I have never been to Philadelphia, which is surprising considering its historical significance and my high degree of nerdiness when it comes to history. That being said, I have always wanted to know more about the city, its history and neighborhoods included. Of course I read about the city on some site like Wikipedia. But a simple history of something can be stiff and relatively uninteresting. I wanted more; I wanted a site where I could learn the history and explore. So when I came across PhilaPlace I had an ‘ah ha’ moment. PhilaPlace is a great example of a website that teaches kids and adults alike about a city, and not just in a boring, stiff way. It uses mostly interactive features. It also connects communities. It weaves ordinary stories with historical record. If you don’t know much about Philadelphia and its neighborhoods and you want to know more, PhilaPlace is the website for you.
PhilaPlace is the brainchild of the Historical Society of Philadelphia (HSP). It was put together in phases. Originally, the HSP received funds to put together two walking tours, one in Old Southwark and one in North Liberties and Kensington. The second phase consisted of the creation of an interactive website. Whoever came up with the website idea is a genius.
The mission statement on the website reads: “PhilaPlace is an interactive Web site, created by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, that connects stories to places across time in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. PhilaPlace weaves stories shared by ordinary people of all backgrounds with historical records to present an interpretive picture of the rich history, culture, and architecture of our neighborhoods, past and present. The PhilaPlace Web site uses a multimedia format – including text, pictures, audio and video clips, and podcasts – and allows visitors to map their own stories in place and time. More than a Web site, PhilaPlace includes ongoing community programs and publications, from workshops for teachers, to trolley tours, and exhibits. PhilaPlace is an engaging, meaningful way to understand more about where we live, and will serve as an enduring record of our heritage.” I wanted to share this monstrous paragraph of a mission statement with you because it best sums up the purpose and use of the site.
If a student is assigned the task of learning something about Philadelphia and don’t want to be bored to death with paragraph after paragraph of knowledge, then PhilaPlace is perfect because they can learn while playing with one of many interactive features. It’s the same idea as a museum; kids often are bored at museums, I know I was at many museums when I was younger, which is why many museums have interactive features. At PhilaPlace not only can people search through and map out parts of Philadelphia, but they can pinpoint areas based on certain search topics, read essays on neighborhood hotspots, search the collection of images, audio files, and video files, read blog posts, add blog posts, support the site via donations, create your own PhilaPlace page, and so much more. The entire site is interactive, making it an essential tool for educators and interested peoples alike.
One of the key goals of PhilaPlace is to get teachers and students to use the site to explore the history of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods and to use mapping and local history as a means of understanding historical landscape and shaping historical and cultural inquiries. I think that PhilaPlace is successful in this sense. Its interactive features are sure to entice and interest students. One of the best features of the site that truly brings the community together and is the epitome of an interactive feature is that visitors are encourage to create their own MyPhilaPlace pages where they can save and share stories and create a tour/itinerary with Google maps. And let’s be honest, everyone loves google maps.
Here is the moral to the story: PhilaPlace is a great tool for exploring one of our oldest, most interesting and diverse cities. It is educational and fun. It connects communities and generations. Use it. Explore it. Have fun.