- The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. PhilaPlace: Sharing Stories from the City of Neighborhoods
On December 9, 2009, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in partnership with the City of Philadelphia Department of Records, the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, and other institutions and community organizations in the city, launched an interactive website that connects stories and experiences both present and past in Philadelphia's neighborhoods. The site uses stories by the people of Philadelphia and historical records to present a living and lively presentation of the history, culture, folklife, and architecture of Philadelphia.
PhilaPlace grew out of two four-hour trolley tours conducted by The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (spearheaded by then-Director of Education, Joan Saverino) in Spring 2006: one to Old Southwark (which included Queen Village, the Italian Market, and Fabric Row) and one to Greater Northern Liberties/Lower North Philadelphia and Kensington's Al-Aqsa mosque.
The home page opens with a moving map and pop-up pictures of the various stories that can be found within the website. The interactive historic map is attractive, but between the map's constant reloading and the popping up of photos, the home page is a tad disconcerting. But there are many layers to this website, and the creators did a terrific job at combining the many histories.
At the top of the home page, there are tabs for map, topics, collection, and blog. Once someone clicks on a menu item, there is a sidebar with different options to choose. Documenting and presenting a city is a complicated endeavor: neighborhoods change and build on one another, and the website creators have tried very hard to work with these issues by assembling many partners.
The website uses many media to illustrate this complicated storytelling, including historic and contemporary maps, photographs, and audio and video clips. By integrating all of these items with the latest in digital technologies, PhilaPlace has created a terrific model for how to share archival materials and contemporary collections in an interesting and meaningful way. Visitors can save their favorite stories by clicking on "My PhilaPlace," and they can "Add a Story" to the PhilaPlace collection, thus contributing to the collective memory of the neighborhood.
At launch, PhilaPlace featured more than 150 stories. Initial content focused on two of Philadelphia's oldest immigrant and working class neighborhoods: Old Southwark and the Northern Liberties. Clicking on the "Yards Brewery Story" brings up a recording of two friends, Steve Mashington and Tom Kehoe, talking about starting up this business. The story was told through audio clips with accompanying photographs of the building and its transformation into a brewery. The oral history was less about brewing and more about the history of their new facilities and the fact that Philadelphia had been home to about 101 breweries over time. Most of the video was a litany of the various incarnations of the location at Amber and Hagert Streets. This depth of coverage may be of limited interest to anyone but a native or someone with a connection to this city.
However, the story of the 9th Street Market is more engaging. By clicking on the video, one is immediately treated to lively guitar-picking music and scenes of the market neighborhood: fresh produce, people shopping, and the Fiorello Meat Market, where Dan Fiorello talks about his family's hundred-year history in the local business. It is a good, interesting, and informative clip with appropriate historical photographs of the old neighborhood. The next clip [End Page 321] is of Paul Giordano, owner of the Paul and Frances Giordano Produce Market, who tells a great story of his childhood when his upstairs neighbor, Mrs. Goldberg, taught his family Yiddish and how his parents understood when the Jewish customers spoke Yiddish and called them meshugene for their meat prices. The videos and photos used in this segment are appropriate and interesting, using a thoughtful mix of historical photos and contemporary video footage of the produce, customers, and other fresh products that illustrate the charm and vibrancy of...