What we know and understand about the past is just the tip of the iceberg. Of everything that happened to people throughout time, only a fraction of evidence has survived the passage of time, and even that fraction is often too much for all of us to remember. So, how do we determine what is worth remembering, and how do we share our knowledge and understanding with each other and future generations? The concept of significance helps direct historical research and education.
|New York State Historic Marker on State Street showing the location of Clench's Tavern. Photo from the Grems-Doolittle Collection. George Washington is obviously a significant historical figure, but what else can we learn from this marker?|
There are levels of significance: personal/familial (people, places, and events that are significant to you and your loved ones), local, regional, statewide, and national. These levels reflect the connections to other aspects of history, the number of people who are or were impacted, and the perspectives, biases, and access to historical evidence of our communities. Previous generations of historians and community leaders emphasized the study of white, upper- and middle-class men in history. People of color and white women have always been active and important in starting, shaping, and directing events, communities, and ways of thinking, but the evidence of their involvement was overlooked, neglected, and sometimes deliberately erased. Thus, with few exceptions, they were deemed not significant. This has been changing, but we have a lot of catching up to do.
|In 1929, the Schenectady Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution installed this monument to the Schenectadians who were killed during the Beukendaal Battle. Photo from the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection|
We learn about historically significant people, places, events, philosophies, and movements in school, but there are many other ways to learn about them and many ways to share that knowledge. Institutions like SCHS play a vital role in this, but we aren’t the only venue. Historical significance plays a role in who and what is depicted on our money, stamps, and street signs. Historical significance informs our public spaces from where they are located to what they are named and the artwork and statues displayed in them. For example, the Schenectady County Forest Preserve in Duanesburg is “historically significant as one of James Duane's original Great Lots where remains of stonewalls, a farm house foundation and a small family cemetery can be found” (Schenectady County Nature Preserves and Trails). We’ve all seen historic markers, plaques, statues, and memorials (like the examples featured in this post) displayed in our public spaces.
There are plenty of places in our county that have historical significance, but are currently unmarked. If you could pick any place in Schenectady County for a new historical marker, where would it be? What is the significance of that place? What would the marker say? The Schenectady County Historical Society wants to hear from you!
Learn more about the historic markers included in this post:
-Railroad Beginnings in Schenectady
-Taverns and Inns of Schenectady, Part II: Tapsters in a Time of Crisis
-Taverns and Inns of Schenectady, Part III: From Taverns and Inns to Hotels and Saloons
-The Battle of Beukendaal
-The Historical Marker Database