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

In several months we will celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), organized in Philadelphia as the Pennsylvania Historical Commission on March 21, 1914. As I reviewed selected PHMC highlights of the timeline appearing in this edition (“PHMC Celebrates A Century of Service”), I was immediately struck by two themes.

The first is the diversity and range of our responsibilities and services. In the earliest years our mission revolved around traditional historical society-type efforts to collect and preserve public records and historical objects and artifacts that illuminate the Commonwealth’s history. That role expanded rapidly. In fact, it is difficult to find a decade in which the scope of our duties did not broaden. As a result we are today responsible for the Commonwealth’s historical treasures in a broad range of fields including history, art, architecture and its preservation, archaeology, paleontology, geology, botany, and zoology. PHMC’s collections — which number nearly five million individual items — include items as large and imposing as steam locomotives and iron furnaces and objects as small and delicate as butterflies and porcelain teacups. Our historic sites include places as diverse (and unique) as the Drake Oil Well, Eckley Miners’ Village, Ephrata Cloister, and the Flagship Niagara. (Don’t miss the insightful interview with the Niagara’s Captain Walter P. Rybka beginning on page 14.)

The range of programs provided by PHMC is equally diverse. They include the placement of state historical markers and the designation of historic properties and districts; the administration of preservation and museum grants programs; the coordination and oversight of archeological investigations; the presentation of archival training workshops and seminars; and the development of literally hundreds of programs and special events offered by the historic sites and museums along the Pennsylvania Trails of History®. These efforts reach every county and community in Pennsylvania.

The other clear pattern throughout our history has been the constancy of change. Each decade has brought new opportunities and new challenges. Although we are one of the smallest state agencies, our staff members have continually welcomed new responsibilities and demands. For most of our first century change at PHMC was synonymous with taking on new responsibilities. As we enter our second century it is not entirely clear what changes lie ahead, but given the realities of state funding it seems likely that shifts in the future will not necessarily follow the patterns of the past.

Budget and staff reductions of the past decade have taught us how to do more with less. We are engaging many new partners as a means to continue to improve and escalate services. New technologies are dramatically altering the way we store records, design exhibits, share information, and deliver programs. The digitization of records and collections is changing the way people access our resources and assistance.

The future is never as clear as the past, but I believe it is safe to forecast that change — even more rapid change — will be a defining characteristic of PHMC’s second century. We look forward to the opportunities, as well as challenges, it will provide.

James M. Vaughan
Executive Director, PHMC