Posted September 28, 2007

Urban Archives a window into Philadelphia’s past

Scholars, authors and documentary filmmakers travel from as far away as France, Germany and England just to get a glimpse of what it contains: news clippings, photographs, video, manuscripts, books, maps, audio interviews — all unique artifacts of Philadelphia’s rich history.

In the large, brightly lit confines of Temple University Libraries’ Urban Archives Department located on Paley Library’s bottom floor, seemingly endless rows of shelves are filled with documents chronicling the social, economic and physical development of the Philadelphia metropolitan area from the mid-19th century to the present. The department, established in 1967, serves as a repository for organizational records and related materials.

The archive’s collections are particularly strong in areas involving social service organizations, unions, housing development and community organizations, and they contain many records from organizations involved with African Americans, education and crime.

The news angle

According to Brenda Galloway-Wright, interim head of the archives, the most popular resource is the George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Newsclipping and Photograph Collection.

“Newspaper articles are a great way to trace the events that helped shape the history of Philadelphia because they covered them as they happened and provided photographs as visual evidence,” she explained.

“There are approximately 500,000 newspaper clippings in envelopes, and they are easily accessible by subject matter and individual names,” Galloway-Wright said, as she leafed through clippings featuring the early history of local politicians Sen. Arlen Specter and Gov. Ed Rendell.

When The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin closed its doors in 1982, the Urban Archives acquired its entire library, including these 500,000 news-clipping envelopes and nearly five million photographs. The photos and clippings date to the late 1800s, though they focus on the 20th century.

This week, 20,000 tapes of footage created by CBS 3 (KYW-TV) over the past 30 years were added to video footage from ABC6 and negatives donated by The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Community and government

More than 250 manuscripts from community and political organizations allow researchers to delve into specific issues and events. For example, the investigation of the events leading up to the violent bombing of MOVE, a radical “back to nature” group, in May of 1985 is found among these manuscripts. The racially inspired riots that took place in Kensington during the 1960s are documented here as well, said Galloway-Wright.

Books, maps and more

The archive also includes over 1,500 books that reflect the history and growth of Philadelphia dating as far back as 1845; pamphlets and videos that inform, promote and commemorate; oral histories of people and places in Philadelphia; rare city maps; and more.

The Urban Archives Department is located on the ground floor of Paley Library and is open from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, visit and select “Urban Archives” under “Archives & Collections.” There, you can find descriptions of the collections, chat with an Urban Archives archivist and search a sample of images by keyword in Digital Diamond.