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

What will be the future of the past?

Understanding history is most useful as a way to understanding our present circumstances and as a guide to new opportunities and challenges that lie ahead of us. In this, my final column as executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), I am identifying four major trends that will shape the role of archives, museums, historic sites, historic preservation organizations, and public history programs over the next generation.

First, the need to improve education at all levels will occupy the attention of political leaders, administrators, and teachers. The study of history is essential in sustaining the institutions of a free and democratic society. Resources available at PHMC facilities are extensive in both quantity and quality. The PHMC’s highly respected staff is a tremendous resource for teachers and students. New standards for teaching Pennsylvania history will reinforce the need for students to experience history through primary documents, museum collections, and visits to historic sites.

Second, the revolution in telecommunications and information technology will offer unparalleled opportunities for the PHMC and all historical organizations. The past decade offers a strong indication of how rapidly the environment is changing for routine communication, data base management, publishing, and web site development. Innovative projects such as will apply this technology to give audiences access to the past in their homes or when they travel.

Third, history and historic resources will be an integral part of strategies for economic development The Pennsylvania Trail of History, administered by the PHMC, state heritage parks, and the historic sites operated by the National Park Service provide a core network of historic sites and museums that anchor the tourism industry in every region of the Commonwealth. Well-preserved main streets and neighborhoods also draw tourists and contribute to a growing tax base in small towns and large cities. Financial incentives to encourage preservation investments will stimulate new public-private partnerships.

Finally, an appreciation for historical authenticity and integrity will expand in the future. As we develop more technology to reproduce the materials of the past and as we are able to simulate historical experiences, real historical objects and documents will take on a greater meaning and value. The PHMC’ s basic mission of stewardship for archives, collections, buildings, structures, and landscapes will continue to receive recognition and support.

These trends will require the Commission to make important strategic decisions that will expand our knowledge of the past and reach new audiences. I know that PHMC will meet these challenges. I am grateful for the opportunity to have served the Commission over the last fifteen years. I am confident that the past does, indeed, have a bright future.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director


Brent D. Glass, who has served as executive director of the PHMC since 1987, has been appointed director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C., the third most visited museum in the world.