From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

Anniversaries offer opportunities for us to collectively consider our past, and reflecting on the past inevitably helps us to consider the future. This fall at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) we are reflecting on two national anniversaries.

The first is the nation’s commemoration of the bicentennial of the War of 1812. It’s an often overlooked conflict and one that’s misunderstood by many because of its complexities. However, the war forever changed the United States’ relationship with Great Britain. PHMC is proud to play a role in “War of 1812: Celebrating 200 Years of Peace,” the official commemoration. PHMC’s Erie Maritime Museum and the Brig Niagara are participating as War of 1812 heritage sites. It was Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s stunning victory over much larger British forces during the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813, that the Niagara earned its niche in both national and international history.

PHMC is also a leading partner in the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. For the past two years the Civil War Road Show, a traveling exhibit, has made more than thirty stops at fairs, festivals, and special events to bring the impact of the war on Pennsylvanians to nearly one hundred thousand visitors. To make them even more accessible to a greater number of Civil War enthusiasts — from scholars and students to reenactors and researchers — objects, artifacts, and interactive exhibits from the touring show will be installed at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. Our visitors, including the forty thousand school students who tour The State Museum each spring, will enjoy the opportunity to learn about Pennsylvania’s unique Civil War experience.

As we look back, we also look forward.

We’re finalizing the agency’s strategic plan for 2012–2015 for which Commissioners and staff adopted a forward-looking mission: “PHMC works in partnerships to preserve the Commonwealth’s natural and cultural heritage as a steward, teacher, and advocate for the people of Pennsylvania and the nation.” One of our most stalwart partners is the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation whose recent name change reflects its expanding mission. This edition also debuts the foundation’s new logo.

As a partner as well as a teacher, the Commission is proud to support National History Day in Pennsylvania, one of the most ambitious tools that impart knowledge of our heritage and culture through intensive research and hands-on activities. In this issue you’ll meet Isabelle Schroeder of New Kensington, Westmoreland County, winner of the 2012 Pennsylvania Heritage Award for junior papers. An eighth-grade student, Isabelle is among the youngest contributors to the magazine. She is part of the future of history in the Keystone State.

By looking back and learning from the past, we can envision and plan for the future. I hope you will join us on these exciting and insightful journeys.

James M. Vaughan
Executive Director, PHMC