The William Penn Foundation has funded a one-year exploratory grant for a Philadelphia-area "iconography." That's been our working term -- meaning, according to one dictionary, "visual representations relating to a subject," in this case to Philadelphia and its surrounding suburban counties in PA. That doesn't fully describe what we have in mind, though, which will extend to documentation of place in forms other than pictures as well. Here's the quick version of the overall project:
We're aiming toward four things:
In this exploratory phase, we plan to:
The overarching idea is to use new media to more effectively disseminate information about place, to enhance cross-institutional access to documentary materials of this sort, to better connect people with the history of their environment, and to thus enrich their lives here.
The idea was formulated by Bill Bolger of the National Park Service's National Historic Landmarks Program and Jeff Cohen, and shaped in discussions with Ken Finkel of the WPF. Then it was elaborated and explored further with Roger Moss and Bruce Laverty of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, Susan Stitt of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and John Van Horne of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Although it is fundamentally inter-institutional in nature, the Library Company agreed to ease logistical matters by being the recipient of this grant. Further discussions have been held with Elliot Shelkrot, Joseph McPeak, and Bill Lang of the Free Library, Margaret Jerrido of Temple's Urban Archives, Michael Ryan of the Philadelphia-Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries, Dick Tyler of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, and Nancy Moses and Jeffrey Ray of the Atwater Kent Museum. Letters of support for the grant application were attached -- forgive the alphabet soup, but I'm a lethargic typist -- from AoP, LCP, HSP, FLP, PHC, and PACSCL.
The funds have become available in February, and we'll be gearing up slowly, directing our main efforts to brainstorming about goals and means and staring to widen the circle of participants to other institutions in the five-county area. We'd like to invite general participation in this part of the process, either in person at semi-regular meetings or through other means, especially email, and we're setting up this provisional website to update things, lay out possibilities, and posit ideas.
As we gear up toward the spring we're planning on turning to Tom Johnson, working on manuscript collections and computers at the American Philosophical Society Library, and Sally Elk, formerly of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, for some of their time, but would also like to enlist sharp students with good research and digital skills from area universities as paid interns. But right now it's time to brainstorm a bit about possibilities, goals, and feasibilities.