Monthly Archives: June 2017

Big Box Theory

It’s been almost two weeks since my last post; however, despite my lack of blogging I have continued to shift through the immense number of Philadelphia guidebooks housed at Temple University. I moved out of the Paley Stacks shortly after my last post and migrated down to the Temple Special Collections Research Center. All I had to do was make a researcher account so that I could request all of the sources I wanted pulled for me and I was on my way. But I soon learned that looking at a list of sources online is very different from actually seeing them engulf two entire shelves at Special Collections.

I spent my first day at Special Collections documenting See Philadelphia: A Visitor’s Handbook which shared an author with one of the sources I found earlier in Paley Stacks. See Philadelphia and Philadelphia Past and Present were both written by Joseph Jackson and their respective publication dates were only three years apart, 1937 and 1940 respectively. See Philadelphia explored the city to a greater extent than Philadelphia Past and Present did with See Philadelphia touching on areas such as tombs and monuments that were never mentioned in Philadelphia Past and Present; however, a greater quantity of material in See Philadelphia couldn’t change the fact that Joseph Jackson wrote two guidebooks decidedly focused on the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant experience in Philadelphia. The smallest of pittances is paid to the Catholic and Jewish communities of Philadelphia by way of mentioning a handful of Catholic churches and cathedrals and a select few of the Jewish hospitals and cemeteries in the city. Immigrant communities of color and their essential role in the history of Philadelphia is ignored almost entirely in favor of bland patriotic half-truths like those included about the Betsy Ross House, “Many persons believe that Mrs. Ross made the first American flag and that she lived in this house” (14). But most distressing is Jackson’s single acknowledgement of slavery across both guidebooks, “In the [Mennonite Meeting House] may be seen the table… upon which the first protest against slavery was signed” (84). Jackson neglects to mention that the table in the Mennonite Meeting House was only party to the first White protest against slavery so not only does he mention slavery just once, but when he does it is through a lens of whiteness. This erasure of marginalized people’s identity and place in history in Philadelphia is typical of the guidebooks I have encountered so far.

After I concluded my time with See Philadelphia I spent the next several days captivated by the 28 different sources housed within a single box, Penn’s “Greene Countrie Towne” and Modern Metropolis. When I initially requested my sources from Special Collections I assumed that they were all individual guidebooks that corresponded to the titles I was seeing online, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Some of the sources that I thought were individual guidebooks were actually boxes of manila folders that had dozens upon dozens of different sources inside.  Being handed a new box of sources from the Special Collections staff is a lot like going on a treasure hunt except there are no wrong turns to take. Sure, of the 28 sources in the box only 16 actually had any bearing on the topic of research, but pulling each manila folder out and wondering what lay beneath the call number is a feeling of mystery and induces a stir of excitement. Among the sources that weren’t quite applicable to the research, but were still fascinating, were fiery speeches for and against the Commission for the Erection of Public Buildings and the subsequent actions of the Commission, staunch collections of sentiments regarding the consolidation of the City, and an audit attempting to get to the bottom of the City Dancing Assembly Fund in the wake of a death. Of course, the box also contained numerous guidebooks that allowed me to further trace the path of historical value in Philadelphia.

Rather than briefly cover each of the guidebooks I found in the Penn’s “Greene Countrie Towne” and Modern Metropolis box, I’m going to spend the rest of this post focusing on only one source, Philadelphia The Birthplace of the Nation, The Pivot of Industry, The City of Homes. This guidebook is from 1904 and can be viewed online here.  Philadelphia The Birthplace of the Nation, The Pivot of Industry, The City of Homes stuck out to me immediately because it easily has the worst formatting and layout of every guidebook I have seen so far, with photographs being placed in the middle of the page and text continuing right through the photo. However, the introduction of the guidebook gave me hope to look past the poor layout as it describes the scope of the text as, “only those relics are considered that have been spared by the wave of progress to the city of to-day, because of the hallowed associations, which connect them with our Provincial and Revolutionary fathers” (Ashmead). Unfortunately Ashmead ignores his own introduction and spends time covering events and places like Penn’s Treaty, a fictional event in which the primary landmark of the story, an elm tree, had blown down years prior to 1904 and been removed. Even with historical inaccuracies being presented as fact the most blood boiling moments come when Ashmead describes two separate black women while telling the stories of the Stenton Mansion and the Old Keyser House, the only two instances were race is noted in the guidebook. Ashmead attempts to memorialize both women for their contributions to Philadelphia history, but he fails them as he neglects to mention the inhumane conditions experienced by both women during slavery, the role of Philadelphia’s “Provincial and Revolutionary fathers” in the perpetuation of slavery as well as the illegalization of blackness in Philadelphia and the nation, and by not letting either woman exist through a lens other than that of whiteness. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; after all, when the existence of slavery in Philadelphia doesn’t merit a mention from Ashmead there’s no doubt that his guidebook serves at the behest of revisionist White America.

In the coming weeks I will continue to spend a large chunk of my day at Temple Special Collections, but I am also hoping to head downtown and begin to explore the vast number of resources housed at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Of course, I will continue to update this blog and there will even be another blog post soon as the last two weeks have been busy and I have plenty to discuss that is beyond the scope of this post. Until next time!

The Depths of Paley Library

Hi there, I am Nate Hubler and I am spending the summer as a research assistant exploring Philadelphia guide books. The goal of the research is to determine how historical value fluctuates and changes depending on the time period in Philadelphia and on the people represented in the guide book. We are specifically looking from the time of the Centennial to the Bicentennial in Philadelphia, or roughly the 1860s to 1980. I have spent the last two weeks tucked away in random corners of Paley Stacks and Temple’s campus as I have been diving into the guide books available on the shelves in the Stacks and a few that have been delivered from Ambler Stacks and the Library Repository. I quickly became lost in the pages in front of me as Philadelphia’s past consumed me, but now I am taking a brief pause to shine a light on the selection of guide books I have found so far. These pauses will be a regular part of my research this summer and I hope that they will provide a window into the fascinating world of Philadelphia guide books that we are working to reveal.

This blog post is going to focus on a handful of the more interesting sources I have come across so far in my research, of which there have been several noteworthy entries. I was lucky that the first book I began reading, Guidebook to Jewish Philadelphia: History, Landmarks, Donors of the Jewish Community for the Life of Philadelphia, 1703-1965, was written from a Jewish historical perspective because I read about locations that would not make an appearance in many of the other guide books I pulled off of the shelves at Paley. I read about the brilliance of Rebecca Gratz and the storied history of the Mikveh Israel Synagogue; both which would only return with the briefest of homages in other guide books, if at all. But besides giving me a preemptive break from the seemingly endless number of guide books written through a primarily White Anglo-Saxon Protestant lens the Guidebook to Jewish Philadelphia also provided a number of well-crafted walking tours with accompanying maps. I have yet to have a chance this summer to explore any of the walking tours of Philadelphia that I have read about, but when I do the walking tours featured in the Guidebook to Jewish Philadelphia will be where I begin my travels.

Another day I looked through two very different guidebooks, The Philadelphia Tradition of Work: Things to Do & Places to See and Magee’s Centennial Guide of Philadelphia. The two guide books were slightly more than a century apart with The Philadelphia Tradition of Work releasing in 1979 and Magee’s Centennial Guide releasing in 1875, but this century long gap allowed for some fascinating comparisons of locations examined within each book. For example, The Philadelphia Tradition of Work dedicates a large amount of space to memorializing the Frankford Arsenal which it describes as “[having] produced munitions for every American war since the war with Mexico…” ( Cybriwsky and Hanson 36), but Magee’s Centennial Guide carries a much more reserved tone simply calling the Arsenal “famous for its war supplies” (Magee 40). Despite over a century passing between the publication of the two guide books they both rely on the Frankford Arsenal’s production of American munitions to assign it its historical value. The justification for including the Arsenal on one’s day trip around Philadelphia boils down to a roughly identical argument; this suggests to me that historical value and patriotic value are often considered one and the same regardless of time in Philadelphia’s history. I am interested to see if this trend continues in the other guide books I will explore this summer and how will it might change in relation to the identity of the author or the intended audience.

(I didn’t even get to mention the map that folds out of Magee’s Centennial Guide to Philadelphia which is at least five times as large as the book itself!)

I also had the opportunity to look over two guide books that completely blew me away because of how different they were from the rest of the guide books I had been seeing. The first was Man-Made Philadelphia: A Guide to Its Physical and Cultural EnvironmentMan-Made Philadelphia was obsessed with the idea of presenting Philadelphia from the eye of the pedestrian walking down the street and that obsession produced amazing results. The guide explored individual squares or stretches of Broad and Market Street with gigantic full-page maps which presented the buildings of interest on the map as one would actually see them from the street. Each section was mainly comprised of the map of the area and countless pictures of noteworthy sites and buildings which was quite the break from the typical written assault on display in most guide books. While Man-Made Philadelphia gave relatively little space to the written word I could make interesting assumptions about the authors’ priorities based on what was featured in the map, photographs, and written explanations and the combinations therein.

The last source I really want to talk about is the Handbook for Soviet Jewish Immigrants in Philadelphia. This guide book largely focused on helping new Soviet Jewish immigrants adapt to the changes between the Soviet Union and Philadelphia which meant that the bulk of space in the book was dedicated to explaining places to go for legal trouble, necessities, and support groups. However, towards the end it begins to explore how their audience can spend time having fun at Philadelphia museums and in places of historic value in Philadelphia. While other guide books I have read included the price of admission, the Handbook for Soviet Jewish Immigrants made it clear that it was only including locations that the authors knew their audience could afford to go to. This makes it the first guide book that I have encountered so far that was actively aware of having a lower class audience and worked to incorporate that into their guide. The Handbook for Soviet Jewish Immigrants also featured a number of (not so) subtle digs at the Soviet Union. My favorite of which was when the authors made it seem that the Soviet Union offered nothing in the way of cultural education for its citizens while Philadelphia, and most other major American cities, offered near constant free or low-cost cultural education for all citizens regardless of race, religion, or gender.

Needless to say I’m excited to dive even deeper into the world of Philadelphia guide books and see what surprises await. My first two weeks yielded a number of fascinating finds so I have little doubt that the coming weeks will continue to impress. This coming week I will be branching out from the Paley Stacks and spending as much time as possible in the Special Collections Research Center in Paley Library to explore some sources closer to the Centennial and from some different types of authors . See you in the next post!