The Lead

State lawmaker floating privatizing ‘historical recognitions,’ criticizes state diversity efforts

By: - November 1, 2021 2:19 pm

Taking issue with the state’s top historical agency and its initiatives to reflect the diverse history of Pennsylvania, a state lawmaker has called on the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission to get out of the historical marker business. 

State Rep. Parke Wentling, R-Crawford, penned an Op-ed last week featured in City & State Pennsylvania, a website and magazine covering state politics, calling for the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission to be removed from its role as maker of the state’s historical markers and floated the idea of privatizing “historical recognitions.”

Wentling, one of four state lawmakers who sits on the 14-member commission, which also includes state Education Secretary Noe Ortega and nine residents appointed by the governor, wrote that “points of state and community pride: they are falling victim to revisionist history driven by woke cancel culture.” 

PHMC’s embrace of diversity, equity and inclusion measures, which began in 2018, “bled over into a revisionist historical review of markers,” Wentling wrote, calling the initiatives to make state historical placards reflect Pennsylvania’s diverse history and review of the language on the public markers “troubling.”

The story of all Pennsylvanians: How state experts are trying to make Pa.’s history more inclusive

But the markers that exist today weren’t only erected by PHMC. 

“The Pennsylvania Historical Marker program has more than 2,500 markers in its inventory, many of which were dedicated before the existence of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC),” agency spokesperson Howard Pollman said. 

In 2019, PHMC and its 214 employees, began a system-wide review of the text of the markers under its purview, some dating back to the preceding agency’s era nearly a century ago. 

“PHMC recognizes that some markers, especially decades-old markers that we have inherited from organizations that no longer exist, may contain outdated cultural references which must be addressed,” Pollman said. 

Wentling also raised concerns over the commission hiring a full-time Marker and Diversity Coordinator, which would be tasked leading the review of markers statewide.

Equating the commission’s efforts to the role of the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s science fiction novel 1984, Wentling said he fears PHMC will “alter history to fit the convenient narrative of those in charge.”

But Pollman told the Capital-Star that the fate of Pennsylvania’s historical markers –  whether they should be revised, replaced or removed – is decided in collaboration with communities and experts, not by the commission alone. 

“Any removal, replacement or retirement of a marker or plaque are done in consultation with subject matter experts, local communities and interested parties following the marker policy adopted by the commission on September 9, 2020,” Pollman said.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.