Thinking About History

Looking for online events? Visit the new calendar on the PHMC website to find info about Trails of History programs. For virtual offerings available 24/7, visit the Trailheads Rec Room pages (to the right of your screen).

Red flowers in garden with grass and small stone building in background
Rapp House Garden at Old Economy Village, October 2019 (photo AKF)

This has been a relatively quiet week for me (i.e. only one online meeting), and I've been able to catch up on and digest some of the sessions I watched (and some I missed) during the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) virtual conference. The theme of the conference was "What Kind of Ancestor Will You Be?" and sessions explored the work of museums and historic sites to better reflect and serve their communities. I've also had time to reflect on some of the work we're doing at PHMC to advance our Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) initatives and all the resource gathering I've worked on with my colleagues. There are many downsides to our sites and offices being closed, but an unexpected upside (for me anyway) has been the ability to have online conversations with staff across the agency and across the state. Bureaucratic lines have blurred somewhat, and I sense a stronger collective purpose around telling a more inclusive story of Pennsylvania. Will it be easy? No. Will we ever be finished? No, it's a journey. But I think (and hope) there's a new collaborative energy that can make a huge difference.

So as I basked in the chance to think this week, AASLH released the report of the first phase of their "Framing History with the American Public" project. Funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the project has three major goals: "1) to identify the gaps between experts' and the public's understanding of what history is and why it's valuable to society; 2) to develop and test new communcation strategies for solving those challenges; and 3) to create and deploy tools and resources to train history professionals in all sectors of our field to communicate more effectively with the public." The report, "Communicating about History: Challenges, Opportunities, and Emerging Recommendations," is available online.
"The brief notably uncovers the implicit connections that exist between privilege, power, and historical knowledge in US public thinking. It shows how mainstream historical narratives are often considered the default, while narratives of historically oppressed peoples are seen as 'optional' for many in the US public; and how people in positions of privilege tend to use their comfort level to determine what to learn and what to ignore about past injustices and trauma." ("Communicating about History: Challenges, Opportunities and Emerging Recommendations," page 2)

That's not the only finding in the report, but I think it's one of the most challenging. It speaks to something deeply ingrained and forces us (whether we're practitioners or consumers of history) to confront our "comfort levels" as we may not have done before. (One definition of privilege is "the stuff you don't have to think about.") I don't have any blinding insights on this, but I'm letting it simmer.

A tree showing red leaves stands in the middle of a grassy area, there is a small stone building to the right
Fall color at Drake Well Museum and Park (photo via Facebook)

Honoring Indigenous History

In addition to the AASLH virtual conference, last week I also attended a webinar presented by the National Association for Interpretation (NAI) called "Elevating Indigenous Voices and Stories in Interpretation." The webinar featured interpreters and other staff from California State Parks, which has entered into an agreement with the Yurok Tribe that removes some of the barriers to the Yurok people's traditional uses of their ancestral lands. These lands include what is now Patrick's Point State Park (Trinidad, CA) and a reconstructed Yurok village that is interpreted to the public. The conversation was quite emotional at times and conveyed the power of people being able to tell their community's stories in their own way. I recommend this webinar to anyone interested in historic sites and the tremendous possibilities of historical interpretation; you can find it on NAI's Facebook page.
"You can't give people a voice. You can only silence yourself and let them speak." (Skip Lowry, CA State Parks interpreter at Sumeg Village and Yurok tribal member)

Closer to home, The State Museum of Pennsylvania's Virtual Workshops in Archaeology continue today and the next two Fridays, with online lectures around the theme "The Delaware Indians: Then and Now." Check The State Museum's Facebook page for details.

The Week Ahead

Large black steam locomotive with with people standing beside it
Photo courtesy Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania

On Tuesday, Oct. 13, the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania starts a three-part virtual education series, "STEAM on the Rails" (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). This week's sessions feature Chris O'Brien (Railroad Museum) on steam locomotives (10-10:30 am); Liz Bleacher (Girl Scouts in the Heart of PA) with an art program (10:30-11 am); Jennifer Kreszswick from Operation Lifesaver talking about railroad safety (2-2:30 pm); and Josh Roth (PA Lumber Museum) explaining logging equipment and simple machine concepts (2:30-3 pm). Tickets are by donation, and you must register to get the Zoom link. More sessions follow on Oct. 20 and 27, featuring Railroad Museum staff and staff from Anthracite Heritage Museum/Eckley Miners' Village, Drake Well Museum and Park, and Cornwall Iron Furnace. For details and to register, visit the Eventbrite page for this program.

According to this week's Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) foliage report, the coming week has most of the state at peak or near-peak fall color.

With funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (via PHMC), Eckley Miners' Village Associates are hiring a Project Manager/Fundraiser (one-year contract with possibility of renewal) to develop a sustainable new business model and management plan for the site. The person hired with work closely with PHMC staff, including the State Historic Preservation Office and Division of Architecture and Preservation. For a full project description and application instructions, visit Eckley's website. Deadline to apply is November 16, 2020 (contract begins January 1, 2021).

Canopy of trees showing fall colors over a gravel path through the woods
Photo via Bushy Run Battlefield Facebook page
Bushy Run Battlefield's popular Fall Tea will be mostly virtual this year. They are currently (through Oct. 24 or until sold out) accepting orders for their "Take Home Tea" package, which includes tea, baked goods, and a cup and saucer. Take Home Tea packages will be available for pick-up between 9 and 11 am on Nov. 7; there will be an online program for participants that afternoon. Visit the Facebook event for details.


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