With its rich foundation stories, Philadelphia may be the most important city in America's collective memory. By the middle of the eighteenth century William Penn's "greene countrie town" was, after London, the largest city in the British Empire. The two most important documents in the history of the United States, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, were drafted and signed in Philadelphia. The city served off and on as the official capital of the young country until 1800, and was also the site of the first American university, hospital, medical college, bank, paper mill, zoo, sugar refinery, public school, and government mint.
In First City, acclaimed historian Gary B. Nash examines the complex process of memory making in this most historic of American cities. Though history is necessarily written from the evidence we have of the past, as Nash shows, rarely is that evidence preserved without intent, nor is it equally representative. Full of surprising anecdotes, First City reveals how Philadelphians—from members of elite cultural institutions, such as historical societies and museums, to relatively anonymous groups, such as women, racial and religious minorities, and laboring people—have participated in the very partisan activity of transmitting historical memory from one generation to the next.
Introduction: Making History Matter
Ch. 1. Pieces of the Colonial Past
Ch. 2. Recalling a Commercial Seaport
Ch. 3. The Revolution's Many Faces
Ch. 4. A New City for a New Nation
Ch. 5. A City in Flux
Ch. 6. Reforming Philadelphia
Ch. 7. In Civil War and Reconstruction
Ch. 8. Workshop of the World, Schoolhouse of History
Ch. 9. Restoring Memory
List of Abbreviations
"A remarkable book."—Public Historian
"A wonderful volume, filled with stories of historical discovery, describing the preservation of Philadelphia's past for the benefit of all. . . . First City is a first-rate piece of historical interpretation that will be a great contribution to America's cultural history."—Journal of the Early Republic
"A synthetic history of what is arguably the nation's most historically conscious city. . . . It represents well the tensions and opportunities that await writers seeking to push the craft of history to a new level of self-awareness and creativity."—American Historical Review