In Our Minds and On Our Backs

Charles Fergus
September 01, 2003
painting of old industrial town
Christian J. Walter

"Pittsburgh," painted circa 1937 by Christian J. Walter. Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth is published by Penn State University Press, USB 1, Suite C, University Park, PA 16802; 814-865-1327; .

quoteA main theme of this book," write coeditors Randall Miller and William Pencak in the introduction to Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth, "is that history does not leave us. We carry it around in our minds and on our backs. Patterns established on colonial farms, in coal mines, in factories, and on city streets still shape the Pennsylvania in which its people live today. History is neither a bunch of facts nor a fixed, unchanging 'thing' to be memorized. It is being recreated by each generation, each community, each individual."

Miller and Pencak, professors of history at St. Joseph's University and Penn State, respectively, join with 15 other contributing authors in presenting this 685-page work that takes readers from the Meadowcroft Rockshelter—the first "Pennsylvanians" lived there, in Washington County near the West Virginia border, 16,000 years ago—to the postindustrial age of shopping malls and interstates. A lot has happened between those two endpoints, reflected by both a narrative history and stand-alone chapters on geography, architecture, archaeology, folklore and folklife, genealogy, photography, art, oral history, and literature. The book provides insight into those diverse beings known as Pennsylvanians and how they see their state—which is actually a commonwealth, so designated along with only three other of the 50 United States, a republic within a republic created to protect and promote the "common wealth," or the general good.

Conclude Miller and Pencak: "In the last analysis, history is about both memory and forgetting. The editors and authors of this book cannot remember everything, nor can we tell the tales of more than 100 million souls who have lived in Pennsylvania since the last ice age. . . . But, we hope, the 17 of us can present histories that remind as many of the Commonwealth's people as possible of their own past."

Last Updated September 01, 2003