Monthly Archives: February 2017

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

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

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.

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.