Behind the Doors: The Urban Archives at Temple University

The archives at Temple University are wonderful place to conduct research. During the tour I had the opportunity to see the backroom of the archives. During this tour I noticed that there were a select few three dimensional objects. During the question and answer session I asked about how the archive dealt with these objects. The answer was that three dimensional objects were not used that often and that museums were better suited to handle them. This made me consider the purpose of archives and museums and consider why we think of them as separate entities. Museums for most individuals are open spaces that can be visited and enjoyed by the public. Archives are often perceived as spaces that are used by highbrow academics that have their head in the sky. One of the reasons for this might be because museums hold physical objects, The historical context of these objects can be “understood” by most right away. When it comes to archives though the simple act of reading may turn some away because they must find out the context of an object by doing a small amount of research. People want to see and appreciate objects that look like they come from a world that they have never been to.

One of the solutions for this may by displaying more photos from the archives. These photos can show glimmers into another world just by viewing them. They show fashions of old and people that have been in the grave for a long time. Hopefully more archives decide to seek out more photos to add to their collection. While photos may be hard to describe in an article with words, with the increasing amount of technology used throughout the world and the increasing amount of digitization people may be able to include these photos in their papers by simply copying them in. Hopefully people do not see this as a trivial thing.

The Problem of Ownership

This Tuesday I had the wonderful experience of hearing about Patrick Grossi’s work for the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. He discussed the process of preservation work and it turns out that this work deals much more with zoning and cooperation with ownership than I first anticipated. Some of the general struggles of preservation for Philadelphia includes the lack of a citywide survey, a ten year tax abatement for new buildings, and general misconceptions of the preservation process. Grossi does not seem to be the type of person that is difficult to work with, instead he attempts to find a middle of the line approach when it comes to developers and those that wish to save all historic buildings. This is important because the people that often want to save the building are not those that own the building.

One of the ways to find a balance by promoting adaptive reuse. This process involves using buildings in new and creative ways that were not originally intended. One of the most commonly seen examples that comes to mind is coffee shops that used to be a warehouse or light manufacturing. This is one way to preserve the physical building and also make sure that it remains profitable. This also allows for the discussion of how consumerism and contemporary culture can shape our vision of the past. History seems to become hip once you place a latte near it. This of course is troubling to those that feel that history must be preserved exactly the way it was. This is exact recreation of the past is something that seems to be almost impossible.

One of the challenges that Grossi deals with is what to do with buildings that cannot be safely saved. He mentioned one of his prior projects for Temple entitled, “Funeral for a Home.” This project tracked this history of the individuals that lived in the home and gave a commemorative service for the home upon its demolition. This project shows the power of participatory history. Individuals from the neighborhood were highly involved in this neighborhood because many of them were born and lived their whole lives on Melon Street. This funeral showed the power of memory and commemoration and reminded everyone that homes are torn down everyday but that the memories of those places remain forever.

Eastern State Penitentiary: How a Prison Museum Responded

Prisons for many people are a place that they hope to never visit. Eastern State Penitentiary is an exception to that rule. At Eastern State visitors can learn about Pep the dog, Al Capone, and other famous prisoners that stayed at Eastern State. While many visitors may view these people that were incarcerated at Eastern State as exciting figures from the past they are also forced to deal with issues from the present. The primary issue that Eastern State attempts to deal with is mass incarceration. During my time at Eastern State I had the opportunity to speak to a tour guide and one of the leaders of interpretation. During this discussion a ranking of those who went to Eastern State was one of the topics. On the one end was those who were directly connected to prisons and on the other were those who treated the experience as a vacation getaway and did not feel any connection to prison reform. Holocaust history faces a similar issue because some people have a direct connection to the Holocaust while others deny that it ever happened. Some of the ways that Eastern State tried to reach all of these varying audiences was by creating an exhibit about prison reform and by inviting former prisoners. In the exhibit about prison reform people are encouraged to write about an experience in which they broke the law. People can read what others have written both during their visit from Eastern State and from prisoners. This helps create empathy through participation.

I Object: The Atlantic City Trump Museum Project and its Objects

Recently Levi Fox, a doctorate student at Temple University, visited my public history class. During this visit he discussed his effort to create a museum focused around Trump’s legacy in Atlantic City. He hoped that such a museum would be able to create much needed heritage tourism. During his presentation he displayed a few objects such as a beach towel from the Taj Mahal. A similar towel may be found on Ebay currently at the low price of $1,000.

While listening to Fox discuss the objects and how some of them were donated by Trump supporters who assumed that Fox and the museum take a pro Trump stance it made me consider Nina Simon’s, “Participatory Design and the Future of Museums.” Simon starts off by discussing the history of the internet and how the internet is similar to a museum with many different people submitting objects and everyone treasuring their own. Much like the internet i am sure that individuals are curious about how their objects are displayed and wish to be involved in the process. One of the classical examples that I think about is a small tag that states who donated the object. During class I also asked about the possibility of an online exhibit. This has caused me to consider the question of why museum’s must obtain physical objects and why high quality photographs that can viewed in virtual reality cannot be used? I do not believe that it is a far jump for the public to embrace virtual reality due to it’s increasingly low cost. The challenge of course is creating dialogue within someones living room.

A great example of a virtual museum can be found at:

http://americanart.si.edu/multimedia/wonder360/

Art Works: How Art and History Can Interact

Sarah Trafford a Temple University graphic design student created the above work. This piece of artwork tells a simple history about a well known and beloved figure in American history. At the bottom of this piece Trafford states that, “Roosevelt was an avid stamp collector.” But hidden within is a much more complex history. Some of the recognizable symbols include the White House, a paratrooper drop, and the “V” for victory. This piece of artwork works for many audiences. It captures the viewers attention invites them to learn more about Roosevelt and if his legacy about World War II and his presidency is not taught then the audience will at least learn about Roosevelt’s love of stamps. This juxtaposition of innocent stamp collecting and the violence of war reminds me of Fred Wilson’s, Mining the Museum. In his exhibit he juxtaposed many objects that are not normally found together such as a Ku Klux Klan hood with a baby carriage. Another series of artwork near Trafford’s piece creates a similar and eerie possibility for juxtaposition. The piece that was neighboring showed fictional objects that Donald Trump and Vladmir Putin shared together. Some examples include a locket, love letters, and a condom with the words, “I’m Huge,” written on it. Roosevelt and his treasured status seems to rest above Trump but it must not be forgotten that even when Roosevelt was leading the nation he had his fair share of controversy. Maybe Trump will be remembered in a similar light as Roosevelt one day…

Powel House

While studying public history it has been stated time and time again that individuals that go to museums trust them because objects cannot lie. The objects at the Powel House were telling white lies throughout our visit. One of the key examples was Powel’s “bedroom” which in fact was the head servants room. Powel’s actual bedroom was instead upstairs in within that space came the discussion of when museums become popular. In Murtagh’s, “The Preservation Movement and the Private Citizen Before World War II” he discusses how historic preservation often takes place during times of crisis. The examples that he gives includes the post Civil War  for the Southerns who went on to preserve the house of their great men and the turn of the century with the influx of immigrants coming from southern and eastern Europe. It was interesting to hear that Philadelphia experience a similar boom of tourism and patriotism after 9/11 and is expecting/experiencing a similar boom now with the election of Donald Trump (maybe this means that there will be more public history jobs in the next four years, fingers crossed). One question that I regret not asking was, what is their left to preserve? Another interesting aspect from this tour that strongly resonated with me is the idea that public history does not necessarily have to be completed in a physical location but instead may be conducted in the virtual world. The trouble with virtual museums is that one cannot interact with and view objects. The power of physically being there is a strange and strong power.

Powel House http://www.mynextvictim.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/powel.jpg

The Wagner Free Institute of Science of Philadelphia

When I went to the the Wagner Free Institute of Science I was not sure what to expect. As my class and I walked into the auditorium it was interesting to note that the seating was divided into section. One of my first thoughts was that this reminded me of how traditional Jewish synagogues have divided seating for men and women. According to photos from the 1900s though this does not seem to be the case. Men and women seem to mingle and merge freely. This is just one reminder that this is an institution dedicated to serving the community around it.

Lecture Hall circa 1900 http://www.wagnerfreeinstitute.org/education.shtml

Heading upstairs was simply jaw dropping and overwhelming at the same time. Surrounding us was what seemed to be thousands of items. When wandering through one feels an obligation to view the items from the most simple to the most complex. It is interesting to note the focus of certain display cases on local items. While wandering through I noticed that I was not focusing on the names of objects but simply focused on what they looked like and how many variations their where of the same animal. This is something that I feel that people in the 1900s also did.

Wagner Free Institute of Science. Photo by David Graham. http://icaphila.org/notes/7882/music-and-memory

The Wagner though is now finding itself in a new community of Temple students. One of the possible ways of reaching out to this community is creating a wider series of lectures that not only focuses on biology and animals but also on the history of museum, the history of community around the museum, and the history of Philadelphia itself. Another issue that I found with the museum is that it seemed simply overwhelming for someone with little knowledge of the natural sciences. A guide on how to read the display cards would have been extremely helpful.

 

Independence Hall

1/26/2017 Independence Hall and the Surrounding Buildings

Independence Hall- National Park Service

 

Under heightened security due to President Trump’s visit I had the opportunity to visit Independence Hall and to explore the museums that surround the area. Some of the interesting highlights from the day included the discussion of the museum created by Charles Peale. This was one of the first museums in the United States. By viewing this museum with an understanding of Peale one can understand how he appealed to the statesmen that were serving in Independence Hall. Much like his lifelike display of taxidermy birds discussed by Gary Kulik in his article entitled, “Designing the Past”, the world outside his museum is full of great men that are full of life.

Moving further down the Jewish Museum of History was discussed. Overall this museum struck me as a much more grand building mainly due to its height. Another aspect that seemed to make the building much more grand was the fact that the front of the building felt like one gigantic window. From listening to others description of the inside of the building it seemed like the museum was not as interactive as Peale’s museum originally was. One reason for this could be that the Jewish museum is used for reflection and memorial of history.

In contrast to this was the description of the Constitution Center which seemed to be much more interactive from the descriptions that others gave. The reason for this could be the fact the constitution is still impacting our lives today and is still discussed as if the document was alive in some ways.

What caught my attention the most was how the lawn in front of Independence Hall used to be full of warehouses and other buildings and how it was cleared out during the 1950s. The reason for this clearing was because people thought the buildings were an eyesore and took away from Independence Hall. This shows another way that people wish to preserve even the aesthetic nature of founding moments. When standing right in front of Independence Hall one feels tiny and insignificant due to the size of the building. But, when standing back a few hundred feet it is easy to see that the buildings from the 19th century to the new skyscrapers behind Independence Hall tower over. Maybe this is a way to try to show all of the progressive America has made since its founding moments.