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

As I complete ten years as executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), I can measure the growth of public history and museums in the Commonwealth in three significant ways.

First, there has been enormous investment – both public and private – in our public history infrastructure. This investment has made possible the creation of several new museums, visitors centers, and archives and record centers, in addition to continuing development and major expansion of existing facilities. We now have impres­sive regional and county history centers, as well as specialized museums devoted to railroads, canals, agriculture, industry, and maritime history. Such impressive growth is heartening but ironic: it is occurring when the economic feasibility of operating and maintaining large facilities has become precarious.

The second example of growth is the development of several public policy initiatives. During the past decade, Pennsylvania has taken a leadership role in creating heritage parks and has recognized the need to integrate and preserve historic, natural, scenic, and recreational resources. The coalition that emerged to develop this program was also successful in securing political support for preserving these resources through the establishment of the Keystone Fund, a milestone in public financing for conservation. Conflicts between preservationists and developers, however, led to state legislation that placed constraints on the protection of archaeological sites. Nevertheless, the protection of public records garnered strong administrative support by bringing the state records management program under the aegis of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

Finally, there has been a heightened awareness of the value of public memo­ry – history is now perceived as a strategic asset to influence current policies and events. Competition for shaping public memory occasionally breaks out among various groups­ – revisionists, celebrants, reenactors, promoters – who claim ownership of our collective historical narrative. Nationally, tensions stirred by this contest arose during the Bill of Rights traveling exhibit, sponsored by Philip Morris; the quincentennial of the Columbus Voyages; the proposal for Disney’s proposed history theme park in Virginia’s historic countryside; and the Enola Gay exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum. In the Keystone State, the idea that history should be useful to encourage economic growth has become an article of faith among practitioners and policymakers. Whether this expectation can be fulfilled remains to be seen.

The PHMC has participated in these trends, both leading and responding to changes and opportunities. Nothing in the past decade has diminished my conviction that history is an extraordi­nary resource to spark imagination, provoke creative thinking, and inspire action. I look forward to the exciting challenges – and rewards – the future will bring.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director