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Penn's History Preserved: An Afternoon in the Archives

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Penn's History Preserved: An Afternoon in the Archives

By Lydia Filosa

With over 14,000 cubic feet of paper archives, 150 cubic feet of memorabilia, and 35,000 images in storage, the shelves of the University Archives and Records Center are overflowing with Penn’s rich history. I recently took a tour of the archives with Mark Frazier Lloyd, the Director of the University Archives and Records Center. I was blown away by how much history was tucked away into just a few rooms at 3401 Market Street.

Mark Frazier Lloyd first pointed me towards a map of Philadelphia from 1861. I was thrilled to find my street. “That’s where I live!” I pointed to a little corner on Sansom Street in West Philly. In that first room, there was also an old bucket from the volunteer firefighting group Benjamin Franklin started, as well as photographs by famed 19th century photographer Eadweard Muybridge and pieces of photo equipment he used.

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Next, we entered a room with endless aisles of records about Penn alums. The archives dedicate a folder of information to each deceased Penn alum. In an act of morbid curiosity, I walked over to the F shelf, where any records about me will one day be stored. I opened the box of Fi’s, but there were no Filosas to be found… yet.

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Making our way down a small hallway, we entered a new room where I was able to hold the first book of Penn Trustee meeting minutes, as well as the very first edition of the Daily Pennsylvanian from 1885. A glimmer of silver caught my eye as we walked to the back of the room. In the corner, on top of a green file cabinet, there was a giant silver metal box. It was a time capsule created in honor of the university’s bicentennial anniversary in 1940. I climbed up a ladder to read the inscription: “To be opened by the head of the university not before A.D. 2040.”

On the ground nearby, there was an ordinary-looking wicker chair. But like everything else in the archives, this chair was an important piece of history; it was the very first chair to sit in the Provost’s office.

Whether you are writing a research paper or simply want to learn more about Penn’s history, I would strongly recommend a trip to the archives. Take a look at original Muybridge photos, peruse old Penn yearbooks, or get lost for a few hours in Penn’s lengthy history. I learned that Benjamin Franklin originally named Penn “The Publick Academy in the City of Philadelphia.” What will you learn?

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The University Archives and Records Center is located at 3401 Market Street, Suite 210. Students are welcome to walk in or make an appointment ahead of time.

Lydia Filosa graduated from Penn in December 2013 with a BA in Classical Studies. She is currently interning for the Undergraduate Office of Admissions and the Penn Art & Culture Initiative.

Edited by Naomi Shavin