Focus on Sabbatical: Jean Richardson

Jean   RichardsonDuring her fall 2008 sabbatical, Jean Richardson, associate professor of history, continued to carry out her responsibilities as project director for the Monroe Fordham Regional History Center. However, her primary objective was to tackle an ambitious project: writing a textbook for teaching New York State history.

“I developed the course on New York State history at Buffalo State, and I’ve been teaching it since 2003,” she said. “There isn’t really a good text, so I decided to write one.”

Given that New York’s history as a state starts in the 1600s, when an agent of the Dutch West India Company traveled up the Hudson River, writing a comprehensive and useful textbook is a daunting task. Richardson read countless secondary sources and struggled to find a way to organize the material.

Richardson is deeply committed to including the history of the ordinary people, the immigrants and working-class people who built the infrastructure that made New York State an important center of commerce with Europe and a jumping-off point for exploration of the western United States.

“New York State has always been a multicultural place,” said Richardson. “In New York City before the Revolution, in addition to the Dutch and English, just about every Western European group was represented, and there was an active African American community. Immigration brought the Irish, the Germans, the Poles, and the Italians, and East European Jews. Of course, the Native Americans were here, too.”

New York State’s role in the French and Indian War—the North American theater of operation for a war of empire between England and France—contributes to its complex history, as does the state’s battlegrounds during the American Revolution. Many battles of the War of 1812 took place in Western New York.

In addition to more than four centuries of tumultuous history, Richardson sees another complexity: the diversity of New York State life.

“The history of New York State is not just the history of New York City,” she said. “Much of the state was rural, and that continues to be true in upstate New York. And building the Erie Canal is a story of immigration, economics, and the westward movement.” She has completed an outline of the textbook as well as its introduction and first chapter.

Richardson is also an expert on the history of Western New York, and she used the sabbatical to complete some projects for the Fordham Center that relate to the history of the region. She is currently working on a project to include biographies of influential African Americans such as Abner Francis and Henry Moxley.

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