Welcome Back to Philadelphia
Andrew Lees, October 2005
From the Annual Meeting 2006 column of the October 2005 Perspectives
For the first time since 1963, the AHA will hold its annual meeting this coming January in the City of Brotherly Love, and as the chair of the Local Arrangements Committee (LAC) I urge you to come. Not only will there be many more sessions (nearly four times as many sessions), on many more aspects of human experience, than was the case four decades ago. There will also be lots more to see and do near where the sessions will take place. Philadelphia has changed a lot, and if you haven't been here for a while (and certainly if you've never been here), paying the city a visit will be well worth your while. Too often overlooked because of being overshadowed by New York and Washington, Philadelphia is a great place to have a good time as well as to learn about history.
During the next few months, LAC co-chair Kate Wilson of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, close to 20 other members of the LAC, and I will be working with Sharon Tune and Debbie Doyle of the AHA staff to help make attendance pleasurable as well as professionally profitable. You'll be hearing from most of us before the meeting via the Program, the November issue of Perspectives, and the special supplement that will appear in December. They'll contain many articles about the local scene, enabling you to size up some of your options and figure out how to use your time most effectively. (See www.historians.org/annual for these items and links to additional sites.) Here, I introduce some of what you'll be able to read about in these publications and online in greater detail.
Since the 1980s, Philadelphia has become a great restaurant town, and later you'll read much more about the culinary delights that await visiting gourmets. You can spend a lot, at world-class establishments such as Le Bec Fin, but you can also eat well and far less expensively at many other places. Only a stone's throw from the meeting headquarters hotels, there's the fabulous Reading Terminal Market, at 12th Street between Market and Arch, where you can not only buy things to cook but also buy prepared foods to take away or eat there. (There are plenty of tables.) Chinatown, with its affordable restaurants, is a few blocks farther away to the north. And sprinkled around throughout the city there are quite a few restaurants where you can wash down an excellent meal with any beverage you care to bring. “BYOB” restaurants, lacking scarce and expensive liquor licenses, tend to be moderately priced. (Bear in mind that bottled alcoholic beverages are available only in state-run stores. The closest to the headquarters hotel is on N 12th Street between Market Street and the Reading Terminal Market.)
Kate Wilson has done a great job of putting together a list of low-cost and no-cost tours, led by local experts, which you can read about in detail in the Program and upcoming issues of Perspectives. Most of them can be construed as being history-related, and going on them can be viewed as part of your work while you're in town, but even if you can't go while sessions are taking place you can probably find a few to your liking that are scheduled to run during lunch breaks. For tours for which space will be limited, you should sign up early. Sign-up details will be posted on the AHA web site (see also the related article).
Another option is to explore the downtown area by foot on your own. Walking east, one comes quickly to the Independence National Historical Park, which contains Independence Hall (5th and Chestnut Streets), the Liberty Bell, and many other sites of interest to anyone who cares about our country's early years. Also, in nearby Society Hill, street after street is lined with residences that date from the 18th century. Only a few blocks to the west, the arched intersection of Market Street and Broad Street is the site of one of the world's most impressive nineteenth-century city halls. (Take an elevator and then climb a few steps and you can walk around the base of the huge statue of William Penn on top of the city hall tower.) And along Broad Street—between the neo-Gothic Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts to the north and the new Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts to the south—there are several other buildings of considerable interest.
Museums, Exhibitions, and Other Opportunities
Although it could take you close to half an hour, you might want to walk along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the magnificently situated Philadelphia Art Museum, overlooking the Schuylkill River, which houses one of the country's outstanding collections of classic art from around the world. Along the way, you could visit the museum of the Academy of Natural Sciences or the Franklin Institute (practically next to one another); both museums are devoted to science and technology. And speaking of our city's most famous citizen, if you walk the other way, back toward the historic district, you'll come to the recently built National Constitution Center (6th and Arch Streets), where you'll be able to visit not only the permanent exhibitions but also a special exhibition marking Ben's three-hundredth birthday. (He wasn't born until January 17, 1706, but we're starting to celebrate early.)
Those of you from outside the greater Philadelphia area who are traveling fewer than a couple of hundred miles along the East Coast should probably come by Amtrak. You'll get off at the magnificent Pennsylvania Station at 30th and Market Streets (take note of the spectacular hall as you pass through it), from which it's about a five-minute cab ride to the meeting hotels. If you arrive by air, you can get to the hotels by taxi in about 20 minutes. The fixed taxi rate from the airport to downtown is $25. If several of you are traveling together, that's the best way to go. Otherwise, you can go to 30th Street Station via high speed rail every half hour for $5.50 and pick up a cab there for the rest of your trip.
There is lots to see and do both downtown and in the surrounding area during a stay in Philadelphia. Much of it can be packed in at odd moments between meetings or sessions or during the evening. Or you might choose to come early and linger for a while after the convention ends. In any case, the members of the LAC look forward to seeing you here in January. We hope it won't be another 42 years before the AHA meets in our city, but it won't be soon. Try not to miss out on this chance to combine business and pleasure while visiting one of the world's great historic metropolises.
—Andrew Lees, the chair of the Local Arrangements Committee for the 2006 annual meeting, is a member and chair of the History Department at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, Camden Campus.