In early 2013, PACSCL was awarded $249,794 through the Council for Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives Program to process 46 high research value collections.  The collections total 1,539 linear feet from 16 area institutions and document the Greater Philadelphia region’s development as an industrial, commercial, and cultural center during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


Photograph of Patti Smith from the Victor Bockris papers at the University of Pennsylvania

The project is based at the University of Pennsylvania Library, which also serves as administrative agent, and builds on the regional finding aids database created in an earlier Hidden Collections project, increasing its value to researchers. Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe, who worked on the first project, manages the current project.

Explains David McKnight, director of the Rare Book and Manuscripts Library at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the principal investigators on the project: “The PACSCL Hidden Collections project focuses tightly on historical collections that document the development of Greater Philadelphia — Philadelphia, its adjacent counties, and its web of connections in the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys — as one of the country’s preeminent industrial, commercial and cultural centers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”  The collections range from manufacturing and transportation to education and from social services to the arts, but have in common a focus on a single metropolitan area, and together show the complexity and interconnections of life in the region.

From the Hahnemann University Academic Affairs records at Drexel College of Medicine

From the Hahnemann Medical College Academic Affairs records at Drexel College of Medicine

As examples of the interconnectedness of collections in the Philadelphia area, the children educated by the Philadelphia Hebrew Sunday School (Temple University) or the Philadelphia Catholic Schools (Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center) came from families of immigrants who worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Sun Shipbuilding Company (Independence Seaport Museum), or in the textile industry (Philadelphia University). Outside of work, these immigrants formed organizations to preserve their culture and identity, such as the German Society of Pennsylvania, and when they lost their jobs, they turned for assistance to volunteer organizations like Emergency Aid of Pennsylvania (Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Business leaders who ran the shipping, railroad and other industries also provided the leadership and funding that underpinned the preservation of historical memory as well as the arts and culture sectors of the city, from internationally known institutions such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to neighborhood groups, such as the Germantown Theatre Guild.

Reflecting these connections, scholars working on Philadelphia-area topics often discover that their research leads them into unexpected collections and institutions as they track the lives of complex individuals with multiple interests and associations.

“Understanding the history of a city’s people requires knowing how people worked and played, how they taught their children and cared for their poor and sick, and how they formed associations and found ways of working together to address common problems.  The PACSCL project targets important historical documentation from across the life of the Greater Philadelphia region as a means of filling in gaps in the mosaic of its history,” adds Margery Sly, Director of Special Collections at Temple University Libraries and the project’s other co-director.

The collections in this project will complement many others already available in Philadelphia-area institutions, and in combination with them, enable scholars to form a richer understanding of the city, the region, and its people.

Finding aids for the newly-processed collections are added to the PACSCL finding aids database hosted by the University of Pennsylvania Library. This database holds information on collections from the previous processing project as well as collections processed by a similar initiative, the Hidden Collections from Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories based at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, itself a PACSCL member. As University of Kentucky professor Jane Calvert explained about the Logan papers, processed in the first phase of this project, for her work on a critical edition of the works of John Dickinson, “Just scanning the new finding aid, I see whole categories of documents I didn’t know existed. And now it will take me days rather than months to find what I need. I am so grateful for this development!” Calvert also looks forward to finding materials relevant to her work in three additional collections at the Library Company of Philadelphia and one at the University of Delaware that will be processed in the new initiative.

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