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History of the Historian: Honoring Carol Kammen

On March 7, 2023, the Tompkins County Legislature honored Carol Kammen, who resigned as County Historian, after twenty-two years in that position. She is moving on to her next chapter. Since 2000, Carol has done an immense amount of work documenting and sharing the stories that make up our community. The duties of Tompkins County Historian now pass to Laura Johnson-Kelley, who we are excited to welcome to the role.

In honoring Carol during Women’s History Month, the Legislature mentioned her many accomplishments and said “WHEREAS, Carol has devoted her adult life to researching, documenting, and communicating the rich history of Tompkins County and, especially, to bringing to rightful prominence the contributions of those often confined to the margins of history: women, people of color, indigenous people, immigrants,

and those of lesser means and status.”

She came to Tompkins County when her husband accepted a position at Cornell and she started to work organizing and writing the history of the region. Carol is a historian, a published author many times over, a newspaper columnist, a true visionary and also, a leader of multiple groups, bringing history into action.

Carol founded and chaired the Municipal Historians of Tompkins County; was co-chair of the Civil War Commemoration Commission, of the Tompkins County Bicentennial Commission, and in 2018, became the chair of the Tompkins County Historical Commission. In the past year, she founded the 1779 Group of nearby county historians, historical society directors, Indigenous and academic scholars, to look at the commemoration of the 1779 invasion into Iroquoia and the displacement and survival of the Haudonausee.

Carol’s breadth of knowledge and experience is vast and she has won numerous awards and citations, nationally and statewide. Recent awards include the 2020 Herbert H. Lehman Prize for Distinguished Service in New York History, and was named the New York State Historian of the Year for 2004-05. Other awards include Tompkins County Award of Excellence (1994); Mary Washington College Center for Historic Preservation Award (1989), for the publication, On Doing Local History; and the Regional Council of Historical Agencies Award of Merit (1987) for her publication, The Peopling of Tompkins County.

Kammen's many published works include:

  • Lamentations: A Novel of Women Walking West, 2021

  • Part & Apart: The Black Experience At Cornell 1865-1945, 2009

  • Ithaca: A Brief History, 2008

  • First-Person Cornell, 2006

  • Cornell: Glorious to View, 2003

  • A Local History Reader, 2003

  • Encyclopedia of Local History,2000

  • The Pursuit of Local History: Readings on Theory and Practice, 1996

  • Plain As a Pipestem: Essays About Local History, 1989

  • On Doing Local History (American Association for State and Local History Book Series), 1986

  • The Peopling of Tompkins County: A Social History, 1985

  • Lives Passed: Biographical Sketches from Central New York, 1984

  • And the recent booklet, Black Voices (Tompkins County Historical Commission Booklet series) 2023

Many of these are available for purchase in the Significant Elements shop! Carol has been a great friend of Historic Ithaca and we are sad to see her go but excited for both her and Laura's future! You can read her most recent opinion piece about the Red House on North Tioga Street in the Ithaca Voice here.

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