Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Philly Archaeology

I stumbled across a new tool for researching Philadelphia's history: the Philadelphia Archaeology Forum (PAF) and its stash of archaeological surveys and reports.

PAF is dedicated to protecting and preserving archaeological resources in the Philly region, and is committed to making archaeological reports accessible to the public.

Of course, PAF also warns readers that "site reports, including those written about the most extraordinary projects, can be very often painfully dull, even to other archaeologists."

Good point. I studied archaeology as an undergrad at UMass-Amherst, so I'm all too familiar with the technical hum-drum of some of these reports.

Nevertheless, I'm enjoying poking through the resources posted on the site, and have added PAF to the list of Philly History Tools in Assembling History's site navigation on the right.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pa. To Lay Off 85 Public History Workers

As if the bad economy wasn't tough enough, there's more bad news for public historians in Pennsylvania.

The Rendell administration announced that, among other budget cuts, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) will lay off 85 employees, more than 25 percent of its staff.

PHMC's web site says to check back on Friday November 20 for "important information on field site operations." That doesn't sound good.

According to the Inquirer, PHMC's layoffs will affect Brandywine Battlefield State Park in Chadds Ford, Graeme Park Historic Site in Horsham, Washington Crossing Historic Park in Bucks County, and Hope Lodge in Fort Washington. UPDATE: The Delaware County Daily Times reports that the layoffs will not, in fact, affect Brandywine Battlefield State Park.

The State Museum and State Archives in Harrisburg will also close on Tuesdays as of December 1. (They are already closed on Mondays, and the archives are also closed on Sundays.)

These cuts are disheartening for many reasons, but as someone who's in the job market myself, I especially hate to hear that public history positions are being eliminated.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Frank Lloyd Wright in the Philly Region

Frank Lloyd Wright's best known Pennsylvania design is on the other side of the state, but one of his local designs is getting some new, much-deserved, attention.

Well after his prairie style period, Wright designed a glass pyramid-like synagogue for a congregation in Elkins Park, just north of Philadelphia.

Beth Sholom Synagogue celebrated the building's 50th anniversary this year by opening a new visitor center to help make the building more accessible to the public. Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron wrote about Sunday's opening reception here. If you can't wait to get to the visitor center, click here for a photo gallery of the synagogue.

With one quick Google search, I learned that Wright also designed a structure in Ardmore, a suburb west of Philadelphia. The Suntop Homes are a four-unit structure, built in 1939 as a prototype for affordable cluster housing. According to the Lower Merion Historical Society, the plan to build more units was interrupted by World War II.

The Suntop Homes are not open to the public, to the best of my knowledge, but Flickr user lavardera has posted some amazing interior photos. You'll see some obvious design similarities to Fallingwater, which was designed three years earlier.

Coincidentally, I recently read a novel called Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan, about Wright's client-turned-mistress Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Though fictional, the book is based on historical research and is quite the page-turner. If you know nothing about Wright's personal life, I recommend it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Cultured" Praise

Some of Philly's rare books collections got a shout-out in The New York Times' latest in its "Cultured Traveler" series.

The Nov. 1 article spotlights the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Rosenbach Museum among its five examples of rare books libraries worth visiting, touting the institutions' accessibility not just for scholars but for ordinary visitors, too.