The Florida Historical Society was established in 1856, making it the oldest existing cultural organization in the state. The independent, not-for-profit organization was founded in St. Augustine and moved to several other locations during the twentieth century before making Brevard County the permanent home of their statewide headquarters in 1992.
Based at the Library of Florida History in the old 1939 Post Office and Federal Building in downtown Cocoa, the FHS also operates the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science adjacent to the Cocoa campus of Eastern Florida State College, and manages the Historic Rossetter House Museum and Gardens in Eau Gallie.
The organization’s statewide activities originating from Brevard County include the production and distribution of “Florida Frontiers: The Weekly Radio Magazine of the Florida Historical Society” heard on public radio stations, and the publication of about ten books per year through the Florida Historical Society Press.
Each May, the Florida Historical Society presents their Annual Meeting & Symposium in a different Florida location. The conference has been held regularly since 1902. In recent years, the event has been presented in Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Pensacola.
To mark the 500th anniversary of the naming of our state in 2013, the conference was held aboard a cruise ship leaving Port Canaveral for the Bahamas. After visiting historic sites in Nassau, the conference traveled up Florida’s east coast following the same route taken by Ponce de León in 1513.
“Every year the Florida Historical Society gets together in May to provide a forum for Florida historians, graduate students, and any interested party to get together for the sole purpose of discussing, enjoying, and learning about Florida history,” says Ben DiBiase, FHS director of educational resources.
“It’s a great environment not only for professionals, but for anyone who really has an interest in Florida history to be able to come out to a different city throughout the state. We travel and try and represent geographically, the entire state of Florida.”
The 2015 Florida Historical Society Annual Meeting & Symposium will be held in St. Augustine, May 22-24, at the Renaissance World Golf Village Resort. The theme for this year’s conference is “Subjects, Citizens, and Civil Rights: 450 Years of Florida History.”
St. Augustine was selected for this year’s event in recognition of the city’s 450th anniversary as the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in what is now the United States. Also commemorated will be the town’s pivotal role in getting national civil rights legislation passed. Demonstrations held in St. Augustine in 1964, helped to break a stalemate in the U.S. Congress over passage of the Civil Rights Act.
Each morning of the conference, more than 100 presenters will speak on a wide variety of Florida history topics in concurrent sessions. A few of the featured speakers include Carl Halbirt, archaeologist for the City of St. Augustine for more than twenty-five years; civil rights leader Robert B. Hayling; and author, educator, and historian David R. Colburn.
Each afternoon, conference attendees will visit historic sites in the nation’s oldest city.
“We want to get outside of the classroom and get outside of just the academic presentation setting, so we plan a number of really exciting tours,” says DiBiase.
“This year in St. Augustine, we’re going to have a walking tour throughout the city to discover some of the hidden archival areas. We’ll also have a trolley tour dedicated to the civil rights points of interest around the city. There will also be an historic boat tour.”
The conference also features a reception at the Lightner Museum, an awards luncheon honoring the best books and other projects exploring Florida history, a banquet dinner at the Renaissance Resort, and a picnic at the Oldest House.
New this year will be presentations from younger, junior historians, who created award winning papers or projects for the Florida History Fair.
“Every year, the Florida Historical Society is, of course, involved with the state History Fair up in Tallahassee,” says DiBiase. “We’re going to be bringing some of those students to present their work at our annual meeting.”
The general public is encouraged to attend the Florida Historical Society Annual Meeting & Symposium. Registration information is online at www.myfloridahistory.org.