New York - Upstate

Participants Sought for NY Canal Research Roundtable at Researching NY Conference

By Chuck Piotrowski posted 06-21-2019 13:59


Seeking participants for a proposed roundtable called “Canal Conundrums: Researching 200 Years of New York State Canal History.” The roundtable will be held at the Researching New York Conference to be held Nov 21-23, 2019 at U Albany. If you or your organization is interested, please contact Chuck Piotrowski by June 28, 2019. He can be reached at  

Here is a draft of the Roundtable Proposal:

Researching the 200-year history New York’s canals is quite a challenge. Making collections accessible to a wide range of researchers is equally tricky. Physical and digital resources are scattered among various state, academic, and cultural institutions and in personal collections. Participants from both the seeker and keeper communities will share challenges and propose solutions to improve access to the documentation of New York’s canal history.  


This roundtable serves to accomplish the goal of identifying opportunities for improving access to all the resources documenting the history of the canals of New York. It will bring together information seekers and information holders with the goal of sharing ideas on how people can more simply access the wide range of resources documenting the canals of New York.

To identify opportunities for improvement it must be recognized that the information assets relating to the canals have value to a wide range of seekers. Seekers are researchers with different goals, research styles, reference needs, and travel capabilities. They include grade school teachers seeking primary documents for History Day, eminent scholars researching books, film-makers seeking assets to illustrate documentaries, agencies of the state seeking historic records relating to current issues involving the canals, and many others.

Opportunities for improvement must also be identified by the keepers. Like the seekers, the keepers vary in their makeup. State agencies, public and private universities, museums, libraries, universities, and personal collectors all have challenges that prohibit them from sharing their collections with the seekers. Institutional goals, financial resources, and subject matter holdings can range greatly and determine the capability and capacity of keepers. These organizations and individuals do the best with what they have but operate without significant continual coordination. For example, to date there has not been an effort to create a single union catalog of New York canal resources, forcing seekers to jump in and out of many different resources. This struggle to reimagine the history of the canals is considered as one great barriers to research on this issue, even for experienced researchers.[1]

This roundtable is offered in commemoration of both the bicentennial of the Erie Canal and the centennial of the New York State Barge Canal. The New York State Canal Corporation will share details of its CHAPTER initiative (Canal History Archives, Preservation, Teaching, and Education Resources).

[1]“The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817-1862.” n.d. Accessed June 21, 2019.