WaPo Editorial: DC should spend more on history

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On May 15, acting on a request from council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), the D.C. Council voted to delete $500,000 in fiscal 2008 funding sought by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to support the programs of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. This unexpected and unfortunate action raises the question: Does D.C. history matter?

For the answer, look no further than the response to the devastating fires at Eastern Market and the Georgetown public library. The people of this city care deeply about its history. They grieve when artifacts of that history are lost, whether they are documents, photographs, paintings or other irreplaceable symbols of our past.

Equally vulnerable are the stories such artifacts represent. There are countless stories, all different, some of them in conflict with one another. They are our heritage. Government has an obligation to support efforts to preserve them.

That is why so many states and cities across the country allocate substantial tax dollars for the preservation of history. They fund cultural programming, archives, historic preservation efforts, school programs, traveling exhibits, oral history projects, publications and more.

Last year, 25 states had history budgets of $8 million or more. And it's not just the big states. States with populations similar to the District's make substantial investments in their histories. Delaware budgeted $6.7 million this year; in North Dakota, the figure was $5.8 million.

Few places in the nation have the amount of history that Washington has. Yet the District's fiscal 2007 budget included only $2 million for its historical legacy. Only three states invested less.

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