From 'Makes Others Know Your State' to 'Just Representation': State Historical Markers, Public Policy, and Public History

No Thumbnail Available
Schmitt, Rebecca
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Middle Tennessee State University
Scholars have long recognized that historical markers are more of a reflection of their authors and their motivations than an objective narrative of historical events. However, for the most part scholars have failed to adequately investigate the political and cultural structure in which these authors worked. Scholars have relied on assumptions about makers’ motivations or influences and have not actually examined the archival sources that recorded their decisions and reasons. By comparatively analyzing the historical marker programs in Michigan, South Carolina, and Tennessee, this dissertation shows that laws, regulations, politics, and institutional culture directly affect historical marker texts, marker design, installation location, and their general accessibility. Policies often dictate which topics may be addressed and which may not. The structure of programs places differing amounts of power into different hands, which may be a sponsoring organization, professional government historians, or political appointees. Power dynamics affect administrative processes, which further influence which markers are created, which areas of history they examine, and which are ignored. Funding sources also have a very real effect on which markers are installed and which are not, as does legislation and professional practice outside of marker programs. By examining the policies and structures of marker programs, we can understand how state historical markers developed from a tool of heritage tourism to a powerful Public History tool that tells a fuller story of all Americans.
Historical Markers, Public History, Public Policy, History, American history, Cultural resources management