"Historians are advocates for historic preservation and a resource to your appointing authority on questions relating to history and preservation. The historian may be asked to prepare a cultural resource survey, identify historic structures and prepare nominations to the State and National Register of Historic Places and to develop and manage historic marker programs."
4) Organization, Advocacy and Tourism Promotion
"Historians are asked to organize and direct the commemoration of historical anniversaries and to participate in other civic or patriotic observations. The historian may be asked to act as a fund raiser or grant writer for historical programs. Appointing authorities may ask you to support local tourism."
Hi, I'm Chris Leonard, the recently appointed City Historian of Schenectady. So, a little about me before we move on to more important things in future blog entries.
I grew up in Hamden, Connecticut, which is the northern suburb of New Haven. I'm the son of two history professors: Dr. Ira M. Leonard, who taught US History with a focus on the growth of cities and nativism, at Southern Connecticut State University, and Myrtle Leonard, who focused on Renaissance Europe, concentrating on Elizabethan England. It goes without saying that history is in my blood. While my friends were reading Spiderman comics, I was reading about Abraham Lincoln and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.
I moved to the Albany in the late 1980s to attend the State University of New York at Albany, where I received Bachelors of Arts in History and English, and returned for my Masters Degree in English with a writing concentration. I have lived more than half my life in the Capital District, including the last 14 years in Schenectady. Without question, Schenectady is home!
I was appointed the Historian of the GE Realty Plot by the GE Realty Plot Association Board in December 2016. I am the first official historian of the historic neighborhood in its nearly 10 years of existence. In this position I am writing a detailed history of all the homes within "Th Plot" and their residents. I also lead monthly walking tours of the neighborhood from May to October. Additionally, I volunteer at the Schenectady County Historical Society where I have the privilege of reading and documenting the correspondence of Charles P. Steinmetz.
My interests in Schenectady history are varied. I have lectured on numerous topics including: The History of the GE Realty Plot, The Erie Canal Through Schenectady and the History of Professional Baseball in Schenectady. I am working on a book on the food trends of residents of Schenectady, from the Native Americans and Dutch settlers to the most recent waves of immigrants who have made Schenectady their home. And while I enjoy researching the major topics like the Settlement of Schenectady, General Electric, and ALCO, I want to help surface the stories of those who have generally been ignored.
It is my aim to visit with all of the neighborhood associations in Schenectady over the next few weeks and discuss how we can collect and preserve the not only the "capital H" history, but the important stories that can easily be lost.
I hold regular office hours in the Efner History Center in the attic of Schenectady City Hall:
Monday - 9AM - 1PM
Wednesday - 9Am - Noon
Thursday - 9AM - Noon
Feel free to contact me at 518 382-5088 or via email at cleonard @ schenectadyny.gov.
If you've made it this far, I commend you, and also offer you three interviews I've given, which provide a better understanding of who I am and what I'd like to do for Schenectady:
Chris Leonard: City Historian of Schenectady, BobCudmore.com, "The Historians" Podcast, March 30
Schenectady Appoints New Historian, WAMC, The Roundtable, Feb 12
Meet Schenectady's new historian, Chris Leonard, Daily Gazette, Feb 4