City 306: Advanced Fieldwork Techniques: Places in Time
Spring 2003

Mondays, 2-4pm, Carpenter Library B15 and other locations
Mr. Cohen (
Office: Carpenter Library A5, 610 526-7916

A seminar and workshop for research into the histories of places, with student projects to be presented in digital form on the web.

The course will delve into some of the raw materials of architectural and urban history, and into research resources and strategies for probing the history of place. It will require building some basic facility in creating web pages, digitizing images, and integrating these elements in the design of informational experiences.

Participants should have some preparation in the history of architecture and urbanism, but will need no more than a basic facility with computer operating systems and software.

Some students may enter into unpaid internships working on projects as part of the College's Praxis Program. Placements will be arranged by the instructor with a non-profit organization dealing in archives or history in the city or the suburbs, with projects typically devised for some public benefit though access to information resources, value to the organization, and value as the basis of an intellectually engaging project aligning with the content of the course. Praxis placements will typically require at least 3-4 hours weekly working at these organizations, for at least 25% of course credit. We will choose these projects carefully and build on them as a basis of coursework.

Enrollment will be limited to 15 students.

This course begins with wonder about the places we inhabit and pass through, and how they came to take the form that they do. It is meant to wed that curiosity with resources like detailed maps, early photographs, documents, and other evidence that track the ways places have served and changed and reflected processes, events, and the actions and the motives of individuals. To a degree, the course will focus on those informational resources, whether texts or images, and on understanding why they were created, the purposes they were meant to serve, and how they inform us. We will seek to help contextualize such resources for other users who may turn to such documents to probe similar questions. Finally, we will focus on issues of presentation, anticipating and inciting the curiosity of others, and trying to design engaging informational experiences for them.

This course will be more of a workshop, something project-based rather than lecture-, reading-, and test-based, with some active learning rather than mostly passive absorption. It will involve both content and technology, but, ultimately, "content rules," as has often been said, and the medium is a secondary focus, a vehicle for effective presentation of that content.

There course will adopt a primary focus on the city and suburbs of Philadelphia, which is remarkably rich in documentary resources, both untapped and tapped. There will be a continuing expectation of background reading throughout the course; toward the latter half it will be increasingly more focused on topics connected with individual projects. Resourcefulness at finding good readings will be highly valued, especially on the form and evolution of the general area and on utilizing different kinds of informational resources. Students will maintain a journal specifying exactly what they have read and offer very brief descriptions of what is constained in each along with responses to it. These will be mounted as webpages and shared with classmates.

There will several small assignments, involving some key readings and key digital skills, but the main task will be a major project that will account for roughly half of the grade, and this will be subjected to several framing and shaping discussions, and mutliple revisions during the course. A second key digital project with real content will be smaller, an image-map project on a pre-arranged topic, linking resources with hot-spots on a map.

Students will be expected to help with each others' projects and to offer constructive critiques of each others' work.

We will visit some of the area's documentary repositories over the course of the semester, some of them downtown, which will sometimes require more than our alloted time slot. Students with a committment immediately after this class should see if they can reschedule (or miss practices, except when there is an actual match at4pm), or consider another course.

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