From the PHMC Chair

Letters presents readers' comments and reactions to specific articles in Pennsylvania Heritage, the initiatives of PHMC, and other developments in the historical, cultural and museum communities of Pennsylvania.

“There’s a new term in today’s newspaper,” my husband said. “The term is ‘fabricated lies.’” My husband, an especially avid news consumer, is our inhouse pundit. He regularly reports out on such things.

The “fabricated lies” to which he is referring is only the latest in a string of confusing terms that have become so common we hardly notice them. False news. Fake science. It’s become increasingly difficult to know what to believe, let alone who to believe. Much of what we count on is now under question. Everyone has an opinion, and they all are presented as equally valid.

I find all of this very troubling. But my real worry is not the terms in use today, but what they will do to the historic record tomorrow.

Imagine, for a moment, you have a great-grandson or great-granddaughter in the year 2067.  He or she has been given a college assignment to research some aspect of life in Pennsylvania in the year 2017. For us, that’s today. For them, it will be 50 years in the past.

Where will our progeny find the information? What will they find? How will they be able to access the enormous files of electronic data, gargantuan piles of documents and ever-expanding masses of objects? How will they be able to sort through the fabricated lies, fake science and false news? Will they be able to discern the truth? And, perhaps most provocatively, which truth will it be?

Assuring that people in the future can access the facts is, I believe, one of the most important responsibilities of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. We collect and preserve the essential documentation that tells the Pennsylvania story. Along with our colleagues in the hundreds of collecting institutions throughout Pennsylvania — historic archives, special collections libraries, historical societies, historic houses and museums — we are responsible for the integrity of the historic record.

Pennsylvania’s collections professionals, its curators, registrars, archivists and others, do more than computerize dated records, shelve government documents, and clean dusty artifacts. They stand guard over our history, and that is a noble calling.

So, the next time you read something in the news — or your significant other does — that describes a report as “false news,” “fabricated lies” or “fake science,” take note. None of us can stop the spread of these confusing terms. But we can support the public and private institutions that collect today’s news for tomorrow’s users. That, perhaps, offers some comfort in these confusing times.

Nancy Moses
Chair, PHMC