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evidence of urban history

I like cities & I like history. In particular, I’m a big Philly fan – which makes sense since, as far as American cities go, Philly’s got some history. I also live in Philadelphia, so that’s nice for me. At any rate, I thought I’d quickly put up a couple sets of links that reflect my interest in Philly, cities, and history.

I’m not the first to notice that the internet is a fascinating repository for otherwise forgotten information. In my mind, one of the most amazing examples of a site that capitalizes on lost resources is phillyhistory.org. Somehow, under the auspices of the city government, an innovative, highly functional, treasure-trove of a website exists for collecting, organizing, and displaying historical images of the city. Not only is the collection of pictures great, but the interface and usability of the site is surprisingly well developed. For example, you can easily search the image repository for any intersection or address and locate pictures spanning the decades as buildings go up and down, street cars replace horses and are in turn replaced by cars, and so on. Or, you can search for things such as: pretzels. Do that, and you might find this picture: On the Philly History site, this photo is bundled with several other pieces of information – including the description “vendor selling pretzels and giant marshmallows.” Yum. Further, the location of the picture is mapped & you can even click through to get a current view of the location via Google Streetview that allows you to compare/contrast the site in the photo with the present day. Pretty cool. This site seems pretty unusual – I haven’t run into a similar archive for another city. Admittedly, though, you may not be so interested in it if you don’t have some knowledge of Philly.

A similar, but broader, trove of historical video can be found at The Travel Film Archive, a site I ran into on Philebrity today. Here, you can find about 500 videos that span the 20th century and the world. They depict cities and natural wonders & were mostly made, I think, for promotional purposes. Here’s a slick 70s sales pitch for Philly: So…I’m not sure I’m into the tone of that video, but I love looking at the city then vs. how I know it now. Since there are about 500 videos from around the world on the Youtube Travel Film Archive, you can probably find your city there too…

What’s cool about both of these sites is how they open up a resource to the world that otherwise would be un(der)utilized. I’m not sure what I could pull out from these pictures or videos other than passive enjoyment, but I can imagine a few uses. (Maybe someday I’d want to open a historically-inclined bar & could model my signs and exteriors on the images in the Philly archive, for example…) The Philly photos are put up without any commercial intent in mind – a public service. The travel films, however, have licensing information: a perfect example of somebody giving something away for free on the internet – to great social value, I think – and at the same time creating an opportunity for profit. Whatever their ‘value’, both archives are a fun way to spend some time on a Friday…

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