The history of our department mirrors that of Buffalo State College itself. From its inception as the Buffalo Normal School in 1871, through its iteration as the State Teachers College at Buffalo beginning in 1928, to the State University College of Education at Buffalo in 1961, the study of the past, and the interactions between history and other disciplines, has formed the central narrative of the social sciences.
Through most of the first century of the institution, history was part of a broader department of social studies, which encompassed such content areas as economics, geography, political science, and sociology.
Practitioners of history nonetheless played leading roles within this department, none more so than renowned Latin American history scholar Harold F. Peterson, who came to the State Teachers College in 1937.
When SUNY was expanded in 1961, and history and the other content disciplines which constituted the social studies were granted their own departments, Dr. Peterson naturally served as the History Department’s first chairman from 1945 until 1960. For his many contributions to the college, he was named one of the first State University of New York (SUNY) Distinguished Professors in 1970.
His legacy lives on in the department through our Harold F. Peterson Conference Room, dedicated as a faculty facility and the permanent home for Peterson’s Peruvian textiles collection in 1980, and the Harold and Lucille Peterson Endowed Scholarships, which are awarded annually to outstanding history, museum studies, or social studies education undergraduate and graduate student.
The department began offering a master of arts in history beginning in 1970. As a pedagogical area, secondary social studies education remained a separate department and in its first years was chaired by Dr. Richard C. Brown, named a SUNY Distinguished Professor in 1970.
The distinction has since been conferred on five different members of the department with Drs. Vern L. Bullough (1987) and Nuala McGann Drescher (1992) joining Drs. Peterson and Brown as Distinguished Professors; while Drs. Edward O. Smith, Jr. (1999) and David Carson (2010) were named SUNY Distinguished Service Professors. Dr. Monroe Fordham was similarly honored in 2001 when he was awarded a SUNY Doctorate of Humane Letters for his work on African American History, local history, and the preservation of regional history records.
Beyond these noteworthy achievements, members of the department have always been active scholars and teachers. A survey of department faculty over the years shows the consistency of the department in publishing scholarly works, presenting at professional conferences, and earning grant funding for a wide variety of initiatives. Our faculty has been recognized over the years by winning numerous SUNY and Buffalo State President’s Awards in the areas of scholarship, teaching, and student mentoring.
As histories of the institution, and the recollections of emeritus faculty and alumni, make clear, the faculty of this department took great pride in their interactions with their students, and their interest in fostering both reasoned debate and common understanding in the turbulent years of the late-1960s and early-1970s. Things were changing in academe in these years, and in the late-1970s, the decision was made to reintegrate social studies into a content department.
From this, a renewed History and Social Studies Education Department was born and the housing of the content discipline with teacher certification programs in social studies continues to this day.
Under this partnership, both bachelor’s and master’s degrees are conferred from the two founding disciplines and, since 2014, a third MA program in museum studies has completed the department’s academic profile. Additionally, the department hosts several academic minor programs, including in history, museum studies, and Asian studies.
Current members of the department are prominent in a variety of interdisciplinary initiatives, programs, and units, with the new Africana Studies major being only the most recent instance of our faculty working across traditional departmental lines.
The department of the early twentieth century shares the same commitment to a rigorous study of the past and preparation of future educators and innovators in other fields as its predecessors. Nothing demonstrates this more than the successes of our students.
Since 1999, four undergraduates from this department have earned SUNY Chancellor’s Awards for Student Excellence. Our chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, the National Honors Society in history, is an annual participant in both regional and national conferences, and the roster of Buffalo State students who have received commendations at these events is extensive.
One of the most anticipated events in our academic year is the department’s spring awards ceremony, where, through the generosity of donors from the community, emeriti, and current faculty, we recognize the finest students from our three disciplines. Like the recipients themselves, those who have made these awards possible are integral parts of our department’s history at this institution.
As Buffalo State College celebrates its 150th anniversary, the History and Social Studies Education Department takes pride in the role it has played in shaping this institution. We look forward to continuing to introduce future generations to the joys of learning about the past, preserving its records, and teaching others to learn from the past, long into the future.
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