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25thCelebrating 25 Years of Early American Studies: The McNeil Center's Plans for New Home



(From left to right) Dr. Richard Dunn, Dr. Daniel Richter, Mr. Robert McNeil, Jr., and Dr. Samuel Preston at the McNeil Center's 25th anniversary celebration.

The McNeil Center for Early American Studies celebrated its 25th anniversary in December by announcing plans for its new building. The Center, which is directed by history professor Dr. Daniel K. Richter, specializes in the histories and cultures of North America before 1850, with an emphasis on the mid-Atlantic region and on promoting the scholarly use of the Philadelphia area's unparalleled research collections.

School of Arts and Sciences Dean Samuel H. Preston presented the building plans, designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, at an anniversary celebration for the center's past and current fellows, advisory board members, and other friends on December 11. The building, which will be the Center's first permanent home in its 25-year history, will be located on 34th Street north of Walnut Street, situated adjacent to the newly landscaped gateway to the campus--Hill Square. Construction is expected to begin next fall.

At the event, President Judith Rodin said, "With its prominent location, the building will be a beacon for scholars of early American history and a reminder to all that study of this period belongs at the heart of a liberal arts education."

The Center operates as a consortium of 16 mid-Atlantic colleges, universities, libraries, museums, and historical societies, including the American Philosophical Association, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Winterthur Museum, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. It offers pre- and post-doctoral fellowships, a seminar series attended by scholars from throughout the mid-Atlantic region, and national symposia on specialized topics. In cooperation with the University of Pennsylvania Press, the McNeil Center also publishes a book series and Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal.

Over the years, approximately 130 young scholars have received residential research fellowships from the Center at crucial early stages of their careers. Most have gone on to distinguished teaching careers at universities and colleges throughout the United States and Great Britain. The current group of fellows hails from ten different universities and is conducting research on diverse topics from British naval impressment, to the practice of science in the late eighteenth century, to working men's reading habits in the Early Republic.

Emeritus professor of history Dr. Richard S. Dunn founded the Center as the Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies in 1978. It was renamed in honor of its longtime benefactor, former McNeil Laboratories chairman Robert L. McNeil, Jr., in 1998. The Barra Foundation and Mr. McNeil made a pledge last year to build the center's new home and to provide a permanent endowment for the building's operational costs (Almanac January 21, 2003). At the recent event, Dean Preston thanked Mr. McNeil for his steadfast support of the center, noting that many of the Center's achievements were made possible through his generosity.

For more information see the McNeil Center website, at

South Elevation


site plan



  Almanac, Vol. 50, No. 17, January 13, 2004