Images of “by-gone days:” Visualizing the Manayunk of yesteryear

Oftentimes, history can seem like an accumulation of paper trails, a collection of stories told through the letters, diaries, and other written records that our ancestors leave behind.  However, graphic materials are also compelling historical artifacts, as I’m continually reminded while working on rights and reproductions orders at HSP.  Within our rich and diverse collections, HSP houses over 300,000 graphic items and these materials, whether they be photographs, watercolors, lithographs, maps, or other media, are a valued part of the historical record and often integral to the stories that our patrons aspire to tell.

Manayunk circa 1840 (Bb 862 M312)

A few months ago, I received a request for historic images of Manayunk for a documentary about Samuel Hughes, a Welshman who immigrated to Philadelphia in 1837 and settled on a dairy farm in Manayunk.  While searching our collections, I found this oil and watercolor in one of our graphics collections and was immediately captivated.  Painted by an unknown artist sometime around 1840, this image, with its lush, green landscape and open farmland, was so far removed from my own vision of present-day Manayunk that it prompted me to search for more information about Manayunk’s progression from rural farmland to metropolitan hub.

 

Title page of "Early History of Roxborough and Manayunk" (Am .3724)

Among the varied resources concerning Manayunk in our collections, my favorite is a hand-written volume by Horatio Gates Jones, Jr. entitled “Early History of Roxborough and Manayunk, 1855.”  A former corresponding secretary for HSP, Mr. Jones wrote the volume for the entertainment of his family and friends and aimed to take readers back to “by-gone days-when this whole country was a wilderness” (Jones p. 3).  With charm and wit (not to mention impeccable handwriting!), Mr. Jones gives a lively account of the settlement of a small tract of land bordered by the Schuylkill River to the west  and Germantown, or “the German Township” as it was then known, to the northeast (p. 4).  Initially part of Roxborough, the area that became Manayunk was settled, beginning in the 1680s, by such families as the Leverings, Rittenhouses, and Gorgas, whose legacies persist in Manayunk’s street names.  Interestingly, the expansion of these families and the area itself went hand-in-hand in these early years.  Indeed, according to Jones’ account, the central thoroughfare into Manayunk, Green Lane, owes its existence to the efforts of the Levering family to seek “a free egress and regress” between the tracts of land that Wigard Levering and his sons Jacob and William claimed along the Schuylkill River (p. 20).

Railroad Bridge over the Wissahickon, Near Manayunk, circa 1834 (Bb 7 R131)

As late as 1817, the population of present-day Manayunk hovered around 60 inhabitants, but the construction of a canal and dam to regulate the Schuylkill, along with the establishment of Manayunk’s first mill in the 1820s, helped the area blossom into a manufacturing hub that drew comparisons to Manchester, England.  Still considered part of Roxborough, the expanding mill town was known by the name of its dam, “Flat Rock,” but rapid population growth brought a push for a proper name.  In 1824, the names “Udoravia,” “Hydoravia,” and “Bridgewater” all came under consideration, but it was “Manaiung,” the Native American word for river, that ultimately provided inspiration for the name “Manayunk” (p. 24).    On June 11, 1840, Manayunk officially incorporated as a borough, completing its transformation from, in Jones’ words, a “once quiet and retired valley” to a miniature town that finally became part of the extended city of Philadelphia in 1854.  

Jones' account of the naming of "Manayunk" (Am .3724)

The more I read about the early history of Manayunk, the more I came to appreciate this painting and the other images in our collections as snapshots of a moment time that perfectly capture Manayunk’s development from a stretch of open farmland along the Schuylkill River to a budding industrial center.  Explore HSP’s Digital Library (http://digitallibrary.hsp.org/) for more great graphic materials that complement and enhance our understanding of the past – you never know what visual history you’ll uncover.

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Transparency in documentary editing

Postmodernist theory, which emphasizes the inevitable existence of individuals’ subjectivity and bias, has for the most part, become commonplace thinking. Within academe, postmodern critical analysis has affected all disciplines, including the “pure” sciences, which are no longer viewed as completely objective and neutral.

The reality of subjectivity has caused scholars in the humanities and social sciences to try to be more balanced in their work and/or transparent about their own personal biases as well as the biases inherent in their work. In the case of historians, this means acknowledging the subjective nature of the materials with which they use to construct past events. Historical records—primary source materials—are not static and objective carriers of truth. Among other things, they are the products of persons or groups who had the means to create and maintain them. Produced for specific purposes and within specific contexts, records harbor their creators’ biases and viewpoints.

With regards to the Greenfield Digital project, there is bias inherent in the records that Dana and I are using to tell the story of Bankers Trust Company. About 95% of the records that we are editing come from the Albert M. Greenfield Papers (1959). Thus, it is largely through Greenfield’s eyes that the history of Bankers Trust Company will be told. Although the story of the bank was closely interwoven with that of Greenfield, who played a principal role in the bank’s founding, expansion, and subsequent demise, his documentary records only captures part of the story.

Dana and I have made it a point to try to be as transparent as we can in order to make clear that this project is not an authoritative or all-encompassing analysis of the story of Bankers Trust Company. Following the lead of other documentary editing scholars and TEI best practices, we are employing several means with which to do this.

We have developed editorial principles for our document selection process as well as for our encoding and transcription practices. These principles will be included on the web site. The document selection principles outline the criteria we used to decide what materials from the Greenfield papers and other collections, including the Philadelphia Record clippings and photo morgue, to include to tell the story of Bankers Trust and why.

With regards to our transcription and encoding methodology, Dana and I agree with Michael E. Stevens and Steven B. Burg’s assertion that documentary editors “…have an obligation to explain how they have treated the text” since there are multiple ways to present the text of a document, “ranging from heavily emended to absolutely literal.”[1] In explaining our methodology, we will be following the lead of other digital editing projects, such as the Women Writers Project, that have provided such transparency.

We will also include information about our editorial decisions for each document and also document decisions such as the taxonomy we’ve chosen to use to describe the documents which will affect users’ search capabilities. For this project, we’re using the Library of Congress Thesaurus for Graphic Materials. This information will appear in the header of the TEI documents:

Moreover, Dana and I have discussed the possibility of incorporating Web 2.0 technologies into the project to allow users, especially educators and scholars, to contribute their knowledge of the materials as well as how their using the materials in the classroom.

Despite the inadequacies and biases that we face, the Greenfield project, part of a larger effort funded by the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation, will contribute new and intriguing information about bank failures and Philadelphia during the Great Depression, and serve as an important resource for educators and scholars among others.


[1] Stevens, Michael E. and Steven B. Burg, Editing Historical Documents: a handbook of practice (Walnut Creek, CA : AltaMira Press, 1997), 12-13.

Mary Elizabeth Hallock Greenewalt and the Magical, Mystical, Musical Finding Aids

Yesterday, April 5th, 2011, we at HSP hosted an event for the new, Musical Finding Aid. What does this mean, you ask? Do not fret, if all your questions aren’t answered in the next paragraphs please leave a comment!

Last year Matt Shoemaker, director of digital collections and systems, was awarded a grant from the Heritage Philadelphia Program (HPP). This grant helps institutions like HSP do small, creative, out of the box projects. This year’s project, envisioned by Matt, was to select a small group musicians to compose a score no shorter than 1 minute. This score would reflect the feel and subtleties of the Mary Elizabeth Hallock Greenewalt Collection. This would, of course, express aspects of the collection which aren’t available in the neutral voice of the written finding aid. Matt did an excellent job explaining this:

“Now a finding aid, in case you do not know, is a standard research tool at archives. It is a non-interpretive tool for patrons of archives so they can more easily find the materials they would like to use. It provides some background information on the collection and what it deals with, information on how it is organized and has different levels of description to assist people about what they should look at, for their personal purposes…Finding aids are very structured, matter-of-fact, and are very careful to not impart any of the archivist’s preconceptions…When my team first thought of this project we wanted to explore the other methods for people to utilize information for fulfilling their research needs as well as try to give a taste of this feeling to researchers considering the collection.”

His words aptly sum up the trajectory of this project called the Musical Finding Aid. It was brought into fruition by 5 musicians: Willhem Echivarria, Maurice Wright, Ted Houghtaling, Max Lawrence and Andrea Clearfield.  To hear their musical creations click on the links below.

This link refers back to an earlier blog and gives great background information about the musicians:

https://processandpreserve.wordpress.com/2010/11/03/greenewaltmfa/

This link is where the musical finding aid is permanently hosted on HSP’s website:

http://www2.hsp.org/collections/manuscripts/g/0867Musical.html

The event last night was graciously made possible by Pennsylvania Humanities Council, HSP staff volunteers, the finding aid musicians, HPP and of course Matt Shoemaker. For those that did make the event and for those that could not be there please feel free to browse the photos below.

Art by Max Lawrence

Exhibition created by Max Lawrence.

Display of Art by Max Lawrence

Mary Elizabeth Hallock Greenewalt

Materials from the Greenewalt and Adopt-a-Collection on View

Greenewalt Collection Material

Participants and Attendees

Commencements