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

This spring marks the launch of a number of exciting initiatives celebrating important people, places, and events in our history. In anticipation of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial in 2009 celebrating the 200th anniversary of the sixteenth president’s birth in 1809, Governor Edward G. Rendell has appointed a state commission to work with the National Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission to plan and coordinate events here in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) will launch this year’s theme of archaeology, “Uncovering Missing Links to Our Past,” during Historic Preservation Month in May with a full year of projects and events that include a poster, brochure, school curriculum, conference presentations, tours, field schools, and archaeological excavations.

Pennsylvania has already begun initial planning in preparation for the 150th anniversary observance of the Civil War in 2011–2015. The Commonwealth is participating in national discussions and will play a leadership role by developing new approaches, updating research, identifying collections, and creating engaging public programs that provide insights into the central role that Pennsylvanians played in this epic struggle.

The Pennsylvania Heritage Society received a consultation grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to begin planning for the Civil War Sesquicentennial in the Commonwealth. “Telling Pennsylvania’s Civil War Stories: New Narratives from Old Collections” focuses on developing the intellectual and organizational leadership to deliver coordinated statewide public programming. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania and The Civil War Consortium, Philadelphia, the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and the PHMC have already begun convening regional meetings to identify and involve a large number of organizations and institutions with an interest in Civil War history. An initial meeting with consultant James Oliver Horton of George Washington University last fall discussed themes of slavery and freedom. This spring the project
will support a symposium of nationally acclaimed scholars and invited participants to help articulate ideas for projects and programs and initiate potential collaborations. The scholars include Edward L. Ayers, University of Virginia, David W. Blight, Yale University, and Elizabeth D. Leonard, Colby College.

Signage for a new Pennsylvania Civil War Trail, “Prelude to Gettysburg,” is scheduled to be installed in the six southcentral communities of Harris- burg, Chambersburg, York, Hanover, Carlisle and, of course, Gettysburg. These “gateway” signs are the culmination of a two-year partnership among the PHMC, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), and community teams. The process has identified interesting characters, compelling stories, and new understanding of the impact of the war on both the armies and the inhabitants of southern Pennsylvania. Of special importance are the stories of African American communities and the families and individuals who played important roles before, during, and after the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. Specially trained actors will present new tours and programs based on these stories and historical characters throughout this summer.

There are many opportunities for Pennsylvanians to learn more about our Civil War history. Pennsylvania Civil War Trails: The Guide to Battle Sites, Monuments, Museums and Towns by Tom Huntington is a new co-publication of PHMC and Stackpole Books. The author focuses on the human dimension of the conflict as he guides readers to buildings, battle sites, monuments, and museums,telling the stories of the men who fought and the civilians — men and women, black and white — who suddenly found war on their doorsteps. Signature Series lectures on Civil War topics will be presented in conjunction with the current Teaching American History project coordinated by the Pennsylvania Heritage Society and the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit. Carol Reardon, author and professor of military history at the Pennsylvania State University, will present a talk entitled “Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory” on Tuesday, June 26, at 7 p.m. at The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.

I encourage you to rediscover the Gettysburg story through fresh eyes or visit one of the many Civil War reenactment programs at PHMC historic sites and museums and in communities throughout the Keystone State. I look forward to seeing many of you at what I know will be truly meaningful — and memorable — events. Please know your continuing support and participation as a member of the Pennsylvania Heritage Society helps make this important work possible.

Barbara Franco
Executive Director, PHMC