Nash’s Six Reasons
As mentioned previously, when Gary Nash spoke about the state of history writing at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania on October 23rd, he urged the gathered room full of historians, curators, editors, publishers, and cultural leaders to consider a new project – an encyclopedia for Philadelphia. Here are his six reasons why:
Why should Philadelphia, a city of so many firsts, be the last among the major cities to create such an Encyclopedia about Philadelphia? The critical moment is upon us for a popular and engaging printed and online project that would draw the kind of praise bestowed on the encyclopedias produced by other great cities. Here are six reasons why:
One. Philadelphia is ready. There’s a history-hungry population of culturally sophisticated in-town and suburban come-to-town professionals, as well as ordinary people eager to know of their part in the city’s history.
Two. Such an encyclopedia can be readily done–and done handsomely. The encyclopedia is already half-written simply because so much Philadelphia history has been recorded in recent decades.
Three. Several models for an urban encyclopedia lay before us. Twenty years ago, a yearning for Cleveland pride as the city was trying to recover as a victim of rust-belt syndrome led to the publication of an encyclopedia for that city. Now, even more sophisticated models are now available, most notably New York and Chicago.
Four. It’s a good cultural, civic and business decision. If Philadelphia can raise $37 million in 45 days to keep Eakins’s The Gross Clinic from finding a new home in Arkansas, isn’t there enough Philadelphia pride left to raise a fraction of that amount for an encyclopedia that would reach countless thousands of residents, teachers, students, scholars, and visitors? The Encyclopedia of New York City, published twelve years ago, has sold more than 80,000 copies to date–one of Yale University Press’s top-five best sellers in its century-long history.
Five. Planning, writing, editorial and design talent is ready to ride to the sound of guns. This project is no chore, but an exciting and important challenge to create a valuable community asset in print and on line. The Philadelphia Encyclopedia would start as a true project of the 21st century.
Six. Scores of folks throughout the community (and beyond) are already excited about the prospect of a Philadelphia Encyclopedia. And the conversation and planning continues here, at The Sixth Square.
Our project could—indeed should—include the voices of many people: librarians, museum curators, business leaders, politicians, professionals, community activists, churches, voluntary associations, urban planners, architects, and of course historians to discuss what they would like to have included in such an encyclopedia. Some might call this outreach. I call it in-gathering—connecting people for the common good.
The stars are almost all aligned. It’s time to move forward.