Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Tag: Pandenarium

December means Holidays and Historical Markers!

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) invites members of the public to prepare and submit marker nominations for the upcoming December 1, 2019 annual deadline.  The Historical Marker Program is one of PHMC’s most popular public programs, with nearly 2,500 markers throughout the Commonwealth and new ones dedicated each year. 

Nominating markers

The nomination process has gone from being exclusively staff driven through a transitional period to being exclusively public driven.  Staff can provide assistance with preparation of nominations, but interested members of the public are responsible for the completion of nomination forms and doing the research to document the subjects’ significance. 

It can be a lot of fun to discover a person, place, event, or innovation that you or many members of the public were not aware of and bring the subject to light in the form of a marker.  Markers are a great source of community pride.

Advertisement for slinky toy showing boy and a slinky.
A Historical Marker for the Slinky was recently dedicated in Clifton Heights, PA.

Evaluating markers

The Commission has established Approval Criteria for evaluating marker nominations.  The criteria have been slightly revised since first adopted in the 1980s, but the primary criterion, “that the subject have statewide and/or national rather than local or regional historical significance” remains in effect. 

A requirement for inclusion of scholarly documentation with each nomination is also important to verify claims of significance in the narrative portion of the nomination.  Nominators are expected to include both primary and secondary source material. 

Additionally, there is a requirement that the subject, if an individual, have a substantial connection to Pennsylvania, more than simply having been born here.  The person must have spent enough time in Pennsylvania to have been shaped here, got their start in their life’s profession here, and/or have exhibited a long-term effect of having lived in the Commonwealth.

Historical Marker for Dr. Anna E. Broomall in Chester, Delaware County.

Marking underrepresented people, places, events, and innovations

PHMC is especially interested in encouraging markers for subjects or in regions of PA that are generally underrepresented. 

To further this aim, historical societies in counties where there are 10 or less markers as well as minority commissions under the Governor’s jurisdiction have been contacted to encourage them to promote marker nominations in those areas or related to minority history.  PHMC has committed funds to cover the manufacturing costs for a handful of these markers each year.

This year, PHMC has agreed to support the Pandenarium marker in Mercer County and the Cynthia Catlin Miller marker in Warren County, both scheduled for installation and dedication this fall. 

Pandenarium is a historic archaeological site of a free African American community that was established in the 1850s.  It fits two of categories PHMC is anxious to promote:  African American history markers in counties other than Philadelphia and archaeology-related markers. 

Current view of Pandenarium, Mercer County.

Cynthia Catlin Miller was an abolitionist leader active in the Underground Railroad.  It fits three of categories that PHMC is anxious to promote:  African American history markers in counties other than Philadelphia, markers for notable women, and under-represented counties (10 extant). 

We anticipate the opportunity to support several nominations for under-represented markers again this year.

PHMC recently launched a social media campaign using historical markers to commemorate 400 years of African American history in North America.  We join the 400 Years of African-American History Commission, other cultural and historical institutions, and media organizations to commemorate this legacy and recognize the contributions made by these enslaved and later free people by launching a social media campaign. 

This was the first of series of posts about African American history in Pennsylvania.

Each week through February 2020, PHMC will feature selected stories to highlight the multifaceted African American experience across Pennsylvania and will include both well-known and lesser-known people, places and themes. PHMC will share these over all of its social media platforms and encourages its thousands of followers to share these posts using the hashtag #400yearsPA.

We can help

It is generally helpful for a potential nominator to consult with PHMC staff in the initial stages of his or her research.  Staff is available to review draft nominations, and can provide advice on whether or not a particular subject is viable and suggest ways to adjust focus or sources to pursue that would afford one a better chance for approval.  To allow time to make revisions to your nomination and meet the December 1 deadline, drafts must be submitted prior to November 1, 2019.

You can also join us for an informative webinar, “Tips & Tricks for a Successful Application,” on Tuesday, September 24, 2019 at 10:00.  Click here for more information and instructions for connecting with us.

So, do a little research.  See if you can dig up an interesting and significant tidbit of history related to your community.  If interested in learning about how to apply for a PHMC marker or simply to learn more about the Historical Marker Program, please visit our website at

Archaeology Matters: A Pennsylvania Perspective

October is Archaeology Month, and what better way to kick it off than with five good reasons why archaeology matters.

Like most artistic, cultural, and educational institutions, we are challenged to demonstrate the public value of what we do. Very often this takes the form of an economic impact statement, but we should not lose sight of the numerous other ways in which history, archaeology, and preservation enhance our lives and communities.

Archaeology, in particular, is difficult to measure in terms of financial impact. In fact, the very concept seems to contradict one of our basic tenets, which discourages the monetization of archaeology and affirms that the true value of archaeology lies in its ability to teach us about the past.

Archaeology Matters – Small Book, Big Message

Trying to think about the bigger picture (an Archaeology 101 elevator pitch), I was inevitably reminded of a book I read in grad school. In Archaeology Matters: Action Archaeology in the Modern World, Jeremy Sabloff makes the compelling argument that archaeological research and methods can address modern, real-world issues such as environmental degradation, sustainability, warfare, and urbanization. While this sounds like your standard “learn from the past” argument, Sabloff suggests that archaeologists can (and should) use their research to actively engage with modern problems, create practical solutions, and inform policy decisions. Classic examples in this vein include the Tucson Garbage Project and recent archaeological studies of homelessness.

People in forest

Archaeology can even look at the recent past, including 20th century industrial sites such as this glass factory in western PA.

Our own public benefit lab

Of course, not all archaeology has to address contemporary political topics or issues of world-wide significance to be of value. For Pennsylvania Archaeology Month, I’d like to explore a few of the reasons why Pennsylvania archaeology matters and to highlight some of the ways Pennsylvania’s archaeological community is making an impact:

Pennsylvania has a cool history – Pennsylvania has a fascinating and deep (pun intended) history that covers 16,000 years of human activity! This ranges from the earliest-known Pennsylvania occupation at Meadowcroft Rockshelter, to the development of pottery and plant cultivation in the Woodland period, to 20th century industries. So much of what we can learn about Pennsylvania comes from the archaeological record, but once it is destroyed, that learning is lost forever.

Archaeology provides a multi-disciplinary education – Archaeological methods draw on skills from a wide variety of disciplines in order to document, identify, analyze, and interpret the past. As such, archaeology students can develop skills in math, chemistry, physics, geography, archival research, drawing, and GIS, just to name a few. For a major that is traditionally placed in the humanities and social sciences—it can get pretty “sciency!” These skills (and the critical thinking that goes along with them) translate nicely into most other fields and are a valuable part of a well-rounded education.

People along road

Archaeology students at West Chester University of PA learn how to record elevation measurements before opening an excavation unit.

Helping veterans transition to civilian life – The past ten years have seen the emergence of veteran archaeology programs, which help to rehabilitate military veterans through participation in archaeological research. This type of partnership is mutually beneficial to the archaeologists and veterans alike, as the skillsets and team approach from both worlds are complementary.  Ongoing research at Fort Ligonier in Westmoreland County has started incorporating the contributions of veterans from American Veterans Archaeological Recovery and Team Rubicon.

People under a tent

Team Rubicon volunteers excavating at Fort Ligonier in 2018. Image courtesy of Joanne Markow, Team Rubicon.

Bringing to light the experiences of under-represented populations – It is well-recognized that contact-period and historical archaeology helps us understand the experiences of population groups that are often overlooked in written history, but it is a message that bears repeating. With its focus on material remains, rather than just written documents, archaeology has done a tremendous amount to highlight alternative narratives and little-known historical events, and to meaningfully connect the past with present-day descendant communities. Research at Pandenarium, a 19th century freed African American village in Mercer County is just one recent example.

Archaeology is a gateway to local history – The best archaeology projects involve some kind of public outreach—whether including public volunteers in the work or sharing what we’ve learned with the local community. The ability to see the past through features and ruins on a site, or to touch an everyday object that has not been handled in thousands of years, provides all of us with a fresh and tangible connection to the humans who walked before us. Public archaeology is a powerful way to connect local communities with their own history, as was demonstrated by the public outreach efforts of the I-95 improvement project in Philadelphia.

How can I be involved?

At its heart, archaeology is a public, collaborative effort. There are many ways to be involved, whether recording new sites or volunteering alongside professional archaeologists. If you’re interested in learning more, the following websites will point you in the right direction:

October is Archaeology Month!

Archaeology Month is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Inc., and the Pennsylvania Archaeological Council.


This year’s Archaeology Month poster.

Its purpose is to increase awareness of the important historic and prehistoric archaeological sites in the Commonwealth. These sites are part of the heritage of all Pennsylvanians. Everyday, archaeological sites are destroyed. We hope that through the Archaeology Month events, more Pennsylvanians become aware of this part of our history and work to protect our endangered resources.

Unless otherwise noted, all events are free and open to the public.

Arkhaios Film Festival, Frick Fine Arts Center, University of Pittsburgh, October 5, 6, 7, 2018 (Poster)
Arkhaios Film Festival, Frick Fine Arts Center, University of Pittsburgh, October 5, 6, 7, 2018 (Schedule)
Arkhaios Film Festival, Frick Fine Arts Center, University of Pittsburgh, October 5, 6, 7, 2018 (Synopsis of Films)

Third Annual Workshop in Archaeology; Technologies in Archaeology and How These Have Helped Expand our Knowledge of the Past. Saturday, October 13, 2018. Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, Avella

There are numerous websites where you can find further information about archaeology in Pennsylvania.

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