Historic Preservation

Posted September 21, 2021
  • John Carr lectures during tour of Old Swedes Cemetery. Photo courtesy Kecia Fong.

  • Students rest during site visit at Nemours Estate.  Photo courtesy Kecia Fong.

  • Paul Farber leads discussion at City Hall. Photo courtesy Kecia Fong.

  • Francesca Ammon leads walking tour of Society Hill. Photo courtesy Kecia Fong.

Historic Preservation Welcomes New Students at Summer Institute

The Graduate Program in Historic Preservation greeted its incoming students—live and in person—at the Summer Institute, a two-week program filled to the brim with lectures, site visits, and walking tours. Organized and led by Kecia Fong, HSPV lecturer, the program is intended to orient the first-years to their new academic home, in Philadelphia, at Penn, and in the field of historic preservation in the present moment.

Before their academic paths split off into four distinct concentrations (Architectural Conservation, Conservation Planning, Public History of the Built Environment, or Preservation Design), the entire cohort gets a crash course in a breadth of methodologies and applications. The program is a coming-together of not just faculty, staff, students, and alumni, but also the greater historic preservation in Philadelphia.

Partners at Penn

The program first and foremost introduced the 30 new students to the people and resources of their home institution that will be essential to their coursework, research, and intellectual growth. The group toured Fisher Fine Arts Library with Patty Guardiola and Shannon Robinson, the Architectural Archives with Bill Whitaker, and the Kislak Center with John Pollack. A session with Whitaker and David Brownlee, Professor Emeritus of Art History, brought together the use of archives, analysis of drawings, and critical observation using historical sketches of the Penn Museum.

David Hollenberg, former University Architect and HSPV Adjunct Professor, led a walking tour on the history of Penn’s campus and Joe Elliott walked students through an introduction to architectural photography. An assignment from Elliott sent students across the city recreating historic architectural photos down to the angle shadows cast at a specific time of day.

Site Visits

Site visits across the city and region gave students insights into technical preservation approaches and preservation theory in practice. Trips to Eastern State Penitentiary, Independence National Historical Park, Pennsylvania Hospital, The Woodlands, Old Swedes Cemetery, and Nemours Estate kept the students busy learning about the history of preservation in Philadelphia, as well as the translation of mission and philosophy into concrete interpretive and management practices.

Walking Tours

Experiential, place-based learning also took place at the level of the urban landscape in walking tours exploring Philadelphia neighborhoods. Aaron Wunsch led a walking tour of the West Philadelphia neighborhood Spruce Hill, instructing students in reading history through the built environment. Francesca Ammon’s tour of Society Hill opened up questions of how heritage is defined and preserved in the face of urban renewal.

The group also toured City Hall with Monument Lab’s Paul Farber, who used the site to ask whose memories are preserved in public spaces, and how to engage diverse publics in interpreting collective histories. Questions of who benefits from historic preservation were central in the group’s walking tour of Fishtown and Kensington with preservation activists Venise Whitaker and Ken Milano, which confronted the ways preservation has contributed to the negative impacts of neighborhood gentrification.

First-year HSPV student Danele Alampay shared that “even though it was hot every day,” her favorite SI events were walking tours, because “they were very helpful in getting to know Philadelphia’s past and present. In each trip we took, we were encouraged to consider who it is preservation is for, and that makes the field all the more meaningful.”