Since 1949, the Kentucky Historical Society has partnered with community members to install new historical markers across the Commonwealth that share the state’s remarkable history. This collaborative process has evolved through the decades, but its fundamental goal has remained the same: to educate Kentuckians about important historical topics near the meaningful sites connected to them.
In 2021, the Historical Marker Program underwent significant updates to its guidelines and standards to ensure its long-term sustainability and safeguard its commitment to first-rate historical scholarship.
If you or your organization are considering nominating a topic for a historical marker, we encourage you to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the information that follows so you understand well how that competitive process works today.
Historical Marker Program Guidelines
The guidelines and standards of the KHS Historical Marker Program underwent significant updates in 2021. Whether you are considering nominating a topic for a historical marker for the first time or you’ve done this before, please review these procedures so that you are aware of how today’s Historical Marker Program operates.
Marker nominations are reviewed once per year. Nomination acceptance is based on the proposed marker’s subject, which must accurately present verifiable historical information, and formal approval by a review committee.
Please note that the nomination review process is rigorous and competitive and that the Kentucky Historical Society receives significantly more nominations than it is able to approve per annual cycle.
KHS is responsible for verifying the accuracy of each marker’s text and supporting research materials. Supporting documentation should be based on reliable, original sources whenever possible. KHS does not accept applications without documentation.
KHS does not approve markers for the following topics:
- A living person or person who died less than 15 years ago. However, on rare occasions, nominations for individuals whose especially noteworthy historical contributions were made more than 30 years ago may be considered.
- Purely genealogical or family subjects.
- An individual or business if the primary value of the marker is to provide financial benefit to or advertise for that person or business.
- A cemetery, unless someone significant and well known to Kentucky history is buried there or a historically significant event relates to it.
- A church, unless it is connected to a significant historical event or person meaningful to Kentucky’s overall history.
Markers commemorating the history of physical structures should emphasize the site’s significance to Kentucky history rather than the site’s architectural features. For buildings whose significance is primarily architectural, we recommend the National Register of Historic Places as a better option for commemoration.
The physical locations of each marker cannot create traffic hazards and must be acceptable to the property owner or the governmental agency having jurisdiction. Markers must be placed in locations easily accessible to the public. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet retains the final decision for marker placement on public highways.
Important Considerations before Starting the Process
Since 2021, the Kentucky Historical Society’s Historical Marker Program has undergone significant updates to its guidelines and standards to ensure the long-term sustainability of the 2,400 markers currently in its care and the markers that are added to our state’s landscape in the future.
New and returning nomination points of contact should consider the following before compiling their nomination materials:
Markers will be paid for with funds allocated to KHS by the Kentucky General Assembly for this purpose—not by private funding from individuals or organizations.
This ensures a level playing field for all Kentuckians seeking to commemorate a topic with a historical marker. We cannot accept private funding as a work-around for marker nominations that the external review committee does not approve.
The process is highly competitive, and the submission of a nomination does not guarantee that it will be approved.
Each year KHS receives significantly more nominations than the limited number that the external review committee of history professionals from across the state is able to select for approval. Neither KHS nor the foundry that holds our state contract have the staffing and resources necessary to accept an unlimited number of new marker orders. We ask nomination points of contact to remember that the process is a competition similar to those for awards, scholarships, or grants.
Nominations will be judged against the current standards of the KHS Historical Marker Program and against the rest of the nomination pool.
With the program’s increased emphasis on scholarly rigor, it is possible that some marker topics approved prior to 2021 would not be approved if they were nominated today. The odds that your nomination topic will be approved increase if it clearly fits within the current guidelines of the KHS Historical Marker Program, as outlined in the first two pages of the nomination packet. Please note the restrictions that apply to churches, cemeteries, businesses, genealogical subjects, architectural (physical structure) topics, and recently deceased individuals.
KHS staff will write the marker text for all marker topics approved for production.
If the external review committee approves a nomination, they approve the creation of a marker on the topic itself—not any text that someone might propose. To ensure that the marker text conforms to the strict formatting guidelines mandated by the foundry, KHS staff will serve as the authors of the marker language. While nomination points of contact compile the initial research to support their topic and will be consulted for editing feedback, the final responsibility for the text rests with KHS.
The process for marker design, casting, installation, and dedication can take over a year from start to finish.
Each approved marker topic requires approximately 40 hours of work for KHS staff over many months. This lengthy, deliberate process involves communicating with the point of contact and other local partners, designing marker text, processing government paperwork, collaborating with the foundry to cast the marker, assisting the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet with the installation, and helping with the dedication event. In addition, the foundry that holds our state contract will take many months to complete and ship our orders. If securing a marker quickly or by a specific date is a high priority, we suggest working with a private vendor to design and install your own signage.
If a marker nomination is not approved, KHS can direct points of contact to other ways of privately securing museum-quality outdoor signage for their topic.
The KHS Historical Marker Program is one of many public history commemorative initiatives available to the citizens of Kentucky. If your topic nomination is not approved, you might check with your local government or historical society to see if they offer similar programs. You are also welcome to pursue commemorative signage through private vendors. A resource guide on this subject is available at any time upon request.
Key Dates and Deadlines for the Historical Marker Nomination Process
FEBRUARY 15 - Deadline to submit official letters of interest for proposed topics.
APRIL 1 - Deadline to mail and postmark completed nomination packets for proposed topics to the Kentucky Historical Society.
June - External review committee meets to discuss initial findings, deliberate, and submit final recommendations.
July - KHS Governing Board meets to review and approve the committee’s recommendations.
August - Nomination acceptance and rejection notifications are sent to points of contact.
Sept. - Dec. - KHS staff draft marker text for approved topics, request feedback from points of contact, and submit orders to the foundry for casting.
Submit an Official Letter of Interest
Before submitting an official letter of interest, we ask people to familiarize themselves with the other information listed on the KHS Historical Marker Program’ website so they understand how the topic nomination process works today.
Anyone interested in nominating a topic for the Historical Marker Program must first submit an official letter of interest via email to Dr. Jim Seaver, KHS Community Engagement Coordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org), to begin the process.
Letters of interest must be received by February 15 for nominations to be considered during that year’s Historical Marker Program cycle. Letters of interest received after February 15 will be eligible to participate in the following year’s cycle of nomination consideration.
Letters of interest may be brief, but they must include the following:
- the interested party’s contact information
- a concise summary of the proposed topic
- the county where the proposed marker would be placed if approved
If the proposed topic fits within the Guidelines of the KHS Historical Marker Program, KHS will email a copy of that cycle’s nomination form to the point of contact for them to fill out and submit. Please note that receiving a nomination packet is not the same as a formal approval for a topic; it simply signifies the ability to advance to the next step in the competition.
Completed nomination packets should be returned by mail to KHS’s offices in Frankfort and postmarked by April 1 to be considered during the rigorous review process.
KHS staff are available prior to the submission deadline to offer guidance and technical assistance as questions arise. Please direct your inquiries to Dr. Jim Seaver at email@example.com.
Tips for Compiling Nomination Materials
To ensure that the Kentucky Historical Society is a good steward of public funds and that the historical markers it erects adhere to the highest standards of historical scholarship, the review process for the topic nominations we receive is rigorous and competitive. Each nomination is evaluated by an external review committee comprised of history professionals from across the state. Their recommendations are then submitted to the KHS Governing Board for final approval.
Here are some tips to help make a better case for your topic before the external review committee:
Understand that things have changed with the KHS Historical Marker Program in recent years.
The guidelines and standards of the KHS Historical Marker Program were updated in 2021. Please be careful not to base your nomination on previous applications or approved markers predating those changes. Closely read the guidelines on the first two pages of this year’s nomination packet to ensure that you understand the process and whether your topic is a good fit under the current standards of the KHS Historical Marker Program.
Think like a historian! Build a case. Document, document, document.
You believe a topic is worthy of commemoration with a historical marker—prove it by providing as much detail as possible from reliable sources. (Sorry, we ask that you not use Wikipedia.) Please cite your sources, and be specific. For example, simply writing “county records” doesn’t tell us enough about where your documentation came from. Provide copies of the relevant source material, and highlight or mark any passages you’d like the committee members to consider. Please do not send video links or copies of entire books—the committee will not have time to review them. If you’re going to make a bold statement (for example, “the first ...”, “the biggest ...”, “the most important ...”, etc.), you must document this claim well. Avoid speculation or dubious assertions that cannot be substantiated.
Understand that all history is local and meaningful, but not all local histories rise to the level of statewide and/or national historical significance.
Because the KHS Historical Marker Program has a statewide scope, under the new guidelines we look to erect markers that appeal to statewide interest. Your nomination must demonstrate how your topic, even if it’s highly local in nature, strongly and directly intersects with major themes in Kentucky and/or U.S. history.
Pass the “So What?” Test. What does this mean exactly? You should have a solid answer for WHY your topic matters.
Nomination points of contact often propose topics because they have a personal or emotional connection to them. That’s great! But please don’t assume that the review committee automatically understands why most Kentuckians should care about your proposed topic. Explain why your topic should be considered historically significant to a broad audience. And remember that something may be really old, but that’s not necessarily the same as being historically significant.
Compile a solid collection of letters of support. Submit these with your nomination packet instead of having your individual letter writers send them separately to KHS.
A question we often receive is “How many letters are enough?” The short answer is that quality matters more than quantity, meaning detailed, heartfelt letters show more community support than form letters with boilerplate language. Letters must demonstrate broad community support for your proposed marker. Also, if you have a specific site in mind for the marker, your letters must affirm the support of the property owner or the site’s current managing organization.
Understand the primary purpose of the KHS Historical Marker Program: to educate Kentuckians about Kentucky history.
Since 1949, the Kentucky Historical Society has worked to connect Kentuckians to their past in the places where they live through its statewide Historical Marker Program. The fundamental purpose of this work is to create everyday, on-the-ground, educational encounters with historically significant events, individuals, sites, and topics. Markers should not be expected to take the place of monuments, memorials, advertising, presents, or trophies—in these instances, another method of commemoration is likely a better fit for the proposed topic. In such cases, we are happy to provide a resource list suggesting other ways of privately securing museum-quality outdoor signage or plaques.
Other Ways of Securing Commemorative Plaques and Museum-Quality Outdoor Signage
Please note: The information provided here is done so exclusively as a courtesy and should not be interpreted to suggest any kind of endorsement from the Kentucky Historical Society, its employees, or its affiliates, or the existence of a current or prior business relationship with any of the aforementioned parties.
Suppliers of Metal Historical Markers and Plaques:
Sewah Studios, Marietta, OH: https://sewahstudios.com/
Atlas Signs and Plaques, Delta, CO: https://atlassignsandplaques.com/
The Southwell Company, Corpus Christi, TX: https://www.southwellco.com/
Erie Landmark Company, Columbia, PA: https://www.erielandmark.com/
Catskill Castings, Bloomville, NY: http://www.catskillcastings.com/markers.html
B Sign Group, New Albany, IN: https://www.bsigngroup.com/neighborhood-signs
Suppliers of Museum-Quality, Outdoor Interpretive Signage:
Pannier Graphics, Gibsonia, PA: https://panniergraphics.com/
Upland Exhibits, Newton, KS: https://www.uplandexhibits.com/waymaker/
Lark Label, Wichita, KS: https://larklabel.com/full-color-outdoor-signs/ 316-682-5275
You may also choose to work with signage companies in your area. They might be able to produce the graphics and install them locally in frames purchased from national manufacturers. Please contact them directly to inquire about the options available.
For further information on suggested practices for outdoor interpretive signage, see:
U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Wayside Exhibits: A Guide to Developing Outdoor Interpretive Exhibits, 1st ed., (Harper’s Ferry Center, October 2009), https://www.nps.gov/subjects/hfc/upload/Wayside-Guide-First-Edition.pdf.
The Kentucky Heritage Council serves as the Commonwealth’s state historic preservation office and assists the National Park Service in administering the National Register of Historic Places Program. While neither organization can issue a plaque, they can provide guidance on how to get a site nominated for the National Register and suggest additional ways in which you can secure commemorative signage on your own.
Kentucky Heritage Council: https://heritage.ky.gov
National Register of Historic Places: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister/