HSPV 600, Historic Documention and Archival Research

-- projects

Project 1:

For the first of the two research/website projects, I will provide the topical focus in the form of some images of unpublished 19th-century watercolors or prints of Philadelphia blocks. Your goal will be to be resourceful in discovering the history of the site depicted and effective in presenting it in a way that directly engages both the evidence and the viewer.

Most of the images show a set of buildings rather than a single one, and the goal will be to tell the story of these buildings as best you can based on firm period evidence, carrying the history from their construction through changes and demolition. You will also tap into other kinds of documentation to tell a more urbanistic story: why was what was built built here in terms of the tides and functional patterning of the city over time? In part, this is a block story (or more closely, a half-block story), telling the tale of part of a block's particular history, but it also a story of that place amid a changing city around it.

As you can guess, finding this story may take you in several directions, from details of land ownership to footprints on successions of old atlases, from larger maps to rare surviving insurance surveys, from old city directories to census records, from building records or newspaper accounts, from representation in old watercolors or prints to early photographs, from its history as undeveloped land to the present -- although you can jump to that from the time of the depicted buildings' disappearance.

You'll be exposed to the sources of such documentary and graphic resources through your reading and our visits, most of them requiring visits downtown. Don't forget to look beyond the boundaries of your lot, for the urbanistic forces at work in explaining changes there. And you may want to explore signs of life and use in details visible in the originals or a high-res version of your images. If you find these to be cues to important themes that beg discussion or explanation, research and bring that in. As always, be scrupulous and precise as to where information and images come from, integrating that into the presentation.

In a few cases, these views may include an extraordinary, architect-designed place, but more often you may be dealing with the products of builder/developers and buildings that are understandable less as examples of design innovation than in the degree to which they conform to particular types or their variants. Try to read these landscapes not just in terms of documents specifically about them, but also in terms of the most helpful interpretive referents, considering matters of type in plan and use patterns.

For project1 I'll give you images of specific sites to pursue in teams of two or three. You'll get started, building this with discernable progress that you can show each week, and then we'll have a class presentation a few weeks in for what should be a fairly complete representation of the final product. Based on feedback from classmates, the instructor, and recommendations of further research, you'll have another week or two to go over the whole thing, considering and resolving every comment, correction, or suggestion, for a final version to be handed in on CD and that may be posted on the Web.

In most cases, sets of images offered will be related, usually by being for sites near one another or even on the same block, and in those cases, the telling of the block story would obviously be a collective effort. But these are all team projects, with responsibilites and grades to be shared, even where the number of provided images equals the number on the team. But even where there images aren't on the same precise block, members of a team and even beyond may find it helpful to combine their visits to libraries and archives in small groups. (For this project, we'll also try to team the more adept in these media with the less experienced, with the proviso that the more experienced partner will HELP LASTINGLY build the skills of their partners rather than be delegated with the tech part.)

The projects may not all be precisely equal in the amount of ground they cover, or in the primary and secondary information available about them, or perhaps even in the thematic richness of the story they tell, but do your best to advance the research beyond what has been done already on these subjects. And whether dealing with a scarcity or information or an overabundance, try to enrich the presentation with the kinds of urbanistic and typological contextualization that build on the particulars of names and dates to help connect with readers who might have no pre-defined interest in that piece of ground or even that city.

After the initial posting, we'll ask for folks to review and offer constructive comments on other team's projects, and then to do a sweeping revision, considering and responding to comments with additional research, correction of typos, or reworking of parts of the project design. This will then be reposted and handed in in its final form on CD.

Project 2:

As we've mentioned, the second project will be more open to student definition, and may be less tightly focused in geography or the 19th century. Generally, these projects might:

(a) work on a documentary or even an old published resource, to bring it to life for readers though annotation, framing, and illustration, to make it useful to other researchers, to frame, and contextualize it, and make specific parts usefully accessible; or
(b) look at the activites of a specific agent of building activites, a developer or builder or architect, finding and sorting evidence of their activities, contextualizing and characterizing that; or
(c) look at distributions in time or geography of different types of architectural "behavior," whether building types, specific details, specific functions, etc., and to characterize and try to account for them.

Here are some examples from previous years [http://www.brynmawr.edu/iconog/uphp/proj-04.html].

Below are some stray notes positing more specifics on some possible project2 topics that you might consider. As we visit repositories, we'll learn of particular projects they'd be interested in your adopting. I'll continue to throw ideas into this section. You may also propose others.

I'll add a few more as we get closer. But whatever you choose as a topic, it should be a good learning exercise in historical documentation with a good project achieveable within the time for the assignment. It should go beyond just mechanical and scanning tasks, have certain possibilities of public benefit and interest, involve research challenges, offer some scope for interpretive decision-making and analysis, and some scope for your conceptualization and presentation.

As with project 1, there will be an essential feedback/response/reworking cycle before the final evrsio is handed in on CD.


05-600a.html last rev.= 9 sept 05