TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. –– Tompkins County Historian Carol Kammen has been recognized with the 2020 Lehman Prize for Distinguished Service from the New York Academy of History for her decades-long career writing, promoting, and contributing to local history.
The award, named for former New York State Governor Herbert H. Lehman, is given out annually to honor people with outstanding and life-long contributions to New York history. Kammen certainly fits that bill having served as the county historian since 2000 and written numerous books about Ithaca and Tompkins County.
“For more than a generation, Carol Kammen has set the standard for local, county, and state history in the United States. She has been a strong advocate for New York State and has generously shared her enthusiasm and expertise with everyone around her. The Herbert H. Lehman Prize is testimony to her numerous accomplishments,” said Kenneth T. Jackson, president of the New York Academy of History.
In addition to her dedication to the community and longevity in her career, Kammen has also set herself apart through the nature of her work. She has continuously sought out the stories of those traditionally underrepresented in history like women and people of color.
“I came to Ithaca in 1965, and sort of fell into doing history. My kind of history was not the kind of history people had done, until the 1960’s it had been about old families, battles, and institutions, whereas I was interested in women, people of color and different ethnicities, and of mobility. Not only did people come and go, but people who came here moved around a lot. People’s lifelong search for something better interested me.”
Kammen’s most recent book, “Achieving Beulah Land: the long fight for suffrage in Tompkins County,” written with Elaine Engst, uncovers Tompkins County’s role in supporting women’s suffrage in the late 19th century through the 1917 New York State constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote.
Those that have had professional relationships with Kammen say that her unique approach to her position as County Historian has been a rich resource for the community.
“I’ve worked with Carol since I arrived in this community 30 years ago to continue to make prominent the very rich African American history of Tompkins County. She is a wealth of knowledge and is well-deserving of this award and more,” Tompkins County Legislature Chairwoman Leslyn McBean-Clairborne said.
Legislator Mike Lane who co-chaired the Tompkins County Civil War Commemoration Committee with Kammen said, “in her mission of making local history relevant, she consistently elevates the conversation and has a commitment to collaboration with other local and regional historians. Tompkins County is proud of the contributions to helping us understand and make sense of our past as we work toward a better future.”
Kammen was selected for the prize by a jury of her peers and will be recognized in a gala held by the Academy at a date to be determined when social distancing restrictions are lifted.
Summing up her continued commitment to the work Kammen said, “it is important to help people find a sense of community, if we know about a place we’re not just passing through.”