Now that I’ve got the obligatory Henry Hill Goodfellas reference out of my system with that title, The Hill-Physick House was an incredibly interesting site to visit. It is just one of many examples of engaging places to visit in Philadelphia, that simply just aren’t as well-known as The Constitution Center or Independence Hall. The visit today not only including things I expected, like seeing portraits and antique furniture, but a look behind the curtain at the physical work and backroom engagement that are a part of the field of public history.
The first part of the visit, with the tour of the various rooms and aesethics of the days of Henry Hill and Dr. Physick, reminded me of Gary Kulik’s “Designing the Past History-Museum Exhibitions from Peale to the Present.” Specifically, the section of the piece on period rooms, because that was what the rooms in the Physick House were. The level of details and the interconnected nature of the rooms, like the Monticello windows and the paintings from Joseph Napoleon just gave the rooms a real presence of history. The period rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1920’s worked so well for one reason, “Even wholly commonplace items-andirons, pewter mugs, and betty lamps- became, under the Metropolitan’s influence, art objects” The Hill-Physick does the same thing, drawing attention to ordinary objects like the designs on the wallpaper, and the windows along with portraits of the Doctor and his wife.
One interesting aspect I noted was some overlap in themes between this site and the Second Bank Museum. Which I found out are incredibly close by on the way back to the train, though my sense of direction is not something to boast about. At both sites, the question of “who is our audience, and how can we best engage them” was at the heart of the discussion in public history. Also, the multiple layers of stories beneath the surface level, especially in the lives of women in the past. Both Elizabeth Physick and Mary Morris lived more complicated lives than their portraits let on.
The other aspect of the tour, the look behind the scenes with real life applications of public history work, was just as engaging. It was interesting to sit in on the meeting, and to hear how much work and the process of how these history programs actually happen. The element of social media and audience engagement, were the answers to these questions of “who is our audience really?” The opportunity to see a real-world example of these methods and public history engagement is something I find relevant.
 Kulik, Gary “Designing the Past History-Museum Exhibitions from Peale to the Present.” Pg 17