Executive Director’s Message

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

Because so much of what the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission does is highly visible, my first column as Executive Director is devoted entirely to a new program that may not attract attention for some time. None­theless, I am convinced that we have launched a project that will yield profound and positive consequences for the Commission and for public history in Pennsylvania.

A planning effort is now underway for a comprehensive survey of the Commonwealth’s industrial heritage. During the next year, the first phase of this ambitious project will develop a framework for a comprehensive survey of the physical remains of Pennsylva­nia’s industrial heritage, iden­tify its diverse industries and recommend a method of classi­fication by type, era and re­gion. Several staff members will assist in a literature survey of Pennsylvania’s industry and American technology, compil­ing a list of individuals, orga­nizations and agencies which have conducted (or are pres­ently preparing) such indus­trial surveys. This planning phase will conclude with a brief overview of the Com­monwealth’s industrial heri­tage and resources, a scope of work and methodology for a comprehensive industrial survey and a priority listing of significant industries targeted for future study.

The field survey itself will identify buildings, structures, physical remains, machinery, equipment, geographical and geological alterations, and archival and photographic sources. The survey will also devise a method to assess the importance of sites associated with the evaluated industries, analyze the related artifacts and archival material and develop a strategy for protect­ing significant historic re­sources.

The industrial heritage survey will have important implications for all facets of our work. Undoubtedly, the crucial element in this survey – as in any survey – is the way in which the physical presence of the past illumi­nates the meaning of history as experienced by the people who lived through times of momentous change. Our in­dustrial heritage is, of course, more than a story of buildings and machines. It is also the saga of real people: the legions of entrepreneurs and capital­ists, engineers and builders, workers and laborers.

The history of industry is not the story of one or two great events and individuals, but the story of thousands of seemingly unrelated incidents and people that can be pieced together to create a rich tapes­try to tell us so much about the ways that Pennsylvania devel­oped. By initiating this indus­trial heritage survey, the Commission has accepted the challenge of not merely com­piling a list of outstanding structures and sites, but to undertake the project in a manner that enhances our capacity to understand and appreciate the lessons of the past.

Obviously, we have em­barked on an enormously exciting and ambitious en­deavor. Given the quality and quantity of Pennsylvania’s historic industrial resources, the estimated field survey period – from five to ten years – seems quite justified. Throughout the next decade or so, this project will offer mar­velous opportunities for public participation and input. If you know of any industry of his­toric importance in your area that should be included in the historic industrial resources survey, please let us know. Thank you!

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director