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.

Stay tuned.

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4 Comments on “Time For A Philadelphia Encyclopedia?”

  1. Charlene Mires Says:

    I agree that an Encyclopedia of Philadelphia would pull together many communities — and now is the time:
    As Gary Nash pointed out in his talk, there has been an outpouring of scholarship about Philadelphia in the last 25 years — but much of it is in monographs or academic journals that do not reach a wide public. An encyclopedia would help to make the best of this work accessible.
    We also have great energy for Philadelphia history at our many historic sites and in history organizations — why not build from these efforts and help them to reach a wider and longlasting audience?
    An encyclopedia would give all of us a place to turn for reliable information — it should provide answers, but I hope it would also generate many questions and additional discussion about Philadelphia’s history. I would like to help make this happen. Count me in!

  2. Coxey Toogood Says:

    The encylopedia project comes at a time when the city of Philadelphia has committed substantial funds towards commemorating slavery at the President’s House on Independence Mall. The city and its activist communities pushed for archeology at the site in search of evidence about two presidential households. The ongoing public interest in the dig over this summer stunned people from all sides of the planning; it suggests that the time is ripe for a fresh, popular version of Philadelphia’s history. This will meld the power of place with recent scholarship to tell the paradox of liberty and slavery. The encyclopedia can reach a wider audience by supplementing the historical narrative with objects from archeology and material culture, and may even repay the city’s efforts by increasing tourism to Philadelphia.

  3. Rob Foley Says:

    There already is a Philadelphia Encyclopedia at WikiPhilly ( http://www.wikiphilly.com ) . It has all the benefits (and drawbacks) of Wikipedia, but as more people read and edit wikis, the better they get. So maybe the readers of this blog should go over to http://www.wikiphilly.com and participate.

  4. Joe Clark Says:

    After looking at the Cleveland and Chicago sites there is no question that such a
    project is needed. I have been involved with http://www.wikiphilly.com for about three
    years and whenever I submit something it is “edited” by someone who does not
    know what they are wtriting about.

    My only concern is that since this city feels so insecure about so many things would
    someone or somegroup be squeemish about such things as the 1910 transit strike
    and the PRT scandals or just focus on the positive?


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