The History of the NYSAEH

“The New York State Association of European Historians: A Brief Look at Its Origins and History”

J.S. Valone, Canisius College

This was prepared for the 50th anniversary celebration in 2001.

The first meeting of the New York Association of European Historians took place on Oct. 12-13, 1951, at Colgate University, in Hamilton, New York. It was a somewhat more leisurely conference than we are accustomed to.

There was a Friday dinner which was followed at 8:00 by the first roundtable discussion on the topic: “Was Munich Justifiable.”

The following morning, at 10:00, the second roundtable discussion on the Role of European History in General Education was held. A 12:30 luncheon was followed at 2:30 by the third roundtable discussion entitled: “Some Problems of Russo-American Relations.

Hayes_Carlton
Carlton J.H. Hayes (1882-1964), first NYSAEH keynote speaker

The business meeting was held at 4:30 followed by a reception, hosted by the History Department at Colgate, and a dinner. Carlton J. H. Hayes, of Columbia University, gave the principal address of the evening.

The minutes of that first business meeting were remarkably similar to those that I have just presented. There was the usual round of expressions of gratitude to the host institution and organizers of the conference. The new Executive Committee members were presented. There was some nervous discussion of where the next meeting would be held, which was resolved when Matt Elbow of what was then Albany State Teachers College offered that facility as did a Professor Hirsch of Bard College.

There were two substantive issue addressed at that meeting. The first was the matter of New York City, or more properly the role of historians from the New York area. After some discussion it was decided, without prejudice to the New York City Historians, that membership would be limited to historians from upstate New York. That fateful decision has guided the organization since, for although we have ventured down the Hudson as far as West Point, we have never met in the wilds of New York City. The only other discussion revolved around the nature of membership in the New York State Association of European Historians. The original members wisely felt that there should be no formal membership, a tradition that we have maintained fiercely.

That meeting set the character of the organization, and although the use of roundtable discussions soon gave way to the more formal presentation of papers, the informal nature of the group and the emphasis on scholarly interchange has remained.

beckerheavenlycity
Carl Becker’s Heavenly City Revisited (1958)

Through the years the organization has had many notable moments. In 1956 the entire meeting was devoted the discussion of a single work: Carl Becker’s Heavenly City of the 18th Century Philosophers. That discussion resulted in the publication of a book by the organization, Carl Becker’s Heavenly City Revisited (1958). Other sessions have been devoted to Nolte’s Three Faces of Facism and Barzun’s Clio and the Doctors. Both William Aydelotte and Robert G.L Waite have presented seminal discussions on aspects of psychohistory.

Many notable historians have attended the meetings over the years. Not only Carleton J.H. Hayes, but also Fritz Stern of Columbia graced the first meeting along with John Christopher and Willson Hays Coates from Rochester. Among the early organizers of the conference were Andreas Dorpalen, who eventually moved on Ohio State and Julian Park of the UB department.

Other notable members over the years include Hayden White, who was active in the early sixties, Gene Genovese who was president of the organization as was Betsy Fox-Genevose, who was the daughter of Ed Fox of Cornell, a staunch early supporter of the group. George Iggers has provided us much support and intellectual stimulation over the years. Peter Gay made several appearances, including the panel discussion on the Heavenly City, and a major address that he presented in the late sixties on the use of Freudian analysis in historical studies. Gay of course reveled in being controversial. I remember his talk was sprinkled with constant and obviously sexual references to “bananas” much to the great distress of some.

The organization has had a long and successful public history. But those of us, who have been associated with it, remember it most as a place where we could “recharge” our intellectual batteries by stimulating conversation with like-minded peers and by attendance at the constantly excellent sessions provided by the countless presenters over the years. The New York State Association of European Historians is an important part of the intellectual life of all associated with it. In these seemingly Euro-phobic times it provides a place for those of us who love European history to meet, exchange ideas, commiserate and mostly renew our commitment to the European past.

May it long continue to function as a beacon of intellectual hope in an uncertain age.

 

A champagne toast to celebrate the NYSAEH’s Fiftieth Anniversary.

 

The 2000-2001 Executive Committee with 2001 Keynote Speaker Merry Wiesner-Hanks.