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Getting Involved in a Museum of Ideas

   Dr. Richard Beeman, professor of history, figures he has taught several thousand students about the Constitution over the past 29 years. But the opportunity to reach millions more -- and thus "have an impact on a subject I care about and think is important to the history of America" -- was something he couldn't pass up.
   As the first senior visiting fellow for the to-be-built National Constitution Center, he will play a key role in the fledgling academic partnership between it and the University. Groundbreaking on Philadelphia's Independence Mall is expected to take place on Constitution Day (September 17) in the year 2000.
   "What is being attempted is unprecedented a museum based not on artifacts but ideas," says Beeman, a scholar of eighteenth-century America. He will help design educational programs, exhibits, town meetings, and symposia on the Constitution. Dr. Gary Hack, dean of the Graduate School of Fine Arts, will serve as senior consultant on design and site planning issues.
   The center has been in the works since 1988, when Congress authorized its creation in the wake of the bicentennial of the Constitution; Beeman became an advisor to the project a couple of years ago. Earlier this year, he says, he approached Dr. Judith Rodin, CW'66, president of the University, with the idea of a partnership between the center and Penn, and she "seized the idea with incredible vigor and vitality."
   Penn's involvement in the project, says Rodin, is a logical outgrowth of one of her administration's Six Academic Priorities -- the expansion of research and teaching
Photo of U.S. Constitution
programs about democratic institutions -- within the Agenda for Excellence. In addition to helping develop a Web site for the NCC ( Penn will help create academic programming and links with scholars and public officials around the world.
   Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell, C'65, who also serves as chairman of the center, says that Penn's participation is important, "because beyond emphasizing Philadelphia as the historical home of the Constitution, it establishes Philadelphia as the home for contemporary Constitutional discussions and ideas."

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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 11/10/97