This past summer I participated in the Keystone Summer Internship Program with the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office as the Historical Marker Program intern. I learned more about historic preservation and broadened my perspective on the diverse, rich, and complex history of Pennsylvania. I loved the various opportunities that the internship provided, such as in-office research and writing as well as field outings to see the real-world impact of preservation work.
My main task for this summer was to learn about Pennsylvania’s historical marker program and construct a report on how the PA SHPO can make future improvements. Working behind the scenes for the program, I explored all kinds of fascinating histories within the state, many of which were new to me. Because I grew up in Pennsylvania, I was familiar with the blue and gold signs placed throughout the state. It was fascinating to learn the process of how the markers come to be.
While in the office, I explored the markers using PA-SHARE and familiarized myself with other resources about the program. I attended virtual meetings as part of the new marker texts drafting process, and informative presentations on diversity equity, and inclusion, such as including Native American history in preservation efforts. I also had the opportunity to get out of the office with PA SHPO staff and other PHMC interns.
As part of my duties, I researched how other historical marker programs across the nation have been successful in order to provide recommendations for improvements in Pennsylvania’s marker program. For example, how could the Commonwealth’s program better incorporate initiatives to prioritize markers about underrepresented histories such as Native American, African American, LGBTQ+, women’s history, geographical, and more?
I also investigated how PA’s marker program can better implement community outreach efforts. During this research, I was able to talk to program coordinators in other states, such as Indiana, Ohio, and Georgia, to learn more about their programs.
One of my favorite tasks was writing the initial marker inscriptions for the newly accepted markers. The text drafting process for each marker can be complex as there are many rounds of review and editing between the program and the nominator. I enjoyed reading the applications to prepare the drafts and learned a lot of interesting PA histories. It was fascinating to look through old documents about different historical subjects, such as the Battle of Edge Hill, Mrs. Paul’s Kitchen, illustrator Francis Tipton Hunter, and the first Philadelphia woman lawyer Carrie Burnham Kilgore.
I also got to see the real-life impact of the SHPO’s work during site visits. My favorite trip was attending the dedication ceremony of a new marker in Philadelphia for Charles Brockden Brown, an 18th-century American novelist and pioneer of the gothic fiction genre. I am an avid reader, so it was great to attend a marker ceremony about a subject I felt close to. Watching the unveiling of this new marker by the nominators was a heartwarming moment.
As my internship ends, I reflect on what I’ve learned in the last two months.
I connected with fellow history enthusiasts during site visits and learned from my colleagues about their specialized knowledge. It is rewarding to wrap up the marker report I have been working intensely on and present my findings to the PA SHPO staff. I hope that the suggestions within the report will inspire new ideas on steps the program can take for improvements.
I realized that historic preservation is not just about acknowledging the past, it’s about recognizing history as alive and relevant to communities today. The marker program acknowledges how stories of the past can be just as meaningful beyond their time. Now when I go anywhere in Pennsylvania, I will always keep an eye out for those blue and gold signs.