Publication Date

September 1, 2003

Perspectives Section


In response to the nationwide trend of decreasing support provided to history organizations by state governments, the American Association for State and Local History adopted (at its June 2003 meeting of the board of directors) the following statement in support of state and local historical agencies.

Preservation of, public access to, and free and open debate over the content and interpretation of the past are essential to the health of American constitutional democracy. Enlightened discourse over critical issues, public policy, and the very nature of our democracy, requires continuous reference to the historical context.

That is why the American Association for State and Local History is deeply concerned over the draconian reductions in public funding of historical organizations and activities that currently are being made across the country, most egregiously at the state level. These reductions demonstrate a wanton disregard of the relationship of the past to the future of the democratic institutions that define America and its position in the world.

The threat to state historical resources and institutions is especially alarming. State libraries and archives, historical collections and museums, historic sites, and other historical resources are not frills to be discarded when budgets are tight or to accomplish particular political agendas. They are essential trustees of our democratic inheritance.

It is ironic that these threats are being made at a time when the demise of totalitarian regimes around the world has made especially obvious the connection between the historical record and the democratic experience. Whether in Iraq in 2003 or in Eastern Europe fifteen years earlier, one of the first actions of newly freed peoples always is to open the previously closed governmental archives to public scrutiny. Through critical examination of the historical evidence the past is confronted and a future of new possibilities can be envisioned.

The American Association of State and Local History asserts that the historical record is just as important to the future of a 227-year-old democracy. Therefore, AASLH emphatically urges all Americans and the public officials who they elect to continue to invest in the federal, state, and local resources and institutions that are the custodians of our democratic experience. To do anything less dishonors the heritage upon which we build and threatens the future we aspire to create.

The statement was distributed widely to organizations in the field, provided to the CEO of each state historical society and museum, and sent with an accompany letter to each state Governor and Secretary of State.

Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, the AASLH ( represents more than 6,000 members from the field of state and local history.

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