The way we preserve Ohio’s history must adapt. To do that, the Ohio Historical Society is making history of its own: For the first time in 60 years, we are changing our name — to the Ohio History Connection.
“Connection” communicates our services in the simplest way possible: helping people to gain access to, preserve, and share Ohio’s past. By contrast, research in Ohio and elsewhere shows public perception of the term “historical society” to be exclusive, inaccessible, and antiquated.
That’s the exact opposite of what the Ohio History Connection aims to be. There’s a serious chasm between the way history is too often perceived and the way history could be perceived, throughout Ohio and across the country.
History doesn’t just tell the story of Ohio’s past. History can, and must, shape Ohio’s future.
It is also crucial to Ohio’s bottom line. In the field of historic preservation, the Ohio History Connection has reviewed and participated in more than 1,700 historic tax-credit projects across the state since the 1980s. The result: $2.85 billion invested in Ohio’s historic properties.
This program continues to have a profound effect in northwest Ohio. Since 2004, there have been 27 completed and certified building rehabilitations in Lucas County and surrounding areas. That work added more than $33 million to Lucas County’s economy.
The work also has added character to the region. Anyone who has ever visited the Ohio Theatre, Valentine Theatre, Standart-Simmons Hardware Company, and Governor’s Inn has seen how the Ohio History Connection positively affects the northwest Ohio community.
Anyone can also imagine the harm, economic and social, should these structures and their stories fall silent. The work of the Ohio History Connection is good for the Toledo community, its environment, and its economy.
History also is vital to the education of Ohio’s children. It promotes shared values and gives everyone real-life examples of how previous actions can affect future circumstances. Without a proper historical perspective, it’s impossible to have a healthy discussion of the social issues that affect our region, state, and world.
Two years ago, the Ohio History Connection created Ohio as America, an online textbook designed for fourth-grade students, aligned with Ohio’s new learning standards in social studies. This year, more than 22,000 students statewide have subscribed to the e-textbook.
Each year, about 7,000 students participate in National History Day events across Ohio. When students care about history, they know how to be informed citizens for life.
Still, the way we share history must adapt. The Ohio History Connection continues to build bridges between evolving technology and old-fashioned storytelling. Ohiomemory.org, our online library, has 426,000 items in its digital collection.
More than 60 historic Ohio newspapers, including the Maumee Express, are being digitized as part of the Chronicling America national digital newspaper program. This work increases Ohioans’ access to their past.
Keeping history relevant relies on innovative partnerships. The Ohio History Connection is working with local organizations to shift day-to-day operations of historic sites, such as Fort Meigs, to the communities where the sites are located. This transition creates a unique and nationally recognized site-management plan.
Volunteers continue to play a critical role in preserving and sharing history. Last year, more than 1,500 volunteers contributed 133,000 hours to Ohio History Connection activities. That commitment added the equivalent of $1.6 million in support.
Ohioans also are contributing to their history through an innovative checkoff on Ohio state income tax returns. In the program’s first two years, Ohioans donated more than $200,000. That money helps support a grant program for local history projects, such as the Williams County Records Center in Bryan.
The foundation laid in northwest Ohio doesn’t just preserve history. It’s making history, by exemplifying a new way to preserve places, objects, and memories. All Ohioans can commit to connecting Ohio’s past with Ohio’s future.
Burt Logan is executive director and chief executive officer of the Ohio History Connection.