Feature: Hudson River Cultural History Program

About the Program

The Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries Managing Director, John Cronin, recently announced the establishment of the Institute's new Cultural History Program. Every generation has its impact on the River and the environment in various ways. Through the Cultural History Program, researchers, students, and anyone seeking a greater appreciation for the Hudson River will have an opportunity to explore and revisit past generations, learn and connect with the current generation, and imagine the future generation through the displays and archives to be created.

With a career centered on the Hudson River: its history, its connectedness, its intricacies, its magic, Dr. Roger Panetta will lead the Program and its first exciting endeavor, "An Oral History of Commercial Fishermen of the Hudson River." It will delve into the lives of commercial fishermen through the review of existing archives and creation of an inventory of existing interviews, videos, photographs, memoirs, letters, fishing gear, and other items related to the commercial fishermen of the Hudson and their families.

Dr. Panetta will engage students, teachers, and interested citizens in developing the comprehensive archive, including a list of all known commercial fishermen of the Hudson River. Interviews will be conducted and transcribed with as many of the fishermen and/or their families as possible, memorializing a hidden oral history that is critical to understanding the River.

Dr. Panetta will engage students, teachers, and interested citizens in developing the comprehensive archive, including a list of all known commercial fishermen of the Hudson River. Interviews will be conducted and transcribed with as many of the fishermen and/or their families as possible, memorializing a hidden oral history that is critical to understanding the River.

"Of all the Hudson River species, humans are my favorite," said John Cronin. A once thriving industry full of generations of fishermen, the commercial fishermen of the Hudson today can be considered an endangered species. Because of the River's toxic past, competition and bureaucratic regulations, commercial fishing is disappearing on the River, removing a flow of history and culture from the region. It is for this reason that the Cultural History Program is of urgent importance. By documenting and archiving the oral history of commercial fishermen, and tracking their paths, this project will preserve the history and lay a foundation of reflection, education, and tradition that are, and always will remain, a testimony to the issues and wonders surrounding the Hudson River. Panetta noted, "we should not lose the footprints of our ancestors."

About the Leader

Roger Panetta is a member of the Environmental Consortium's Steering Committee, currently serving a three-year term (2005-2008) and was an advisor on the Project Development Team for River Summer 2005. He has been the Chair of History at Marymount College of Fordham University since 1992. In addition to his faculty appointments at Marymount/Fordham, Panetta is a Core Lecturer at Columbia University's School of Public Health in the Environmental Health Sciences, which he joined in 1995

His publications have focused on the history and culture of the Hudson River Valley, including his co-authorship of the 1996 book, The Hudson: An Illustrated Guide to the Living River. Dr. Panetta appeared in Bill Moyer's TV documentary, America's First River, as a featured narrator in 1999, and curated the exhibit, Navigating Through History: Boats of the Hudson at the Hudson River Museum where he is Adjunct Curator of History.

How to get involved

The Beacon Institute is currently seeking interested citizens, including teachers and students, who would like to be part of this exciting archive program. The Program is in need of interviewers, transcribers and researchers. Previous experience is not necessary; Dr. Panetta will offer training sessions in "Conducting Oral History Interviews" for selected volunteers.

Those interested in additional information may contact:

Patricia Dunne
Program Coordinator, Cultural History Program
199 Main Street, Beacon, NY 12508
(845) 838-1600
pdunne@thebeaconinstitute.org