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

State historical markers, one of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s oldest and most popular programs, are in the spotlight again this year with two exciting initiatives. First, the Commission just published the sixth edition of our perennially popular Guide to the State Historical Markers of Pennsylvania. The guidebook, totaling four hundred and fifty pages, locates more than eighteen hundred markers found along the Commonwealth’s highways and byways. Organized by county, Guide to the State Historical Markers includes maps, illustrations, and an index. Without question, this new edition will be an essential reference work for your home or office – and, of course, your vehicle.

Anyone who has attended a state historical marker dedication has to be impressed with the enthusiasm and pride displayed by local sponsors who join with the Commission to recognize people, places, and events that have shaped the history of Pennsylvania. The design of these markers is elegant and the informative texts serve as orientations to an extraordinary narrative covering every theme in American history. Early markers addressed traditional topics, especially military and political history, but today’s markers now reflect our industrial, social and cultural history. In the early 1990s, for example, a project spearheaded by historian Charles L. Blockson of Temple University, and supported by the William Penn Foundation, resulted in the placement of more than seventy markers documenting African American history in Philadelphia. A current listing of all of our state historical markers is now available on the Commission’s website.

The second initiative will also use digital technology to create a virtual tour of Pennsylvania history. In partnership with the Commission, the Common­wealth’s public broadcasting stations, led by WITF of Harrisburg, are developing a Web-based program to provide detailed stories and related information about the subjects commemorated by historical markers. The program, ExplorePAHisto­, will also offer information on travel, lodging, food, and other attractions to promote heritage tourism. A grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development to WITF will support a prototype project to create fifty interactive stories using historical markers – literally the “executive summaries” or mini-chapters of Pennsylvania’s past – as starting points.

The long-range implications of this virtual history tour are staggering. Other media such as CD-ROMs, wireless Internet, and digital television can be employed to share interpretive texts and images from our vast archival holdings and extensive museum collections. Transmitters attached to the markers themselves can convey additional detail through a frequency on your radio! As our technological capacity to store and distribute information expands, there will be a corresponding need for quality programming that engages, educates, and entertains. I can think of nothing more appropriate for this new digital age than to bring the rich and diverse history of our Commonwealth to new audiences literally – and virtually – throughout the world.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director