A New Digital Project About 20th-Century History

I recently began work on a new digital history project here at HSP that will highlight one of our flagship collections related to the history of Philadelphia in the 20th-century: the Albert M. Greenfield papers (collection 1959).

Greenfield (1887-1967) was a prominent Philadelphia businessman involved in real estate, banking and mortgages, retail, and politics. His extensive connections to many civic, political, business, and social affairs make the collection one of the most heavily referenced when discussing 20th-century Philadelphia.

Albert M. Greenfield circa 1936

Our new Greenfield digital project will interpret a historical theme from Greenfield’s papers through a selection of primary source documents, contextual essays, and teacher resources. And given Greenfield’s involvement in so many different things, one of my first tasks has been to narrow our focus to just one topic.

One leading choice is to focus on the early years of the Great Depression and the story of a large Philadelphia bank called Bankers Trust Company that failed in 1930. At that time, no governmental safety net protected people or institutions if the bank where they kept their money failed. So when Bankers Trust failed to open its doors on December 22, 1930, approximately 135,000 depositors despaired that their money was gone for good.

Cover of advertising pamphlet about a Bankers Trust Co. branch in Germantown

Greenfield was a member of the Bankers Trust board of directors and heavily involved in the bank’s activities. His papers include Bankers Trust financial statements and ephemera, correspondence with bank executives, and after the bank’s failure, letters from angry depositors who thought he should help them get their money back.

This writer told Greenfield "all this bank trouble is at your door."

The same writer alleged that Greenfield removed his own money from the bank before it failed. Greenfield strongly denied those accusations for years to come.

We will select several hundred of those documents to digitize, transcribe, and annotate using the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) guidelines, which allow sophisticated searching and analysis of digital documents.

This two-year project is part of a larger effort funded by the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation to highlight HSP’s 20th-century holdings. We will also be awarding a new research fellowship in 20th-century history, creating a web portal focusing on HSP’s 20th-century collections, and completing additional archival processing work on the Greenfield papers. You can read a bit more about how these efforts relate to our Civic Engagement Collections project in Matthew Lyons’ blog post from September.

I look forward to keeping you updated on our progress in the weeks and months ahead.

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