Site Visit: Temple University Anthropology Lab

Today we finished our second site visit in one week, visiting Temple University’s anthropology lab. Prior to visiting, I was not aware of the anthropology lab, and given its location on the lobby level of Gladfelter Hall, I cant say how many times I must have walked past it in previous years. Interestingly, the lab was custom designed for Temple’s anthropology collection when Gladfelter hall was constructed, dating the lab and its collection back to the 1960’s. When we arrived at the anthropology lab, the museum and its display cases were in the process of being emptied and relocated, pending a construction project to replace the flooring in the area. After taking a few minutes to explore the interior of the lab, we headed downstairs to the lab, where we learned more about the collection. In the lab we were able to see and learn about several artifacts uncovered in a recent excavation of an alms house in Philadelphia dating to the 1720’s.

We discussed some of the modern challenges of maintaining the collection, such as new cataloging standards, technologies, and legal responsibilities, like NAGPRA. Given the age of the collection, the lab is facing an issue endemic to many institutions — it is running out of storage space. Given the ever increasing amount of artifacts and samples stored on site, the issue of filling up storage space is an inevitable problem. One challenge, then is repatriating artifacts from digs in foreign countries and returning collections that belong to the State and other institutions. Additionally, re-cataloging and sorting artifacts from old collections presents a logistical challenge as the lab attempts to modernize its inventory system. NAGPRA, or, the Native American Graves Repatriation Act, also presents a challenge to the collection, as the collection possesses unclaimed Native American remains and burial artifacts that it must return to Native American tribes.

When our time was up, I left with a newfound understanding of the function of the anthropology lab as well as the wide-ranging responsibilities of its staff. I hope to return soon and see the lab’s exhibits once the renovations are completed.

Site Visit: Burk Mansion

This past Tuesday I was fortunate enough to learn about the Burk Mansion, located at 1500 N. Broad Street. When I first transferred to Temple, I lived one block away from the mansion, and every time I passed it, I was left curious about its ownership and history. Many of my questions about the mansion were finally answered, thanks to the work of Abigail Gruber, a PHD candidate at Temple and Allen Davis Fellow. As part of her course of study, Abigail has been researching the history of the mansion and devising ways in which the structure might be used and preserved in the future.

So, briefly, I learned that the mansion at 1500 N. Broad St, the so-called Burk Mansion, was constructed between 1906-1907 for Alfred E. Burk, the owner of a local leather factory. The mansion remained in the hands of the Burk family until 1945, after which it was sold and became the headquarters of the Upholster’s International Union. The mansion served as the union’s headquarters until 1970, after which the Union outgrew the space. In 1971, Temple University purchased the property, and used the mansion as an administrative space and as a daycare for the university. Unfortunately, in 1995 an electrical fire damaged the interior of the mansion. While it was unclear whether this fire destroyed the daycare, located in the annex, the daycare was closed and the property has since sat vacant.

In her research, Abigail uncovered information about what registries the Burk Mansion is on, and the structure has a small levy of protections. For one, the Mansion is registered on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, which prevents any significant alterations to the mansion’s historic facade. Additionally, the mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places, which makes the structure eligible for tax cuts and grants, and it has an easement that forces the University to ensure the structure remains stable. As a result of the easement, the mansion’s roof has undergone stabilization.

Learning about the history of the mansion, and recent efforts to stabilize the structure give me hope that it will be restored in the near future. Given the recent demolition of the neighboring structures and the fire in the next-door church, the mansion may be in more danger than ever before as surrounding newly cleared lots of land make the area more attractive to new development and projects. Despite concerns about the future, however, my visit to the Burk mansion was very insightful and enjoyable. It’s always great to learn more about history that’s in your back yard!

From Storefront to Monument

This week in my intro to pubic history course, we read From Storefront to Monument Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement, by Andrea A. Burns. This book traced the history and creation of black museums in United States. The book studied several black museums including the DuSale African American Museum, the Afro-American Museum of Detroit, The Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, and the African American Museum of Philadelphia, and provided insights into the discrimination, hardships, setbacks, and politics involved with the creation of these institutions. Of particular interest to me was how black community members adapted to these challenges and created their own institutions from the ground up, like in the case of the DuSale African American Museum and the Afro-American Museum of Detroit. The organic foundation process of these institutions was particularly interesting, as each institution started with a small staff and exhibit space, but with large community support. What is particularly valuable about these institutions is that each was founded in response to racial inequality and underrepresentation. These issues have been at the core of these museum’s missions, whereas many institutions are only now grappling with many of these issues, and too often only at the behest of external criticism. As such, these institutions have been able to discuss black history on their own terms, and without confronting the controversy and politics other institutions have faced. I thought that From Storefront to Monument was incredibly interesting. As a whole, the depth and complexity of the field of public history continues to surprise me, and this book gave me a look behind the curtain into institutions and movements that I knew very little about.

Field Blog #2: Hill-Physick House

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to visit the Hill-Physick House, located at 321 fourth street in Society Hill. My class met with Jonathon Burton, the executive director of Phila Landmarks, and Kayla Anthony, the site manager.

We were given a brief history of the historic, federal mansion and the efforts taken to save the property and restore it through the 1960’s and during the development of society hill. After this introduction we were given a tour of the historic house and its collection, in which we toured a variety of rooms including the front parlor, drawing room, breakfast room, as well as a portion of the original Nixon house that the mansion had been constructed around.

We learned about Phillip Syng Physick, the eminent surgeon, and his life and home in Philadelphia. We were also allowed access to the spring house, a room that was not typically opened for tours. After this tour, we talked with the site manager and executive director and learned about different efforts and events planned to fundraise and attract new demographics to house museums. Finally, we toured the medical museum, and saw some of the medical devices and procedures that Dr. Physick pioneered.

 

Prior to the visit we had briefly discussed the impact of urban renewal projects on historic structures. Urban renewal projects in the United States in the 1960s resulted in the demolition of an untold number of historic structures and it was interesting to find out that the Hill-Physick house was targeted in those efforts and nearly demolished. We also discussed the feelings of authenticity that many visitors have when experiencing historic structures or handling historic objects, and I thought a lot about those feelings of authenticity while I was touring the house. In some rooms or parts of a home, rooms were restored as accurately as possible to their past states and functions while other rooms exhibit artifacts or collections. This was well explained and interpreted on our tour but, I wonder if this mixed use confuses visitors at other sites or leads to a misrepresented or false sense of authenticity. I had a great experience at the Hill-Physick House and I hope to return sometime soon for a complete tour or for one of their planned fundraisers!

Field Blog #1

Hello everyone! My name is Kyle and I am a senior history major at Temple University. I have loved studying history for as long as I can remember, and I grew up visiting local historic sites and museums including Independence National Historical Park, Valley Forge National Historical Park, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, the Franklin Institute, the Penn Museum of Archaeology, and innumerable Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields in the area. In addition to my major, I am also a member of Temple’s ProRanger program, and I have completed a certificate in National Parks Management. I have spent the past two summers interning in National Parks, Gettysburg National Military Park in 2017, and Mammoth Cave National Park this past summer. Please check out the ProRanger program blog at http://prorangerphila.blogspot.com/ ! By participating in the program I hope to be hired into the National Park Service as a law enforcement park ranger. However, I find myself very interested in public history at large and interpretation. I strongly believe in the protection and preservation of both historically and environmentally significant places, and I feel that my career path will allow me to take an active role in both.

I hope to gain a fundamental understanding of public history this semester. I find the field to be very interesting, and if I were to pursue a career in history, I would want to work in the public history field. I have learned a bit about interpretation and designing interpretative programs from rangers in the National Park Service and through my coursework at Temple. I am excited to learn more about the subject as well as broaden my understanding of public history as a whole. I will be keeping a field log this semester as I visit and learn about public history in the Philadelphia Area.