Doing Community History in Philly

[MA student Erin Shipley reflects on her volunteer stint with History Truck.]

As a classmate of Philadelphia Public History Truck mastermind Erin Bernard, I agreed to help collect oral histories at the East Kensington block party last weekend. I’d never formally interviewed anyone before, so I arrived nervous and not sure what to expect. The day started off slowly, but soon neighbors began to arrive, curious about what was going on. The food and music drew them in, but once they realized what the event was about, many people stuck around to share their memories of East Kensington.

Young and old alike were excited to talk to us about life in their neighborhood and share their objects for the future exhibit. To help out, I interviewed residents at a bistro set in the back of the History Truck—how fun is that? One of the men, in his late sixties, has lived his entire life in East Kensington and was especially keen on sharing how the neighborhood has changed over the course of his life. He shared very personal memories with me, and I was awed at his honest, genuine thoughts.

The second man spent a few minutes wandering around with his pit bull, Samantha, greeting and chatting with neighbors. He approached the truck and asked if I would be interested in hearing some stories passed down by his father, who lived in East Kensington in the 1920s and 30s. I told him I would be elated to hear his stories, so he and Samantha hopped in the truck. He was a well-spoken and practiced storyteller, and shared each story with such enthusiasm. His eagerness in passing on his family stories really struck me.

I hesitantly left the block party early because of a prior commitment, but continued thinking about the event and the people I spoke with for the rest of the weekend. The work of the Philly Public History Truck is so important—collecting and sharing stories from lesser-known areas will be a meaningful contribution to that community and to all of Philadelphia. It’s important that every individual in Philadelphia knows that their memories are significant and should be shared with future generations. Kudos, Philly History Truck—can’t wait to work with you in the future!

Welcome New Faculty

The CPH welcomes three new faculty members this year.  Hilary Iris Lowe joined the HIstory Depatment this semester.  She holds  a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Kansas. Her book, Mark Twain’s Homes and Literary Tourism (2012), is part of the Mark Twain and his Circle Series at the University of Missouri Press. She is currently co-editing a collection of essays concerning American literary tourism, which explores the history of literary sites in the U.S and their connections to authors and their writing.  Hilary is at work on a digital humanities project that explores and documents Literary Philadelphia.  Upcoming public history courses include the History of the National Park Service for undergraduates and Material Culture for graduate students.

Also, Ken Finkel and Deb Boyer will be joining us during spring to introduce two new course: Non-Profit Management and Digital History.  Learn more about them here.

Thanks, Marty!

As we begin a new academic year, the Center for Public History looks forward to a yet another year of transformation and collaborative history making.  Most notably, we bid farewell to Dr. Martin Levitt, who has led our widely-renowned archives training program since 1995.  Marty, who will be staying on as librarian of the American Philosophical Society, has trained hundreds of archivists, many of whom work in Philadelphia and many more beyond.  His imprint on our program will be deep and lasting.  We encourage those of you who have studied with Marty to share news of your accomplishments and to extend thanks for his many years of service.  Although the archives program will be on hiatus during the current academic year, we look forward to introducing its next phase, which should be in place by fall 2014.