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

As the state’s history agency, the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission holds historic objects and documents in trust for the people of Pennsylvania. The breadth of these collections is staggering. Within the Pennsylvania State Archives, we preserve some of the oldest documents in the state, such as William Penn’s 1681 Charter, the 1682 Great Law of Pennsylvania, and 33 deeds starting from 1683 that trace the sale of lands from American Indians to Penn and his successors. Objects held in the collections at PHMC’s sites and museums range from the 12,000-year-old skeleton of the Marshalls Creek mastodon to the flag that flew behind Abraham Lincoln when he delivered the Gettysburg Address in 1863.

In the past, these objects have only been available to those who are able to visit our sites in person and have been limited to what is on exhibit; however, with the advent of new technology, we now have the ability to make these items available to all Pennsylvanians in their own homes, schools, libraries and places of work. To that end, we are working diligently on a multiyear initiative to digitize these collections.

The State Archives has begun digitizing its 250 million documents and 30,000 rolls of microfilm. Already 15 million documents have been scanned, processed and posted online. As a result, we served more than 6 million visitors last year at pastatearchives.com. The archives is now encouraging state agencies to submit electronic records whenever possible.

PHMC is also working to provide for virtual visitation through the photography and electronic cataloguing of the collections at The State Museum of Pennsylvania and other Pennsylvania Trails of History sites. The development of an electronic database for these objects is now underway.

In addition to facilitating online visitation, the increased accessibility of PHMC holdings will benefit research and scholarship. These web-based collections will increase our engagement with those we serve and offer additional educational content to those who visit these collections.

Ever-evolving technologies give us new ways to connect with our visitors and provide them with a means to engage with each other. Social media platforms allow regular and immediate conversations. Blogs and online exhibits allow for in-depth interpretation and discussion, furthering a shared understanding of our common history and how it informs our lives today.

Although a digital world brings with it the risk of separating us and allowing us to reinforce our own points of view, it also can provide an opportunity to bring us together. PHMC is using these new capabilities as an opening not only to furnish information about the collections but also to foster discussions about the relevance of history, reflecting how it shapes our present and how it informs our plans for the future.

Andrea W. Lowery
Executive Director, PHMC