New Model for Training Future Historians

The Philadelphia Public History Truck is a mobile museum project which partners with Philly neighborhood grassroots organizations to explore local history. Temple University’s Center for Public History is building the History Truck into its curriculum to enhance the skills of its graduates.

“By situating your questions within the communities, you end up doing far more powerful history than what can be done in the traditional way.”

Seth Bruggeman, Director of the Center for Public History, Temple University

Temple University, Center for Public History

It all began with a graduate student, a food truck and a desire to understand the communities in Philadelphia.

While many struggle to keep history relevant and deliver related cultural activities to diverse, underserved communities, Erin Bernard had a bright idea to make history come to life.  As a student in Public History at the Center for Public History at Temple University (Center), Bernard came up with an idea that would allow her to work within neighborhoods exploring local history.

Bernard pitched her concept, a mobile community curatorial process, to Kensington civic leader Jeff Carpineta.  After just one phone conversation, Carpineta volunteered to share his truck with Erin to bring her idea to fruition.  She then planned a public event series, including a Storytelling Block Party, with East Kensington residents, local organizations and businesses to orient her research narrative.  The Philadelphia Public History Truck project invites neighbors to share their memories which are collected, documented and researched by Bernard and other graduate students.  “The core of the History Truck is its accessibility,” said Bernard.

Bernard’s idea is turning into a model for shaping future historians.  Seth Bruggeman, Director of the Center, observed: “It shows how significant and how important it is for historians to engage locality.”

The first year in East Kensington was a success. The neighbors participated actively and helped plan an exhibition for the culmination of the project. More importantly, their hearts were touched. As Jeff Carpineta, the truck owner and the then head of the neighborhood association, put it, “We have discovered this project to be one of the missing keys we need to heal this neighborhood. The truck is the vehicle to collect and carry the stories, many of which were fleeting before Erin showed up.”

Barra’s funding will support History Truck’s 2014-2015 community work and the Center’s planning to integrate it into the curriculum of their graduate program. The Center is also working with Temple University’s Urban Archives in developing a digital collection that people can access broadly. “Public history,” according to Bruggeman, “happens in communities.  Our students succeed because they understand how to do history on the street and in the archive.  This grant will help invest in the future by allowing us to train a new generation of community-engaged historians and assure that every Temple public history grad has what it takes to make history meaningful and accessible to the broadest possible audience.”

The mobility of History Truck connects the university, organizations and communities. And other schools are taking notice.  Already, several universities around the country have expressed interest in starting a History Truck program. “This project is about listening,” Bernard said. “It is about listening to the needs of communities, building synergy and helping neighbors and neighborhoods, which have not really interacted, listen to each other in the hope of inspiring some citywide conversation.”

Photography by Laurie Beck Peterson, story by Florence Hsu, in partnership with InLiquid.

Catalyst Fund Investment

June 2014
$85,000/1 year

Started in 2013 as an experiment in engaging neighborhoods in documenting their public history, the Philadelphia Public History Truck is a neighborhood-minded mobile museum that records neighborhood stories and makes them accessible by turning them into an art exhibit. The Center for Public History will create a formal graduate level program based on the History Truck concept in support of the Center’s mission to raise awareness of Philadelphia’s recent past and train historians for work beyond academia.

Why We Funded

  • Potential model for other universities
  • Novel approach to training public history majors
  • Meaningful community engagement
  • Strong institutional partner

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