A Tour Through the Past

in #history2 years ago (edited)

I’ve talked before about how our class has been discussing problems in the nonprofit sector. This week we are proposing ideas to address specific needs.

My first idea arose out of last year’s PubComm (a public history community forum in Philadelphia). At the conference, Ismael Jimenez presented with a panel of some very bright high school students. One of the students suggested there is a need for affordable walking tours for teachers at local schools to take their students on. Since I work part-time as tour guide on a walking tour, I thought a lot about it at the time. However, my other work has pushed it to the back of my mind until recently.

Every Philly tour visits Independence Hall. Maybe there should be one that doesn’t. Photo credit: National Park Service

Quick research turned up lots of for profit tours in Philly. These are mostly for individuals and cost around $19-150 per person. Some of these also offered group tours for schools, still at a cost. Many schools can’t afford them. Besides the cost, the vast majority of them fit only a few narratives: the typical one about colonial Philly and independence, the yellow fever, and a few miscellaneous ones at the really expensive tour companies. This leaves the city’s later history untold, which, as many of my colleagues have pointed out, is a sector-wide problem.

The Liberty Bell is on every tour too. Photo credit: National Park Service

However, $10k is not nearly enough money to run a tour program giving free walking tours to students. So what would other options be? Perhaps the $10k could be used to develop tour materials for teachers to lead the tours themselves. Or perhaps the tour could be developed and lead by volunteers. I would leave it to the institution receiving the money to decide exactly how to do it and what content to develop, with the caveat that the tours must be offered to schools for free and the content must be from after 1870 and an as yet untold Philly story.

You won’t see the Divine Lorraine hotel on any tour. Photo credit: libertynet.org

The problem with this is I’m not aware of any history nonprofits with experience running walking tours, and unsure if any would even be interested in running a tour program. What if you don’t need to walk around the city to get at its untold stories?

What if you took a tour of objects from around the city?

Maybe a more manageable tour would be a tour of a Philadelphia history collection. The $10k could be used to develop a program where classes are invited to come into a collections space and participate in a discussion of selected objects from the collection exploring other facets of Philly’s history. For better access, maybe this program could take place outside the museum, in a rented space where multiple schools can visit. Or even better, a museum could take the objects to each school and set up in the gym for a day. Sadly, this would require significantly more money.

In any case, the grantee can post on Steemit about their progress developing the program and share their content and objects there, generating further funds while inviting feedback.

Are there any Philly nonprofits that might be willing to develop a walking tour? Is the collections tour idea better?

100% of the SBD rewards from this #explore1918 post will support the Philadelphia History Initiative @phillyhistory. This crypto-experiment conducted by graduate courses at Temple University's Center for Public History and MLA Program, is exploring history and empowering education. Click here to learn more.


Interesting idea. I like the idea of 10k used to develop materials that lend themselves to tour giving. One thing I had to research and develop myself as a teacher was material on religious buildings in NYC. Visiting religious buildings was great for my global belief systems unit, and religious buildings were all around the city, but there were no resources for such walking tours. That would've been cool.

Glad to hear from a former teacher that the resources would be helpful!

I think one of the main reasons sites like the Divine Lorraine aren't included in walking tours is its distance from blockbuster stops like Independence Mall, not to mention the racist and classist stereotype of the neighborhood as """dangerous""" that tourists might be reluctant to visit.

How would you plan out a walking tour that covered a wide enough geographic area, and got people out of "tourist areas," in order to recount a more comprehensive and recent history of Philadelphia? Would you partner with an organization that would just offer multiple themed walking tours in different areas? Or would you consider if a bus tour would be more appropriate? (Though that might be more costly...)

Have you talked with @johnesmithiii? I bet there's a lot of room for collaboration with his Philly History Truck plans...

Can't wait to see where you're going with this!

I think the vast majority of tourists will always go to the blockbuster stops, partially because they see the national narrative as more relevant to them. Even the art museum is too far away for them to see on walking tours--the tourists I've interacted with are always interested in it until I tell them where it is and how hard it is to get there on public transit (it's really a shame the subway under the parkway was never built).

However, I doubt it would be too hard to get schools to visit local sites, especially because many of the kids live nearby. 75 minutes is about the longest most of my school groups last before they're bored and tired of walking, so the geography still presents a problem. Ideally whoever develops the first tour, if it's successful, can then develop more tours in different areas. Buses are too expensive, and I think you get a much better experience of the neighborhood on foot.