Looking at History

Be sure to check out the July program page for events coming up. PLEASE NOTE that the State Museum and Archives Complex in Harrisburg will be closed to the public tomorrow and Sunday, July 15-16, for completion of a major electrical upgrade.

"History" means different things to different people. Recent news about changes at Colonial Williamsburg, as one example, prompted discussion (at least among the folks in my Facebook and Twitter feeds) about whether or not anyone values history, other than those of us who are professional purveyors of it. On the other hand, museums are working very hard to continue to be places "where the truth can be found." I assume that readers of this blog are conscious of "history" every day in some capacity or another and that I spend much of my time in that space as well. I think, however, that everyone is a consumer of history, deliberately or otherwise. That is partly because I know that the present is profoundly influenced by events and conditions of the past. But the present is equally influenced (maybe moreso?) by the stories we tell ourselves and each other about the past (and the future). Facts matter, but we don't always agree on what the facts even are, let alone what they mean. The past was complicated. Studying the details of everyday life, political life, military conflict, what have you - it shows us that we in the present day are not alone in time. The people who came before us had to deal every day with the uncertainty of "tomorrow," as we do now. Sometimes we can learn from them; sometimes we have to be content with their companionship.

A number of news items ran across my desk this week that highlight the ways we preserve and use history, the value that work has to our communities, and the connections history helps us make.

PA Military Museum Great War Remembered 2016
"The Great War Remembered" at PA Military Museum, 2016
Centennials and other anniversaries

UPDATE/CORRECTION - Today's Yesterday's official commemoration of "le 14 juillet" (we call it "Bastille Day") in Paris featured a salute to Americans who fought in World War I, in recognition of the centennial of U.S. entry into the war and the long history of cooperation between the U.S. and France (it has become French tradition to incorporate such symbols of friendship with other nations into the Bastille Day festivities). Some 200 American service members, including the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, took part in the military parade down the Champs-Elysées. At the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump attended the ceremonies and took part in honoring the occasion. (Photos posted by U.S. Army Center of Military History.)

At the same time that U.S. military forces were arriving in Europe to fight alongside French and British troops 100 years ago, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was moving to commemorate an important event in an earlier conflict. On July 25, 1917, Washington Crossing Historic Park was established to mark the spot where General Washington and his Continental Army crossed the Delaware River on December 25-26, 1776, to strike Hessian forces in Trenton and to honor the memory of the soldiers fighting for American independence. To celebrate the park's centennial, free tours and events are planned for next weekend (the only event requiring a reservation is the birthday party on July 23). For more information, visit WCHP's Facebook page.

Bushy Run History Camp 2017
Bushy Run Battlefield Summer History Camp 2017

Valuing History

A recent article in the Times-Tribune announced that Scranton has beaten out Bethlehem and Boston to host the 2018 International Conference on Contemporary Cast Iron Art. The conference, which occurs every four years, has not been held in the U.S. since 2002. The article notes that the Scranton Iron Furnaces and its annual Arts on Fire festival were key factors in drawing the conference, which will focus on "post-industrial iron." Arts on Fire includes a variety of artisan activities, including an iron pour and glass blowing (more info). The event and the community partnerships that make it possible have helped to bring attention to Scranton's south side and the Iron Furnaces. Much logistical work remains for the May 28-June 2 conference, which is expected to bring 800-1,000 people to Scranton.

In an op-ed piece responding to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that painted a grim picture of Westmoreland County, county commissioner Ted Kopas (D) cited numerous factors that he believes are cause for a more optimistic view. Among them was Bushy Run Battlefield, which Kopas included (along with other heritage sites) as a great place for history buffs and one of many recreational opportunities for the public. Earlier this week the Tribune-Review provided an excellent overview of Bushy Run's summer history day camp. Reenactors worked with site volunteers and staff to teach 25 campers about Native American life in the area at the time of Pontiac's Rebellion. Last year's camp focused on British military life and next year's will look at British colonists in the area. The online version of the article includes video of the camp activities and a nice segment with reenactor Tom Vecchio explaining the value of sharing history and lifeways with the campers. You can see reenactors representing Native Americans, British military, and colonial settlers at the annual commemoration of the Battle of Bushy Run, August 5-6.

Intersection of Rt 322 and Rt 222 at Ephrata Cloister ca. 1942
Ephrata Cloister ca. 1942
photo shows Academy building to left and Sisters' House toward right (from Facebook)

Connecting to history in multiple ways

Ephrata Cloister has recently been sharing historic photos of the site around the time it was acquired by the PHMC and during its restoration. It is a fascinating documentation of the relatively more recent history of Ephrata's buildings. Staff have included notes about the photos to help connect the earlier history or to explain the restoration process. Visit Ephrata's Facebook page to see them all. (On a related note, the National Museum of American History posted a video tour of their new exhibit, "Religion in Early America.")

At Old Economy Village, changes are happening to the way visitors experience the historic buildings. Now, rather than taking a single guided tour that includes all the major buildings (especially those where security, safety, and collections care needs prohibit a self-guided tour), visitors will have some choices. They'll still start at the Visitor Center to purchase tickets and see the orientation film and exhibits and they will enter the historic area via a tour of the Natural History Museum/Feast Hall. But at that point they can choose self-guided tours of the Blacksmith Shop (newly expanded), Cabinet Shop, Community Kitchen, and Carriage House or guided tours in several different "zones" including the Cobblestone Street Buildings and/or the George and Frederick Rapp Houses. On special event days and Spotlight Saturdays, additional craft and trade demonstrations or other activities will be available as well. Visitors who enjoy guided tours and have more time to spend on site still have the option, and visitors who prefer to be more self-directed can structure their time to their liking.

The Mansfield Free Public Library recently posted photos of a visit to their summer reading program by PA Lumber Museum site administrator Josh Roth, who brought hands-on activities to the library to help teach about history. The Lumber Museum has been working with all kinds of partners to share lumber and forestry history with the public in local communities and to encourage visitation to the museum. Mansfield is one of a growing number of local libraries participating in the museum's library pass program, which provides free regular admission to the museum's indoor and outdoor exhibits.


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