Time For A Philadelphia Encyclopedia?
For nearly forty years, Gary Nash has been writing books about Philadelphia with powerful narratives. His specialty has been balancing the books of history with stories long forgotten and purposefully ignored. So why, now, is Nash saying the city needs an encyclopedia?
At a recent 25th-anniversary celebration of the last general history of the city – Philadelphia: A 300 Year History – Nash urged that now is indeed the time for an encyclopedia project. What’s been good for Chicago, New York and Cleveland can only be good for Philadelphia, a place that prides itself on it’s history more than just about anything else.
No argument here. But it is interesting to note that a scholar who has long been redefining the edges of his field is now confident enough in the current state of things to put his longtime agenda on hold in favor of the decidedly impressionistic encyclopedia format. Could it be that Nash has decided to trust the establishment? Or, could the establishment have, after all these years, come around to trust Nash?
The latter must be true. Why else would the Historical Society of Pennsylvania ask this long-time historian/activist to write an essay on the state of Philadelphia history writing over the last quarter century? Why else would he be asked to address hundreds of celebrants about the state of the field? Yes, times have changed.
And if it is finally OK for the avant guard to let down its guard, what, exactly, is being proposed by such a project? How will it work to serve the interests of the Philadelphia’s many communities? That is what we are going to explore here, in this, the newest category at The Sixth Square.