Thanks for coming! 1968: Philly and the World

The event at the Historical Society of Philadelphia was a great success! We had a great turnout throughout the day for each of the four panels, with riveting discussions, questions, arguments and tangents to boot. A massive thanks and round of applause to all of the panel experts who graciously gave of their time, expertise, and research findings. Their discussion truly made the panels on Sports, Music, War and Protest engaging.

Thanks to all of the graduate students who showed up to work the event and see the panels. And of course where would we be with out the staff at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania who help guide, plan, and inform guests throughout their stay (you guys are the real MVPS).

Special shout out to:

Jason Steinhauer, Director, Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest, Villanova University and event organizer.

Beth Twiss-Houting, Senior Director of Programs and Services, Historical Society of Pennsylvania and event organizer

Holly Stupak, Administrative Specialist, and event organizer

Paul Steege, Faculty Director, Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest & Associate Professor of History, Villanova University, and War Panel moderator and event organizer

Margaret Strolle, Villanova History Graduate Student, History Communication Fellow and event organizer

Claire Hoffman, Villanova History undergraduate Student, History Communication Fellow and event organizer

Marc Gallicchio, Chairperson and Professor of History, Villanova University, and War Panel participant.

And of course thanks to everyone who came out on Friday! It was a pleasure to meet, listen to the presentations,  get excited about primary sources, share a meal, and engage critically with 1968, Philly and the global connections this city and that time fostered.

Missed out on the action? Check out our photos from the event below!

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Thanks for coming! The House in the Cemetery

Thanks to everyone who came out to the Woodlands yesterday to celebrate The House in the Cemetery podcast!

For those not hip: students of Prof. Whitney Martinko’s Spring 2018 class HIS 8703 – Public History Practicum debuted their podcast series, The House in the Cemetery on April 18th and held an event to discuss share their work yesterday at the Woodlands site. You can check out the podcast episodes (and you really really should) here:  The House in the Cemetery.

Also check out these photos from the event!

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Upcoming Event! The House in the Cemetery

On Wednesday, April 25, students of Prof. Whitney Martinko’s Spring 2018 class HIS 8703 – Public History Practicum will debut their podcast series, The House in the Cemetery. They will host a public event at The Woodlands that evening from 5:30-7:30.


Tucked away in West Philly and nestled in between the campus of UPenn, and the University of the Sciences, The Woodlands is historic and unique multi-purpose greenspace. Its modern mission is to serve as a hub of educational activities for all ages, in diverse fields including architecture, botany, urban development and of course history.  The Woodlands is accessible by public transportation from Villanova via Regional Rail to 30th St. and then trolley to the 40th St. portal.


Without giving too much away, The House in the Cemetery is a 7-part series on the history of the area starting April 18th. April 25th is your chance to learn about the research and recording experiences of the grad students that make the magic happen as well as celebrate their accomplishments!


More information on the event, as well as updates and details can be found here or by copying the following link address and pasting it in the url bar of your browser:

We hope to see you there!

Upcoming Event! 1968: Philly and the World

In 1968, Philadelphia and the world were rocked by war, protest, and social unrest. Fifty years later, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest are convening a group of scholars to examine the legacy, resonance, and lasting impact of that tumultuous year.

1968: Philly and the World will take place on Friday, April 20, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Panels of historians and journalists will explore four key themes—music, sports, war, and protest—with short talks and roundtable conversations. Join us, HSP, and the Lepage Center for this day-long program and (re)visit 1968 through the discourse and debate.


The event is free and open to the public; advance registration is requested. More information is available at


Are you a grad student interested in volunteering? Contact Lepage Center History Communication Fellow Maggie Strolle MA ’18 for details

Reviewed: Before Church and State

Jones, Andrew Willard. Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX. Steubenville: Emmaus Academic, 2017.


In his new book on the social structures of thirteenth-century France, historian Andrew Jones proposes a reevaluation of Louis IX’s kingdom on its own terms. Jones maintains that when historians have approached medieval French society with modern categories they have produced work that is genealogical rather than historical, and they have done much more to explain the nineteenth and twentieth centuries than to explain the thirteenth century. The two modern concepts that Jones shows are not present in medieval France are the secular-religious divide and sovereignty. Quite distinct from most modern political systems which separate Church and State, “thirteenth-century France was not a world of the secular and the religious vying for power, but a world in which the material and the spiritual were dependent on each other and penetrated one another at every level.” (20) Jones wants historians to abandon using terms such as “religious,” “secular,” “Church,” and “State” in their modern contexts when discussing the Middle Ages, for these categories did not exist then. This also means that the popular narrative of various kings vying with the papacy needs nuance, for the secular and religious, were often so entwined in medieval kingdoms that anything but a cooperative relationship between king and pope does not compute. Also, modern conceptions of sovereignty which posit that the state holds a monopoly on violence cannot be found in the Middle Ages. Louis IX’s kingdom was conceived as a kingdom of peace, but one that was consistently rent by sin and violence.


This work taken from St. Louis Bible depicts Louis IX (right) and his mother Blanche of Castille (left). Blanche acted as regent of the realm until 1234.

Jones arrived at this alternative historical approach to the thirteenth century France by incorporating the work of various disciplines. Though his dissertation was on the kingdom of Louis IX, he often felt that as a historian his work was isolated and that he was missing many things. In the years since completing his Ph.D., he has been dramatically influenced by the work of theologians, philosophers, and sociologists of the Middle Ages. Jones especially draws from theologian Henri de Lubac’s idea of the “complete act,” meaning that a world makes sense on its terms. Just as modern society is a complete act and has its explanations of its origins, thirteenth century France also had its ideas of itself and formed a complete act. It is this complete act that Jones seeks to reveal to the modern reader. Throughout the book, Jones wishes to counter the secularization thesis put forward by scholars like sociologist Philip Gorski who maintain that medieval kings and popes were entirely distinct. On the contrary, Jones reveals that thirteenth century France was a “most Christian kingdom,” not a state with a Christian ideology, but a fundamentally Christian entity. (33)


Essential to understanding the complete act of thirteenth-century France is the concept of negotium pacis et fidei, the business of the peace and the faith. This was the “name used for the activities of the Crown, the Roman Church, and their allies in the South of France.” (49) Jones offers a rereading of the infamous Albigensian Crusade through an explication of the business of the peace and the faith. Historians have typically interpreted the crusade as an endeavor to wipe out the heretical Cathars, but Jones complicates this reading. The south of France was full of rebels as well as heretics, and they were constantly fighting and seizing land and property. In 1226, French law codified that “heretics were rebels and rebels were heretics, and both were excommunicated.” (77) Rebels and heretics both upset the peace of the king and were both subject to the excommunication of the church. Both crown and church worked together to end these dual threats. The 1229 Council of Toulouse which stated that “Anyone who broke the peace or made war was to be excommunicated and everyone was to make war on them and their lands,” confounds reading the times through modern categories. (82) The business of the peace and the faith was a pursued jointly by King and Church.


Expulsion of the Cathars from Carcassonne in 1209. Cathars were a neo-Gnostic and theistic dualists religious movement within Catholicism that gained influence in Southern France during the late 12th and early 13th centuries. The group was the primary target of the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229).

Historians have traditionally illustrated the conflict between the secular and religious in Louis IX’s kingdom by contrasting the Church’s inquisitors with the royal enqueteurs. Louis appointed the enqueteurs to travel France and right wrongs perpetrated by him or his forefathers. They primarily investigated property confiscations and “conducted thorough investigations of whatever they found and compelled the royal officials to make restitution.” (99) Most historians draw a sharp distinction between the inquisitors and enqueteurs, but Jones argues that they often did the same kind of work. Not only were most of the enqueteurs monks, but one of the first enqueteurs, Gui Foucois, later became Pope Clement IV. Since most property confiscations involved the seizure of heretics’ property, “the enqueteurs needed to determine whether the person from whom a confiscation was made was a heretic or somehow associated with heresy.” (132) The work of the enqueteurs therefore closely resembled the work of the inquisitors, and often they were the same people. Jones concludes that the sharp contrast between the two institutions is unfounded: “There was not a legal, an institutional, a personal, or a conceptual hard break between the inquisitors and the enqueteurs.” (149)


Sketch of Pope Clement IV (Gui Foucois). Before his ascendence to the papacy, Foucois was  one of the first enqueteurs under the employ of Louis IX. Photo credit: 

The other glaring difference between the modern world and medieval France lies in sovereignty. In our world, the State is the “source of organized and legitimate force.” (181-182) Historians usually tell the story of medieval France as a conflict between the Church and the King about who will be the ultimate sovereign, the source of legitimate force. Jones argues that there was no conception of sovereignty in thirteenth-century France, and that “There was a great deal of space and thousands upon thousands of unique actors with masses of disconnected rights and liberties.” (225) Instead of the sovereignty of power, there was justice, which different actors tangibly held depending on context. The king had no exclusive claim of violence, and the right to force was sub-divisible. What governed society was consilium et auxilium (advice and aid), networks of friendship between various lords, nobles, churchmen, and the king.


Though his book does upend many historical narratives about medieval France, Jones does not want to delegitimize previous scholarship. He maintains that much of this work has been primarily beneficial for understanding our modern world. He does think, however, “that much work in this field has been handicapped by a matrix of categories and concepts that almost compels a certain narrative structure.” (32) By attempting to reveal the complete act of Louis IX’s sacramental kingdom, Jones hopes to free scholarship go in new directions.


A Look Inside the Betsy Ross House

“A Look Inside the Betsy Ross House” by Tom Snow

In her article “How Betsy Ross Became Famous”, historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich claims that the story of Betsy Ross making the flag is no more credible than the one of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. She goes on to complain how popular the legend has become, including the fact that the “supposed Betsy Ross House”, as she calls it, remains the third most visited historic site in Philadelphia. As someone who works at the “supposed Betsy Ross House”, I was frustrated that the article so badly misjudged the mission statement of the museum, which has little to do with the story of Betsy Ross making the flag. Lisa Acker-Moulder, the museum’s director, states that the purpose of the museum is to show visitors what life was like for ordinary people who lived during the Revolution. “The traditional behind-the-velvet-rope furniture tours of “dead white guys’ ” homes are becoming irrelevant”, she says, as they do not portray how people actually lived. “To break down these barriers, we must connect the stories that we’re interpreting to contemporary issues. A great way to do this is to encourage the visitors to make a connection to our sites by creating spaces that feel more authentic.” As a result, visitation to the Betsy Ross House has gone up every year, despite an overall decrease in the visitation of historic houses.

When visitors arrive at the museum, they have a chance to take a tour of the original house that was built in the 1740s. Before going into the house, visitors can first explore the gallery, where Collections Manager Kim Staub puts on a different exhibit every year. This year’s is called “Historic Threads: 250 Years of Flag Making in Philadelphia,” which, according to Staub, “tells the story of Philadelphia being a hub for flag-making since the Revolutionary period.” Staub says the exhibit is not just about flags, but also about the role women had in making them. “Women like Betsy Ross, women like the women who today still stitch and embroider flags at the Defense Logistics Agency,” Staub said, “the women who stitched in these private warehouses, you know, we have their names in a register, but otherwise they’re largely unknown.”

The first room visitors see when they enter the house is the parlor, which is where Washington allegedly asked Ross to make the flag. After that, tourists get to climb up the narrow, spiral staircase that was common in colonial row homes, and many appreciate just how difficult something as routine as climbing the stairs was for people back then. On the second floor, visitors can view Betsy Ross’ chamber and that of the owner of the house, Hannah Lithgow. Lithgow was an elderly widow who owned several boarding houses in the vicinity, and her room is currently being renovated to allow visitors to get a better view of her quarters. This will allow them to compare the lifestyle of an upper middle-class woman, such as Lithgow, to that of a working-class woman like Betsy Ross. In Ross’ chamber, tourists will notice a life-size replica flag, which depicts where she would have made flags to avert the attention of British soldiers or Loyalist spies.

After descending another spiral staircase, visitors get to see Ross’ upholstery shop and meet with a first-person interpreter of the woman herself. The interpreter of Ross tells visitors more than just the story of the flag, but also how to stitch bed curtains liked they did in the colonial period. What visitors seem to appreciate the most, however, is when the interpreter demonstrates how to cut out a five pointed star, which was allegedly one of the few alterations Ross made to the original design of the flag. Acker-Moulder insists that the purpose of having an interpreter is to make the Betsy Ross House seem like a “living, breathing home,” which will allow visitors to “leave here feeling a connection to Betsy and her story.”

The final part of the house visitors see is the basement, where an exhibit called “Woman at Work in Revolutionary America” demonstrates what domestic life was like during the period. As part of the exhibit, visitors can meet Phillis, an interpreter of a free African American woman who demonstrates how people did laundry in the colonial period. The purpose of this exhibit, according to Acker-Moulder, is to appeal to visitors of different backgrounds. “America is becoming more diverse”, she says “and some of these diverse populations don’t think historic institutions are telling their stories. I’m hopeful that the diversity – Betsy was a middle-class white woman, Phillis is a free black woman – will appeal to more audiences.” She also states that the exhibit in the basement is “something modern audiences can relate to. Everybody has to do laundry and shop for food.”

What makes the Betsy Ross House so successful is that it tells the story of more than just one woman. By touring the Betsy Ross House, visitors learn what life was like for ordinary people during the colonial period. While most museums let you see the kind of things people owned, the Betsy Ross House shows how people actually lived. Not only do visitors have more access in the house compared to other historic homes, but they can also meet first person interpreters who demonstrate everyday chores in the colonial period. By including woman like Phillis and Hannah Lithgow, the Betsy Ross House also appeals to a diverse populations in a way that other museums do not. That is why, in the end, the Betsy Ross House is more than just an exhibit about the woman who “allegedly” made the first American flag, but really a small sample of what life was like for most people living in the eighteenth century.


Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. “How Betsy Ross Became Famous.” Common Place: The Journal of Early American Life 08, no.1 [October 2007] [accessed December 27th, 2017].

The Epic Fail of the Virginia Company

There were times in American history when businessmen ran the government. Spoilers: it didn’t go well. One of such situations occurred after King James I granted a charter to the Virginia Company of London in 1607. The Virginia Company was not a company in a modern sense; rather, it was a bunch of companies and private entrepreneurs united to explore and exploit whatever they find in the land of Virginia. American historians often don’t bother themselves with the Virginia Company (if you decide to read more about it, there will be a lot of E-Z borrowing (and giving up)) – after all, it only functioned for 17 years until it was dissolved by the royal order since the venture turned out to be almost a complete failure.

Indeed, the members of the Company probably did not look as confident as in Disney’s Pocahontas movie:


For glory, God and gold and the Virginia Company!

The riches they hoped to find in the Virginian soil were not there, and the hopes for the lucrative trade with the locals proved futile. The tobacco they planted thank to John Rolfe’s (newly born) agricultural skills were worse in quality that Spanish product and King James had to be persuaded to grant Virginia some kind of monopoly on selling tobacco to England. Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Wait, there’s more!

Virginian planters were so devoted to growing tobacco they neglected the production of food for themselves and had to rely on Indians and the supplies from England. The latter task was the job of one of the smaller companies in Virginia’s bunch: the Magazine. Indians were not always willing to trade with the colonists, and the Magazine occasionally appropriated more money from the treasury that they were owed.

As if it wasn’t enough, Powhatan Indians also massacred some colonists on March 22, 1622. Colonists had to abandon their plantations and get crowded to be able to defend themselves. Safety and food was their primary concern, and they begged the Virginia Company to help them handle these two pressing issues. The response was clear: your primary concern should be growing tobacco [1].

Since it was as bad as it sounds, the members of the Virginia Company started looking for the culprit, which in the hierarchy-oriented minds of 17-century Englishmen was the leader. But which leader was it – Sir Thomas Smith who led the company until 1619 or his successor Sir Edwin Sandys?


Candidates for the culprit. Edwin Sandys (left) probably looks eviler than Thomas Smith (right), but some people in the Virginia Company didn’t think so.


The true answer is: we don’t know, and neither did King James. Quarrels between various leaders of the Company and Virginian planters soon turned into an endless stream of petitions and proposals destined to bury the king’s desk under their weight. Alderman Johnson claimed that nothing but tobacco was produced because of Sandys. Captain Bargrave made the same complaint but blamed it on Smith. Planter John Martin asked the king to kick the Virginia Company out of Virginia. Nathaniel Rich begged James to investigate the manipulations of Sandys.

At some point, James finally had enough. In an unusually short note, he asks the House of Commons to follow his example and stop reading this gossip material [2]. Soon, the Virginia Company was dissolved.


This is how king James normally talks [3].


And this is how he talks if you drive him crazy [2].


We don’t have to pick between Smith and Sandys. The very thought that all these plan-producing, quarreling leaders were staying in London, perhaps never even seeing Virginia, can be eye-opening. It took 9 weeks to get from the Chesapeake  Bay to England and 6 weeks for a reverse trip (thanks to a handy current). What adequate response could the leaders provide to the colony’s problems given the very limited powers of the Virginia governor?

In any case, it was the Virginia Company who failed, not the Virginia settlers. Those continued growing their tobacco and, as it would become clear in 1776, preferring to be ruled by people who are actually from Virginia.



[1] “Council in Virginia. A Letter to the Virginia Company of London. April (after 10), 1622,” in Susan M. Kinsbury, ed. 1933. The Papers of the Virginia Company of London, Volume III, Documents I, 611-615.
“Treasurer and Council for Virginia. Letter to Governor and Council in Virginia. August 1, 1622,” in Susan M. Kinsbury, ed. 1933. The Papers of the Virginia Company of London, Volume III, Documents I, 666-673.
[2] “James I. A Letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons. August 28, 1624,” in Susan M. Kinsbury, ed. 1935. The Papers of the Virginia Company of London, Volume IV, Documents II,477-478.
[3] “James I. A Letter to the Privy Council. July 17, 1622,” in Susan M. Kinsbury, ed. 1933. The Papers of the Virginia Company of London, Volume III, Documents I, 653.