Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Messiah College First Year Humanities Scholars Take Colonial Philadelphia

Flag at the Betsy Ross house
Last Saturday I led nine members of the inaugural class of the Messiah College Humanities Scholars Program on a day-long journey through colonial and revolutionary-era Philadelphia.

I am privileged to get to work at a place that takes the humanities seriously.  Messiah College is a comprehensive college.  That means that we have both liberal arts and professional programs (think nursing and engineering). While many comprehensive colleges and universities are investing in the development of professional programs at the expense of the humanities, the leadership of Messiah College--President Kim Phipps, Provost Randy Basinger, and Dean Peter Powers, the architect of the Humanities Scholars Program--have decided to counter declining enrollments in the humanities with an all out effort to recruit more students in history, foreign languages, philosophy, religion, English, etc... (And this is only the start of our effort to revive the humanities on campus--stay tuned).

The Humanities Scholars Program offers modest scholarships to students interested in majoring in a humanities discipline. These students also participate in a host of programs on campus related to the humanities over the course of their four years at Messiah College..  One of those perks is a free tour of early Philadelphia with yours truly. The students also received a free copy of my Was American Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.  The book served as the foundation of the Philadelphia tour.

We had a fun and educational day. I have given a lot of tours of colonial and revolutionary-era Philadelphia.  Some of them are pretty basic, others more academic.  I warned the students in advance that I wanted to challenge them intellectually throughout the course of the tour.  I spent a lot of time offering mini-lectures and reading from primary sources.  For example, when we arrived at the corner of Second and Market Street, the site of the old City Hall, I read to them Benjamin Franklin's account of George Whitefield preaching and the former's attempt to estimate how many people could hear the evangelical preacher's booming voice.  At Christ Church I read the story of Rector James Ambercrombie's attempt to publicly rebuke President George Washington for not participating in the sacrament of communion.

At the end of the day we walked into Society Hill and had a great meal at Pizzeria Stella on Second and Lombard.  I highly recommend it.

Here were the places we visited:

  • Welcome Park: Where the students walked the grid of Penn's city painted on the park grounds
  • City Tavern: Where the members of the Continental Congress drank and ate.
  • The First Bank of the United States:  Where we discussed Alexander Hamilton
  • Carpenter's Hall: Where the First Continental Congress met in 1774.  Also learned a bit about flemish bond and the artisan culture of Philadelphia
  • The site of Anthony Benezet's Quaker school for African children
  • The site of Benjamin Franklin's house and print shop
  • The Second National Bank: Which is now an amazing Founding Fathers portrait gallery
  • The American Philosophical Society
  • Independence Hall
  • The Liberty Bell
  • The President's House (and the slave quarters below)
  • The Free Quaker Meeting House
  • Benjamin Franklin's grave:  Where I gave a brief lecture on the limits of the Enlightenment
  • The Arch Street Quaker Meetinghouse: 
  • The Betsy Ross House
  • The site of the Second Presbyterian Church and the location of the first Presbyterian General Assembly
  • Elfreth's Alley: The oldest still inhabited residential neighborhood in America
  • Christ Church

I hope to do more of these tours on the future.  If you have a group that is interested please drop me an e-mail.

Here are some pics from the day:
Hanging out in George and Martha Washington's pew at Christ Church
I found the John Witherspoon portrait
I also found this photo of Elias Boudinot, founder of the American Bible Society
Carpenter's Hall
We ended the day with pizza and gelato (including Olive Oil-flavored gelato) at Pizzeria Stella in Society Hill

What is a trip to historical Philadelphia without a visit to the Liberty Bell
Elfreth's Alley (photo by Brianna Keene