Summer Centered: Allison Wise ’20 Digs Into the Archives
On her Hurford Center-sponsored internship, religion major Allison Wise ’20 is working with images and illustrations at the Library Company of Philadelphia to supplement one of the Philadelphia area’s canonical records.
Allison Wise ’20 is adding another dimension to Philadelphia’s history. During her Hurford Center-sponsored internship with the Library Company of Philadelphia (LCP), the religion major is digging through some peculiar archives to augment the way we imagine Philadelphia’s early history.
Wise is working in the Print and Photography Department, which “manages everything in LCP's collection that doesn't fall into the category of ‘book,’” she said. This includes trading cards, blueprints, political cartoons, manuscripts, letters, and lithographs, among other multimedia ephemera.
Specifically, Wise is intervening into one of the oldest Western accounts of the Philadelphia area’s history: John Fanning Watson’s Annals of Philadelphia.
“Watson was this old Philadelphia gentleman living at the turn of the 18th century who was determined to collect as much information about the pre- and post-Revolutionary War era and colonial Philadelphia as he could in order to preserve that history for future generations,” she said. “He produced 20 volumes of text and prints about the city and surrounding suburbs ranging from European colonizers arriving in the 17th century to his own lifetime.”
In the early 20th century, local Joseph Y. Jeanes compiled an archive of images and illustrations to augment the already-published Annals of Philadelphia, but never finished the expanded edition. Now, nearly two centuries after its initial publication, Wise is helping to complete it.
“My project is to finish what Jeanes never had the chance to complete before his death, and combine his materials with Watson's historic information to create this extra-illustrated edition,” said Wise. “Day-to-day, this involves me, a ruler, and a magnifying glass pouring over images of old Philadelphia homes and portraits of colonial figures. I identify the contents of the image and match it with the corresponding description in Watson’s Annals.”
Wise is not the first Haverford student to do this sort of archival work with the LCP: the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities has been sponsoring student internships with the LCP since 2013 as a part of its Philly Partners program. Working in these archives has helped Wise develop a deeper and more holistic sense of how history is constructed.
“I think what I will ultimately take away from this experience is a greater understanding of how history can never provide a complete, objective version of fact,” said the sociology and gender and sexuality studies minor. “History is less about a retelling of events, and more about who has the power to tell stories and shape narratives that will define future understanding of our city. Representation matters not just in the short-term, but in the long-term, and I am grateful for the chance to explore questions of power and equity through this internship at the Library Company of Philadelphia.”
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.