American Philosophical Society

Example of application that Bayard and Cynthia work to produce

American Philosophical Society is one of the foremost archives in the country. This institution specializes in the collection of scientific works and ensures their preservation for researchers. My class had the pleasure of touring this organization with Bayard Miller, who is the Digital Projects and Metadata Librarian, and Cynthia Heider, who is the Digital Project Specialist. I had the pleasure of meeting Cynthia previously in a different class, but this was the first time I was meeting Bayard. Both Cynthia and Bayard were Temple University graduates who participate in Temple’s public history program. At the Philosophical Society, they work to digitalize archive material to both give researchers greater access to materials as well as to down on wear and tear. Frequently used materials have a higher risk of rips and other damage. They also use materials gleaned from historical works to create online representations of the source material. They most recently worked on a project that took prison admission books from Eastern State Penitentiary and created an application that allowed for easy access to the source material through visual depictions and graphs. This kind of work allows for a new way to access historical information in a new and visually interesting way thanks to the manipulation of the source material.

APS subbasement


On our tour of the American Philosophical Society, we got a special look at the behind the scenes of the processing that collections go to before they are available for researchers. Bayard and Cynthia not only talked us through the processes that documents have to go through but also walked us through the spaces that each part of the process would be taking place in. It was an incredible opportunity to be able to see a side of archives that one will never achieve in the reading room. While we were there Cynthia introduced us to her baby, aka Ben Franklin’s mail records, these records show incoming mail to Philadelphia and who it is too. This allows historians and researchers to gain a greater understanding of the use of the mail system, from where and by whom, at the time. The most incredible part of the document to me, however, is the doodles that Franklin made in the margins that said, patriot. This humanizing aspect that is as simple as a doodle reminds me of the humanity of the historical figures that we at times idolize.

Ben Franklin’s doodles

APS reading room

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Temple University Anthropology Lab

Box of historical china found in an excavation

Chamber pots

Conch shell found in institution excavation







Packed in the far east corner of Gladfelter hall at Temple University is a hidden gem that many students are unaware of, the anthropology lab. This lab contains both the artifacts and remains found in archeological excavations. The product that is stored on the premises were mostly excavated by Temple professionals or graduate students who need a place to store their discoveries. The lab usually functions as a museum but most of their collections have been moved into storage due to the replacement of their floors so we did get to see any of their completed displays. Due to its anthropology focus the institution house a number of objects that relate to indigenous culture. However, it does have a Philadelphia focused collection that focuses on an institution for the poor and sick. This was the collection that my class was shown. Even though this collection was from a poor home some of the objects that had been found in the excavation were out of the ordinary. A conch shell that had been hollowed out to be an instrument struck me as the oddest considering that one would assume those living in this establishment would not have had access to the kind of travel where one would acquire a conch shell. The were other things in the collection that made more sense, like a chamber pot or medicine vial.

Facing the elephant in the room, the Anthropology lab does have human remains in their collection, up to as many as 150 in fact. Most of these bodies are unlabeled native American person who so far has not been able to return to their native lands. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act were passed in 1990 and among other things focuses on the redistribution of Native American bodies, grave materials and sacred object to the ancestors of the tribes from which they were taken. This act has museum professionals go through their archives and collections to locate pieces that might need to be reallocated. But what if a museum professional doesn’t know that the object they have is a sacred object? This was the question posed to us at our meeting with the director of the lab. She explained to us that she has to have tribes professionals come in and communicate to her what is a sacred object within their culture. The problematic nature of putting the sorting through of sacred materials on the backs of museum professionals who might not know what they have made the necessity for greater interaction between museums and native tribes all the more important  

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Broad Street facing entrance

1500 Broad Street is a remnant of a wealthy North Philadelphia that many who visit this area now would be shocked to learn. The prominence of wealthy individuals building their large city homes here in the early 20th century is a part of North Philadelphia history that has fallen to the wayside because of redevelopment and neglect of many of these previously grand homes. Those who built their home here tended to be newly wealthy industrialists who needed to be near their factories. 1500 Broad Street otherwise known as the Burke mansion falls in line with this historical trend. The home was built by Alfred E. Burke a leather executive in 1906. Alfred Burke was involved both politically and economically with the city and even had a longstanding relationship with Philadelphia’s mayor. When Burke died in 1921 in the home the property is left to his siblings, the last of whom sells it off for $100,000. The home was sold to the Upholsterers

Landscaping done by Temple

International Union who made the mansion their headquarters in 1945. Once the UIU grew out of the space the mansion was bought by Temple University in 1971. The mansion was slated to be the home of the School of Social Administration. The mansion ended up functioning as a daycare service until an electrical fire due to the explosion of an air conditioning unit forced its closure. This closure also aligns with an 18 million dollar budget cut by the university which compounded with the building’s need for repairs was an aspect of why the property was vacated.


The structure currently stands vacant.  No one is allowed inside the home. Temple does upkeep the landscape and the roof but the inside of the mansion still remains untouched. There is currently a public history graduate class, which the student presenting to us was a part of, that is looking into the history of the space and trying to determine the university’s intentions for the home. In a time at Temple that is full of rapid construction and development, many preservations fear for the welfare of this mansion. The home is listed on a  national registry but the risk of a teardown is always a reality. These graduate students are working hard to come up with ulterior options that would once again give the property a purpose that would not result in its destruction. Two of the suggested of the possibilities that our guide told us were the of reinstating a daycare service, which Temple does not currently have, or a community garden space for the local community. These students have done extensive work to research this home and ensure that all parts of its property will be protected.


“1500 N. Broad Timeline,” Hist 8152: Managing History, <> (11 October 2018).

For more information about the history of the home please visit:


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Before Their Times; The Community Roles of African American Museums

In our introduction to public history class today we discussed the historic and current issues with African American museums based on our reading of From Storefront to Monument: Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement by Andrea Burns. This book helped shed light upon the problematic restructuring of neighborhoods pushing out lower-income residents and in turn their cultural institutions. Museums struggle to find a middle ground between accessibility and the ability to be an aspect of the community. African American museums originally function as a de facto community center. They served as a safe space for community events and spaces for those who may have no other space to socialize, like the elderly. It was a space more about community relations and an investigation of one’s culture rather than a deep dive into historical analysis. It would be a safe space for those who ran these museums would frequently be community leaders compared to classically trained historians. These museums, however, struggle with accessibility and serve a very niche audience that can be disrupted by gentrification projects. These community shifts can be traumatic for museums that are so deeply rooted in the day to day lives of individuals who are then being pushed out of their homes. A compounding problem would be lack of funding that these institutions receive from non-community members due to the difficulty in accessing them. If people can’t get to the museum easily the less visitation and therefore less revenue. When the proposing the construction of the black history museum in Philadelphia activist clamored for it to be constructed in North Philadelphia. There it could both be associated with the community it is representing and bring in tourist dollars to African American business people. African American museums were arguably one of the first museums to promote the kind of community association that is now at the forefront of good public history practices. A connection to the surrounding community is something many institutions are now striving very hard to achieve.

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Hill-Physick House

This week on the adventures of Public History field trips, our brave students find themselves deep in the heart of Old City in a neighborhood known as society hill (possibly the most expensive zip code in the Philadelphia region). They all slowly converge on the Hill-Physick house. The Hill-Physick house is a house museum located in what would have, and still is, one of the most affluent areas in Philadelphia. The home was built in the Federal style and is the only free-standing townhouse of this style in the city. When this house was built in 1786 is was a strong symbol of its owners’ wealth. The Hill family who commissioned the construction of the house made their fortune off the importation of Madeira, a sweet dessert wine that was very popular at the time. This wealth paid for some of the extravagant finishes of the home, such as the large fan light, large window above the door and the Valley Forge blue marble tiles in the main entryway.

Valley Forge blue marble floors

However, the home is not interpreted to the Hill family but to the Physick Family who moved into the home in 1815 after the separation of Dr. Physick and Elizabeth Emlen. Only Dr. Physick and his four children took of residency in the home. Dr. Physick is known as the father of modern medicine and was noted for his quick surgeries. Considering the fact that there was no anesthesia at the time this was a very desirable trait for a doctor to have. He created many of his own medical tools and was a professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Physick lived in this home until his death in 1837.

On our trip there, our class was given a personal tour with Kayla Anderson, the membership and programs manager, and Johnathan Burton the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks Executive Director. This organization runs not only the Hill-Physick house but also; the Powell house, Grumblethorpe, and the Historic Waynesborough house. As we were shown through the house we were introduced to some of the home’s more interesting features. The Jeffersonian windows, named as such because of their appearance at Jefferson’s Monticello, were particularly interesting to me. The engineering behind them, weights being installed to ease the opening of the massive window, was quite ingenious.

Demonstration of Jeffersonian windows



The painting that was bought by Dr. Physick from Napoleon’s brother Joseph, who Physick was acquainted with, was astounding.

Post-tour, we were all seated at a table on the second floor of the home to discuss programming in museums. We were given a report that broke down what types of events their patrons wanted to see in their space. If you were wondering people in society hill apparently are very fond of morbid/ghost tours. We discussed the value of understanding what your kind of visitors enjoy and creating programming to meet that need. Museums are only educational if you can get visitors to come and support.


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The Second Bank of the United States

This week I had the pleasure to be able to tour the Second Bank of the United States with the curator of the collection Karie Diethorn, who is a part of the National park service, as well as Erin Pauwels, an Art History professor at Temple University. The second Bank of the United States was built in a Greek Revival style as made obvious due to the four large marble columns and facade. The bank spent very little of its life as a bank however, it was only in operation for 20 years. The bank was originally chartered to deal with the substantial debt that the U.S had accumulated after the war of 1812.  But with the rise of anti-bank sentiment in the 1830s, the Second Bank became the target of Andrew Jackson. Jackson vetoed the bill when the bank came up for re-chartering and its accounts were redistributed to state banks. The bank is currently a historic museum under the care of the National Park Service.

The exhibits are predominantly made up of portrait art. The main exhibition space is broken down into areas of interest; law, education, business etc. Each area has a collection of portraits that connect to the overarching ideas. On our tour, we had the opportunity to analyze the two paintings in this main exhibit space. These two paintings were both painted by Thomas Peale. One featured Robert Morris, while the other was of his wife Mary Morris.  The most interesting parts of these pieces, however, was not their subjects but their backgrounds. Both pieces had fictitious landscapes behind them that were intended to signal their devotion to enlightenment ideas. This contrasted with the portraits that were displayed in the next room, also by Peale, which had plain backgrounds. The portraits in the second room were designed to draw the eye only to the prominent figure that appears in the piece. These pieces were displayed in Peale’s museum, compared to the other pieces that were done for commissions. These paintings were designed to hang high on the wall to symbol the high status (moral or political) of the subjects. The Second Bank makes an attempt to recreate the aesthetic of what a display case in Peale’s museum might have looked like while still making it obvious that the cases are not original. The distinction between modern and historical was an impressive feature of the space. While the museum could have attempted to make modern recreations of the display cases with the natural specimens, the modern display pieces allow the viewer to understand the concept without overshadowing the portraits. I was disappointed by the lack of diversity in the exhibits, however. This was to be expected considering this was a museum focused primarily on portraiture art, only the wealthy can get their portraits painted. That compounded with the back that Peale’s museum required an admission fee that was well beyond the means of working-class individuals, the lower classes of people did not have the same access to such luxuries.

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