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
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
The business meeting was held at 4:30 followed by a
reception, hosted by the History Department at Colgate, and a dinner.
Carleton 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.
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. 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.