A Home for History

Construction | Over the past quarter of a century, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies has occupied eight homes, starting with a “cubby hole” in College Hall.

At its 25th anniversary reception in December, plans were unveiled for construction of its first permanent home, on 34th Street north of Walnut. Work begins in the fall—thanks to support from Robert L. McNeil Jr. (the center’s namesake and a longtime supporter) and the Barra Foundation—and will take 12 to 15 months.

“When we make our ninth move, it will be the best [space], the nicest yet,” said Dr. Richard Dunn, professor emeritus of history and founder of the program (originally named the Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies).

The McNeil Center, which looks at American history and cultures before 1850, is a consortium of 16 mid-Atlantic universities, colleges, museums, libraries, and historical societies. It holds national symposia and seminars, and has offered residential research fellowships to about 130 scholars “at crucial early stages of their careers,” according to Dr. Daniel Richter, the professor of history who serves as the program’s current director.

Richter contrasted the typical lonely existence of scholars writing dissertations—“long days in archives and longer evenings staring at a blank computer screen”—with the “intellectual feast” of seminars, brown-bag sessions, and conferences to which McNeil fellows are invited. “All of this I think is vitally important in broadening perspectives and honing scholarly tools and giving [scholars] people to talk to about their work.”

Building plans include numerous offices for these fellows as well as a public lecture hall that will open onto Hill Square—the newly landscaped gateway to campus, once known as Hill Field. “With its prominent location,” noted University President Judith Rodin CW’66, “the building will be a beacon for scholars of early American history and a reminder to all that the study of this period truly belongs at the heart of a liberal arts education.”

For more information see (www.mceas.org/).S.F.


2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 02/27/04


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