June 3, 2013

Robert Weible explains importance of history

By AMY HEGGEN, Contributing Writer

---- — KEESEVILLE — History can have the power to influence and hold together communities, making the study of history an important endeavor, the state’s top historian told a local audience Saturday.

New York State Historian Robert Weible spoke at the AuSable Valley Grange Hall in Keeseville about the Civil War and how it changed the state.

“There’s no bigger topic in the United States,” Weible said of the Civil War. “It’s the third biggest example of government asserting itself and taking private property.”

Invited by the Essex County Historical Society, the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association and the Clinton County Historical Association, Weible described the exhibit at the New York State Museum, “An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War,” which is open through Sept. 22.

Weible views the exhibit as an educational tool. He wants people to think about how to use the knowledge they gain.

“We try not to take sides,” Weible said. “We want people to think about it.”

Also the chief curator of the New York State Museum, Weible wants all of New York, including the North Country, to feel that the exhibit is their exhibit, too.

“It’s our mission to make it available to the public,” Weible said.

The exhibition takes up 7,000 square feet with more than 200 artifacts from New York, including a piece of the rope that hanged John Brown, an abolitionist whose farm near Lake Placid is a state historic site.

“It was about half the space we needed to tell the story,” Weible said.

New York played a major role in the Civil War, and many artifacts didn’t make it into the museum because of limited space.

“New York would become the biggest supplier of men, materiel and money for the war,” Weible said. “The New York State Militia was bigger than the United States Army at the start of the war.”

Topics portrayed in the exhibit include antebellum New York, reconstruction and legacy, women and the Civil War, and slavery.

“Many Americans realized they were opposed to slavery but not necessarily for racial equality,” Weible said of the Civil War era.

He also said the war is not yet over.

“Slavery is abolished but many of the feelings and ideas associated with it are still alive.”

Two goals were kept in mind while creating the exhibit, Weible said. One was to tell as many personal stories as possible, and the other was to incorporate information and objects from around the entire state.

“People study history best when they know they’re making it,” Weible said.

In his talk, Weible also emphasized the importance of studying history and the value of good history programs to a community.

“We preserve history and talk about history for three reasons,” Weible explained.

A good history program in a community will promote tourism and subsequently the economy, supporting the quality of life. It will also benefit the community educationally, backing school curriculums and creating lifelong learners, he said.

Finally, the history of a community keeps it together, Weible said.

About 60 people attended the event.