Annual Meeting , Perspectives Daily

Beyond the Liberty Bell

Philadelphia History at AHA23

Laura Ansley | Nov 3, 2022

One of the great joys of conference travel is the travel. You get to try some new restaurants or check out the local museums. Sometimes you get to explore a new place, while other meetings take you back to your favorite city where you can revisit old haunts.

AHA23 Annual Conference Poster.

The 2023 AHA annual meeting is also an opportunity to learn about the history of Philadelphia. Whether you take a tour to learn about a particular space or neighborhood, or you attend a session that focuses on Philadelphia’s past and present, we hope you’ll leave AHA23 with a new appreciation for the City of Brotherly Love.

Although a number of individual presentations will discuss Philadelphia, the following tours and sessions focus entirely on our host city, including African American and LGBTQ+ communities, incarceration, music, public history, and more.

Tour 1: Eastern State Penitentiary

Thursday, January 5, 10:00–11:45 a.m.

Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary is an infamous part of America’s carceral history. Designed to inspire “penitence” in its inmates, the prison revolutionized a new form of incarceration that kept prisoners separate from one another and became known as the “Pennsylvania system.” The tour will highlight Eastern State’s 142-year history, revolutionary and influential architecture, and stories of people who lived and worked in the building while setting the stage for conversations about criminal justice reform today.

Crossing Boundaries and Spanning Difference through American Jazz Performance: Philly Style

Thursday, January 5, 3:30–5:00 p.m.

Philadelphia’s music history comes to the fore in this session, which asks: How does jazz performance allow and enable musicians in a multiculturalist society to cross social, economic and political boundaries to meet each other on the bandstand on equal terms? And how has Philadelphia, the historic contextual setting, hurt or nurtured this dynamic over the years?

Curating Community: Remaking History in Philadelphia

Friday, January 6, 8:30–10:00 a.m.

Organized by the AHA’s Research Division, this roundtable will highlight local public history, archives, and artists who have been working to rethink the city’s history. With participants from the Museum of the American Revolution, the Mütter Museum, and The Boghouse Podcast, this promises to be a fascinating discussion of how local institutions have been working to bring Philadelphia’s history to a diverse public.

Tour 2: LGBTQ+ History in Philadelphia

Friday, January 6, 10:00–11:30 a.m.

Nicknamed in 1995, Philadelphia’s Gayborhood is located between 11th and Broad Streets, and Pine and Walnut Streets. Today, the area is marked by 36 rainbow street signs and includes the William Way LGBT Community Center on Spruce Street. The center’s archivist and historian, Bob Skiba, will lead this tour, which will explore the city’s queer history and explore past and present sites of LGBTQ revelry and resistance.

Urban Crisis Reconsidered: Racial Capitalism, Punishment, and Resistance in Postwar Philadelphia

Friday, January 6, 10:30 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

From the 1960s to the 1990s, Philadelphia’s residents and officials both pushed back against trends toward segregation, privatization, policing, and incarceration. With presentations on how Philadelphians looked to resist prison overcrowding, rising utility costs, and overpolicing and to promote Black economic development, this session pushes us to reconsider a period historians have characterized as a city in crisis.

Philadelphia and the Black Intellectual Tradition

Friday, January 6, 1:30–3:00 p.m.

Philadelphia was the birthplace of the largest 19th-century Black church, a center of abolitionism, and home to some of America’s leading Black thinkers and activists in the 20th century. Presentations on the AME Church, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Sadie Tanner Mossel Alexander will demonstrate the centrality of Philadelphia to African American intellectual history from the 18th to the 20th centuries.

Book History in Libraries: A Roundtable with Philadelphia-Area Librarians

Saturday, January 7, 8:30–10:30 a.m.

This roundtable, sponsored by the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing, takes advantage of the rich community of libraries and archives around Philadelphia to examine new scholarship, pedagogy, programming, collecting, and more in book history. 

If There Is No Struggle There Is No Progress: Black Politics in 20th-Century Philadelphia

Saturday, January 7, 1:30–3:00 p.m.

This lightning-round session brings together a wide array of topics in Black political history, including labor, housing, education, and fair treatment by the police. Seven scholars will share research from recent books on the African American history of Philadelphia and will prompt broader discussion of the African American urban experience in the long 20th century.

Slavery Hiding in Plain “Site”: Philadelphia Historians Find New Modes of Engagement for a National Park, a Historic Property, and a University

Sunday, January 8, 9:30–11:00 a.m.

Organized by the Local Arrangements Committee, this roundtable explores the ongoing process of reinterpreting the role of slavery in the history of three institutions—the President’s House in Independence National Historic Park, Cliveden of the National Trust, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Tour 3: Smellwalk Philadelphia

Sunday, January 8, 9:45–11:15 a.m.

What did the past smell like? On this tour of Philadelphia, led by Kate McLean, participants will be encouraged to use their own noses to detect, differentiate, and describe the smells of the contemporary urban landscape and imagine historical parallel odors.


Curious what else you’ll find at AHA23? Check out the full program online.


Laura Ansley is managing editor at the AHA. She tweets @lmansley.


Tags: Annual Meeting 2023 Annual Meeting Perspectives Daily


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