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Guide to the New-York Historical Society Manuscripts of Lectures and Addresses
1809-1957, 2001, 2015-2016

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on June 05, 2018
Finding Aid is written in English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical/Historical Note

Throughout the course of its more than 200 year history, N-YHS has been a site at which the results of historical inquiry and research have been presented. During N-YHS’s first 120 years or so, a principal forum for these presentations were the regular meetings of the Society’s membership, which were held several times a year. The meeting agendas typically included both business matters and the reading of a paper on a historical topic. At the conclusion of a reading, it was common for the attending members to approve a resolution thanking the speaker and requesting that a copy of the remarks be acquired for N-YHS, often for publication. Over the decades, hundreds of papers were presented at N-YHS meetings, though it does not appear from the records that manuscript copies of all of them were obtained.

The first mention in the N-YHS minutes of a discourse occurs at the September 4, 1809, meeting. Here the Reverend Doctor Samuel Miller, one of the founders of N-YHS, delivered a lecture commemorating the North American discoveries of Henry Hudson. In N-YHS’s earliest years, the addresses were somewhat sporadic, often related to N-YHS anniversary observances, N-YHS presidential inaugurations, or other special events. By the 1840s, though, papers were read more routinely at meetings. Even after regular member business meetings ended in the early twentieth century as a result of a by-law change, an emphasis on holding regular lectures continued.

But N-YHS member meetings, which by the 1840s were open at least to some extent to non-members, were not the only forum for N-YHS sponsored lectures and other presentations. By the 1840s, N-YHS began to hold public lecture series outside the framework of regular business meetings, sometimes charging a fee. In addition, various special events and anniversary commemorations would call for special addresses and discourses at N-YHS or elsewhere, such as at Delmonico's restaurant. Many of these addresses would be printed in a N-YHS publication or elsewhere.

Into the early twentieth century, formal lectures and presentations, with the increasingly common use of lantern slides, were perhaps the primary activity for outreach and historical education conducted by N-YHS. But by the mid-twentieth century, as N-YHS moved into expanded quarters on Central Park West and professional practices and social conventions changed, periodic lectures became just one of many types of programs to be conducted, including talks geared to special exhibitions, school programs, tours, concerts and recitals, and so forth.