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

What’s in a name? More than one would think.

As a newcomer to state government I found myself frequently confused in conversations with my staff. In the halls of state government nearly every office and agency is known by its acronym because the full names are often long and cumbersome. Newcomers and outsiders can quickly become lost in conversations about DCNR, DGS, DEP, DCED and, yes, PHMC. It’s taken several months for me to learn the internal shorthand.

As PHMC’s staff began the strategic planning process we discussed how well the public knows the agency and its various bureaus, services, and programs and how we should promote our brand for and among the people of Pennsylvania. We quickly agreed that our various audiences interact not with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, but instead with the individual programs and services they use and appreciate. They know us as the Pennsylvania State Archives, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, State Historic Preservation Office, Old Economy Village, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Pennsbury Manor, and the Pennsylvania Trails of History®. Families don’t jump in the car on a weekend morning to visit the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; they set out to experience and enjoy our historic sites and museums and all they offer on the Trails.

As staff and Commission members consider how to build our brand we have decided to follow what we have nicknamed “The General Motors Approach: It’s more important to market our products — Buick, Chevrolet, and Cadillac — than our corporate identity.”

Our decision to market PHMC to the public through our bureaus and programs has naturally led us to consider additional questions. Are the names of our programs clear, distinct, and self-explanatory? Does PHMC possess brands with a particular following or a unique heritage or equity? What shorthand does the public use to name our programs?

As a result of our analysis we approved two important name changes at the April meetings of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Pennsylvania Heritage Society.

For many years PHMC’s Bureau of Archives and History has been commonly known as the Pennsylvania State Archives or, simply, the State Archives. Because all five of PHMC’s bureaus engage in some aspect of history, our Commissioners voted to change the bureau’s official name to the Bureau of the Pennsylvania State Archives; the public name will be the Pennsylvania State Archives. The mission remains unchanged.

On the same day the Pennsylvania Heritage Society voted to change its legal name to the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation. The word society describes a wide range of organizations with greatly different goals. The word foundation, however, has a much more specific definition. There are many different forms of foundations but most exist to provide financial support to a particular organization or cause. We firmly believe the new name more clearly reflects the purpose for which the organization was established thirty years ago.

Both new names will be phased in over the coming months, but our varied roles will not change as we continue providing greatly valued services and programs to our many audiences.

James M. Vaughan
Executive Director, PHMC