There is such a thing as a business of history, a national expert in the interpretation of historic sites recently said. He hastened to add that he didn’t simply mean a greater focus on revenue than on mission and vision.
“Public historians simply cannot dismiss the imperatives of revenue and the market — even our very particular market, where sentiment is of considerable value — because by ignoring them we stand the risk of wrecking endowments, destroying donor confidence, alienating guests, and therefore, after hiring consultants who frequently do more harm than good,” Taylor Stoermer explained. “The business of public history represents a very fine line to walk between revenue and mission, but it is one that we must follow, which requires public historians, especially leaders of sites and programs, to be historians, marketers, media experts, tech geeks, entrepreneurs, lawyers and politicians, all wrapped into one.”
Dr. Stoermer’s views are of particular significance locally because in January he began working under a ten-month contract as director of strategy, development and historic interpretation at Historic Huguenot Street (HHS) in New Paltz. This past Saturday, May 3, HHS celebrated its opening day under its new management. Stoermer has promised “fresh interpretations of the historic houses, new tours across the settlement and a diverse range of special programs to better connect our guests with the history and heritage of this special place.”
He calls himself a “history doctor.” His patients are places like HHS, which have plenty of historical artifacts, resources and often buildings but insufficient visitation and income. The history doctor gives such organizations advice. In HHS’ case, that advice will be summed up in a strategic plan due before the end of the year.
Based on his resumé, Stoermer appears to be several cuts above the average outside gun hired to spruce up a local heritage tourism site. Since the mid-Hudson region in general and Ulster and Dutchess counties in particular are rich in incompletely recognized historic sites worthy of interpretation, it will be instructive this year to watch this national expert handle the planning and management of what he calls “one of the most unique historic sites in all of America.”
Twelve members of a strategic planning committee, composed mainly of tourism bureaucrats, historically minded local public officials and HHS board members and staff (including Stoermer), had been announced in late February. Late 2014 adoption of a strategic plan was promised in that press release.
Educated at Johns Hopkins and the University of Virginia, Stoermer earned his Ph.D. in American history and has taught university courses on such subjects as 18th-century Virginia, Thomas Jefferson and his world, English history, the British Empire, and gender in early America. He has participated in various scholarly programs at prestigious institutions. He also worked for three and a half years as Colonial Williamsburg’s research historian.