Monthly Archives: August 2017

Let’s Have Some Fun

This summer I spent over three hundred hours reading guidebooks about Philadelphia from the Centennial to the Bicentennial and it was a blast. It did not matter if I was reading in some alcove in the Paley Stacks, at my usual table in Temple Special Collections, grouped with other researchers at the Library Company of Philadelphia, in a sunny spot around campus, or even in my room; I was having a great time. It took about a week for me to get my bearings and to get into a daily rhythm, but once I did I was off to the races. Despite how much fun I was having, my blog posts were usually rooted in criticism regarding the source material I was reading and the the way we continue to handle our history in the present day. My first two blog posts focused on the failures and successes of some of the guidebooks I read, particularly when it came to how they represented history. My first blog post can be found here and the my second blog post can be found here. My other two posts focused on walking tours that I went on and the thoughts that they provoked. My third post examined how physical representations of history change when progress and modernity are the goals of city development, while my fourth post examined how Philadelphia and the United States hides from historical legacy and the consequences that this decision causes.

This is my final blog post so this time I am going to try a different format compared to my past posts.  This post is dedicated to sharing my favorite findings, my least favorite moments, my biggest regrets, and anything else that comes to mind. Hopefully, this way I can share some of the fun I had this summer so let’s get down to business and have a good time.

Fast Facts: I annotated fifty-three different guidebooks from Temple Paley Stacks, Ambler Stacks, Temple’s Library Repository, Temple Special Collections, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the New York Public Library. Of those fifty-three guidebooks 28.3% contained maps, 13.2% contained walking tours, and only 5.7% featured driving tours. I looked through three different archival collections at Temple Special Collections each with new surprises and discoveries. After I digitized the last of my annotations they filled 340 pages in Google Docs. I also logged just under 313 hours work for the research.

Biggest Regrets: One of my biggest regrets is that I only read six editions of the The Negro Motorist Green Book and I failed to incorporate any of them into my blog posts. This series of guidebooks was a reminder of Jim Crow segregation, but more importantly they show that the black community of the United States was just as interested as any other community in traveling and exploring the country, despite them being ignored as a valuable audience. One poignant quote made its way into each edition I read and demonstrates why this series of guidebooks was so essential, “It is a book badly needed among our Race since the advance of the motor age. Realizing the only way we knew where and and how to reach our pleasure resorts was in a way of speaking, by word of mouth, until the publication of ‘The Negro Motorist Green Book…’ We earnestly believe ‘The Negro Motorist Green Book’ will mean as much if not more to us as the A. A. A. means to the white race.” For anyone interested in exploring the Green Books the New York Public Library has a number of them digitized and they are well worth looking through. 

My other big regret is that I did not wrote a blog post regarding accessibility issues in Philadelphia. Out of the fifty-three guidebooks I read and annotated this summer only one, Julie P. Curson’s A Guide’s Guide, treated disabled people as a valuable audience. She elaborated on the accessibility of historical locations by letting readers know if there were ramps to entrances, if exhibits or restrooms were only reachable by stairs, and the width of doorways.  She also included the number of steps and the location and accessibility of elevators for a number of historical locations. By looking at reports from the Census Bureau the refusal to acknowledge issues of accessibility all the more shocking. A report released in the early 1990s that estimated roughly 20% of Americans were living with some sort of disability and a report published in 2012, again, found that roughly 20% of Americans were living with a disability. Granted, these two reports are both well after the time frame of the research, but the consistency of the numbers makes it more than plausible that a similar number of Americans were living with a disability in the 1970s. Disability is an umbrella term that encompasses a myriad of lived experiences; however, the decision to ignore nearly a fifth of the population is indicative of the how often we think of accessibility issues, particularity in cities. Because we often push issues of accessibility to the back burner, if we consider them at all, we rarely incorporate accessibility into our city planning further alienating a wide swath of the population. Even A Guide’s Guide relegated the accessibility information to a separate chapter near the end instead of including it as a header under every location, similar to how the hours and price of each location was included. We need to do better at all stages of city planning to allow disabled people to enjoy the same level of comfort that abled people experience while living in or visiting Philadelphia, or anywhere for that matter. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Project Civic Access is a useful starting point for anyone looking to see how we can make cities more accessible, but they are only the first steps and we still have plenty of work ahead of us to make even them a reality. I only wish I had done more to bring attention to this issue.

I do not know how I would have worked it in, but I also wish I had found some way to talk about A Guide to the Stranger, or Pocket Companion for the Fancy. I can not take credit for finding this particular guidebook as Dr. Lowe turned me on to it, but the pleasure of sharing it now is all mine. This guidebook is definitely worth looking through as it offers “A rare glimpse into underworld flesh peddling” (Library Company of Philadelphia), and luckily for us the Library Company of Philadelphia kindly digitized it for future generations. So I will just leave it at that and anyone interested should click here to be blown away.

Favorite Quotations: I fell in love with a number of quotes and phrases from the guidebooks I read this summer. For instance, a handful of times I saw Fairmount Park referred to as a “pleasure park” (Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce), or, even better, a “people’s pleasure ground” (Jackson 35), which always brought a smile to my face. I think calling Fairmount Park a pleasure park or ground is more than apt and, personally, I would not mind a resurgence of either phrase. One line in Magee’s Centennial Guide of Philadelphia instigated a trip to the location in question as the allure was too much to stay away, “Nothing can be more romantic than a trip to Laurel Hill [Cemetery]… Here rest the remains of distinguished soldiers, statesmen, divine, and civilians” (169). After visiting Laurel Hill Cemetery, twice, this summer I can confirm it is a lovely place to spend an afternoon, although probably not first date material. A guidebook from 1871 expressly about Fairmount Park concluded with a bit of snark in an attempt to motivate the reader to explore Fairmount and Philadelphia, “Walking is our best English inheritance; with more walking, men and women will have longer and lead better lives” (122). See, snark truly is timeless.

Favorite Photos: I came across a number of incredible photos in the digital collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia, two of which can be found below. I also took countless pictures of the guidebooks I read and of the locations and scenery during the walking tours I went on.

I’m jealous, kind of. This photo is courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.
The text reads: “The battle is over, Bunker Hill no more will call the soldier from the maid he adore, while to his side he would his gentle Nelly press She tells him of the Enterprise Fruit and Jelly Press.” Maybe I’m the only one who finds linking war to selling a Fruit and Jelly Press funny, but I still chuckle every time I see this ad in my camera roll. This photo is courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.
This is a map from Man-Made Philadelphia: A Guide to Its Physical and Cultural Environment. It featured maps like this on every page, along with photos taken from the pedestrian view of landmarks. It was a great take on the classic guidebook format.
Here’s a reminder for anyone who needs it. I found this while on a walking tour of Fairmount Park. (Another thing I wish I had written about as I love our city’s pleasure park.)

Anyways, that is enough from me. If you have read this blog post or any of them I am grateful that you let me share this summer of research with you and I hope that you learned a thing or two. A big heartfelt thank you goes out to Dr. Lowe for having me as her research assistant this summer and letting me spend the days reading about and walking around our beautiful city. When I first met with Dr. Lowe her passion for the project was infectious and any doubts I had about spending the summer immersed in the world of Philadelphia guidebooks were quickly cast aside. She got me headed in the right direction and then let me run wild and free in the archives around the city. I also have to thank all of my friends that let me lead them around Philadelphia on a walking tour as they kept me company through every wrong turn and helped me digest the history all around us. And if we ever hung out right after I left an archive there is a good chance you heard me ramble for at least five minutes about whatever small detail stuck with me that day so thank you for helping me work through my thoughts and for not telling me to calm down and let it go. So on that note, grab a friend and go out and explore Philadelphia. I am sure you will find places you never knew existed and gain a deeper appreciation for the city, whether it is as a visitor or as a resident. I promise you will have more fun than you would ever expect.

It Is Time to Be Honest About Our Historical Legacy

When I again felt restless and wanted to explore Philadelphia, I turned to Esther Klein’s Guidebook to Jewish Philadelphia. This time I used the guidebook to lead a walking tour around Colonial Philadelphia with a friend who had never seen this side of Philadelphia before. My walking tour left me thinking about how the countless guidebooks I read this summer present Philadelphia’s history, and how the city’s history has always been up for debate, including today.

Before I dive into the bulk of this post, which is about my time at Independence Square and the Liberty Bell Center, I would like to take a few moments to gush about a few of the other stops on the tour. One of my favorite stops was Elfreth’s Alley. This street is the oldest colonial road in Philadelphia, and the preservation of the homes along the street as well as the cobblestone and brick walkway is remarkable. While I stood in the middle of the street and gazed around, I couldn’t help but feel removed from the present and transported back three hundred years ago. Christ Church and its burial ground was another noteworthy stop if only because it was a constant in most of the guidebooks I read this summer. The final stop I loved was the Walnut Street Theatre which is the oldest theatre in the United States. While viewing this storied house of entertainment, I was struck by how important entertainment has always been to society as a way to both escape from and confront the problems we face. Independence Square, however, is the place that grabbed my attention the most and left me thinking for days about how we still understand and represent our collective history.

The walking tour began at Independence Square, a location that is presented as one of the most historic areas in the country. It is undeniable that all of the buildings in Independence Square played a role in the birth of the United States of America. In fact, if you can remember back to the days of elementary school, there is a good chance that you not only heard the names of some of these buildings countless times, but also learned about their role in establishing liberty. After all, there is Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed;  Congress Hall where the United States Congress met before the country’s capital left Philadelphia; Old City Hall where Philadelphia’s city government met daily until the construction of the City Hall in Penn Square; the American Philosophical Society which is a library and institution founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 that continues to serve the public today; and Carpenter’s Hall where the first Continental Congress met. I did not remember much from my only prior visit to Independence Square in seventh grade so I was unsure of what to expect when I arrived. I was curious if there would be a rejection of critical thinking regarding the buildings and the people who inhabited them as I found was a consistent practice in the guidebooks from decades ago. I wondered whether or not there had been a shift away from the rose-tinted view of Philadelphian and American history that I read this summer. 

The long lines and heat outside were simply too much for us to wait in line to see the inside of every building in Independence Square, but we did wait to see the Liberty Bell Center. As I waited in line to get into the Center, I was able to read informational signs on the wall which detailed the history of slavery in the United States and Philadelphia. This was quite the divergence from the guidebooks I read this summer, as the topic of slavery rarely came up during my research so I was initially quite impressed with the Liberty Bell Center. To put it in perspective, during my research slavery only surfaced eight times out of 318 pages of annotations that I typed covering the guidebooks I read at the Temple Library and at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Bear in mind that these 318 pages of annotations represent thousands of pages. These eight references looked at one location where slaves had been regularly sold, the African Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and also where the first (white) protest against slavery was held in 1688. I will let you guess which one of those discussions of slavery dominated the conversation in the guidebooks. Needless to say, I was interested if the rest of the exhibit at the Liberty Bell Center would present a bland apolitical approach to the United States’ history of slavery, offer a rousing criticism of the United States’ past and the way it affects the present, or fall somewhere in between.

The first sign that caught my eye on my way into the center was a display simply titled “Memorial.” I found the message on this sign to be the most powerful of the entire exhibit despite it depicting our founding documents as pieces of history removed from the white supremacy and violence against marginalized bodies that was endorsed and practiced by the Founding Fathers and solidified in our government’s framework. 

The sign reads: “This enclosed space is dedicated to millions of men, women, and children of African descent who lived, worked, and died as enslaved people in the United States of America. They should never again be forgotten. One of two smokehouse rooms in which three enslaved men slept – Giles, Paris, and Austin – once stood in this area. The close proximity to the Liberty Bell Center reminds us that liberty was not originally intended for all. It is difficult to understand how men who spoke so passionately of liberty and freedom were unable to see the contradiction, the injustice, and the immorality of their actions. Enslaved Africans and their descendants endured brutality and mistreatment for over 200 years as their labor built and enriched the nation. The struggle for freedom and political, social, and economic equality continued even after the legal ending of slavery. The devastating effects of slavery continue to affect race relations to this day. Yet, we must continue to strive for the ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. The African symbols, words, and quotations on the exterior and interior walls speak to the spirit of hope, the resilience of the human spirit, and the determination of a people to arise out of bondage to freedom.”

Other displays throughout the exhibit examineed some of the conditions of slavery in the United States, actions taken by abolitionists to end slavery as well actions taken by slave owners and the government to keep the brutal system of slavery intact, and the symbolism of the Liberty Bell. After seeing the “Memorial” sign’s strong condemnation of slavery, I hoped to encounter displays throughout the exhibit that looked at the reasons behind slavery and race relations in the United States instead of information solely focused on numbers and the timeline of slavery. Learning and understanding the history of slavery and race in the United States is much more than just knowing how many Africans were forcibly stolen from their native land, when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed into law, or that the Underground Railroad existed. I believe that learning these aspects of the history of slavery and race in the United States is an important first step in understanding the reasoning behind why, as the “Memorial” says, “The struggle for freedom and political, social, and economic equality continued even after the legal ending of slavery. The devastating effects of slavery continue to affect race relations to this day.” But by not offering more than a surface deep analysis of slavery and race, the Liberty Bell Center is reduced to presenting a number of fun facts on the way to see a centuries old Bell. Rather than being a source of forward progress and deep introspection, the exhibition chooses to play it safe and act as little more than a reinforcement for the very systems that allowed such violence to take place in the first place.

Yet, we have made progress, albeit not the monumental strides some claim we have made. The bulk of the guidebooks I read this summer were written and published at a time when Jim Crow laws were in effect throughout most of the country. Black Americans were ignored as an audience by the majority of published guidebooks as well as the government at the local, state, and federal levels. When the black community had the attention of the United States government, at any level, it was because they aimed to further reduce the rights and livelihoods of members of the black community. We may have moved past the days of blatant Jim Crow discrimination, but racism and white supremacy continue to form the basis of our government’s, and many American’s, daily decisions. It should also be noted that we have not left the fight for historical honesty behind us; a quick walk around the city will demonstrate what I mean. In Philadelphia there is a monument to “charismatic leader” Christopher Columbus whose “discovery” marked the beginning of an era of rape and genocide for Indigenous communities that has lasted centuries. Philadelphia proudly commemorates Police Commissioner and Mayor Frank Rizzo with a statue and a mural, but his time in power was remarkable only for the constant terror he enacted on the black and gay communities of Philadelphia during the 1960s and 1970s. The Liberty Bell Center extols the virtues of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution which not only authorized slavery when the nation was founded, but also continues to authorize slavery today, so long as one has been convicted of a crime. These tributes serve as tacit approval of their honoree’s role in upholding systems of white supremacy and tell anyyone who bothers to look that we are proud of our history of white supremacy rooted in racism and xenophobia.

Despite claims to the contrary by some who wish to return to a period of national consensus so that America can be made great again, Philadelphia and the United States has never experienced a period of mass agreement  We can not return to a period in the past that never existed as American history always has been and continues to be a constant struggle to expand the notion of liberty to all people. This is why what we choose to revere and remember matters. This is why a statue is more than just a statue and the words on a sign are more than just a string of random words. They tell us, as a country, who we respect and whose views we align with. And while some people may continue to try to sweep racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy under the rug, these objects and ideas will always be evident in our public policy and public discourse to anyone who bothers to look. Some Americans may have moved from outright racism to coded language, but the damage is just as real now as it was centuries ago, regardless of how well one hides their intolerance. 

This is why I find the conscious choice to divorce the United States’ Founding Fathers and founding documents from their steadfast belief in white supremacy and racism as a form of governance so concerning. It does not matter where this shallow analysis of American history is to be found, be it in decades old guidebooks or in modern day exhibits and monuments, it has left many with little more than a collection of fun facts about the history of Philadelphia and the United States of America. And while fun facts are great to make oneself appear interesting in a conversation, they are of little significance if we do not understand how the fun fact plays into our historical legacy. Many Americans may only be left with an assortment of fun facts, but others find reinforcement for their ideas of hate and intolerance. This means that until we confront our historical legacy head-on and with honesty we will continue to put the most marginalized individuals of our society directly in harms way. This is unforgivable. Our cowardice to be honest about our history has real world consequences as seen through the murder that took place in Charlottesville less than two weeks ago or through the domestic terrorism committed by a white man in the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston two years ago. If we truly believe in expanding the notion of liberty to all people then it’s high-time we become honest about what the United States’s historical legacy of white supremacy and work to change it.