The Library Company of Philadelphia launched our seminar series in 2018 to offer community members an opportunity to explore the rich historical records of our collections. More than an exhibition of treasures, each seminar provides participants with access to carefully-curated materials such as historical documents, books, and prints, together with conversation guided by experts in a learning experience that promotes discovery, discussion, and reinterpretation.

Past Seminars

John Dickinson and the Making of the U.S. Constitution, 1776-1788

Convenes 5:30-7:00 p.m. (ET) Wednesday October 21, November 4, and November 18, 2020

Led by Dr. Jane E. Calvert, founding director and chief editor of the John Dickinson Writings Project and Associate Professor of History at the University of Kentucky. Her publications on Dickinson include Quaker Constitutionalism and the Political Thought of John Dickinson and Volume One of The Complete Writings and Selected Correspondence of John Dickinson. She is currently writing a biography of him.

This seminar will consider the innovative contributions of John Dickinson to the creation of the United States Constitution through his work on the Articles of Confederation (1776), the Annapolis Convention (1786) that met to consider the shortcomings of the Articles, the ensuing Federal Convention (1787), and the debate over ratification (1788). As the only leading figure to contribute substantially to every phase of the American Founding beginning with the Stamp Act resistance, Dickinson also played a key role during the constitutional era. In a timely seminar led by Dr. Jane E. Calvert, chief editor of the John Dickinson Writings Project and Associate Professor of History at the University of Kentucky, participants will explore drafts, notes, and essays, along with selected secondary source readings, to understand Dickinson’s contributions to the U.S. Constitution, reflecting on both what he offered and what his colleagues rejected.

Download Syllabus

Download Course Reader

Watch Session I (October 14)

Watch Session II (November 4)

Watch Session III (November 18)

Debating Woman’s Place in America, 1860-1880

Convened 5:30-7:00 p.m. (ET) Wednesday September 16, September 30, and October 14, 2020

Led by Dr. Amy Sopcak-Joseph, historian of Early American gender and print culture and assistant professor at Wilkes University.

The 19th Amendment forbids denying the right to vote on the basis of sex. Yet its passage a century ago was less a definitive declaration of women’s equality than it was one episode in a longer history. This seminar contextualizes this important anniversary by examining the 19th-century roots of foundational questions about gender roles: what can women do? What should their roles in society be? The Library Company’s collections illustrate the competing answers posed during the crucial decades of the 1860s and 1870s. American women, both White and Black, shaped political conversations and public spaces in ways that were varied and complex, local and national, progressive and conservative – much like they do today.

Download Syllabus

Watch Session I (September 16)

Watch Session II (September 30)

Watch Session III (October 14)

Racism and Infectious Disease

Led by Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens (Library Company of Philadelphia), Dr. Richard M. Mizelle, Jr. (University of Houston), and Dr. Samuel K. Roberts, Jr. (Columbia University).

Convened June 17, July 1, and July 15, 2020

In a special seminar organized in conjunction with the 2020 Mellon Scholars Internship program, the seminar explored the history of racism in the diagnosis, treatment, and popular portrayals of infectious diseases. Situated in the context of the racial inequities in healthcare revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Racism & Infectious Disease challenged participants to consider how urban political economies, modern public health systems, racial science, and a host of environmental factors have produced the racial health inequalities that we confront today.

The seminar unfolded in three sessions:

  • The first session, which coincided with the Mellon Scholars Internship program, framed the historical roots of racism and pandemics through a panel discussion between Dr. Owens, Mizelle, and Roberts and the Mellon Interns. Watch recording.
  • In the second session, Dr. Mizelle discussed his latest research on resiliency and diabetes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in order to outline how broader environmental conditions shape diagnoses and self-treatment plans. Watch recording.
  • Finally, Dr. Roberts delved into the tuberculosis epidemics (1880s-1930s) to consider how urban political economy and racial sciences produce devastating health inequities. Watch recording.

Domesticating Revolution: Founding Women, Material Culture, and Politics at Home

Led by Dr. Zara Anishanslin, Associate Professor of History and Art History, University of Delaware

Convened March 11, April 22, and May 13, 2020.

This seminar explored how Philadelphia women used their homes–and the things in those domestic spaces–to create revolutionary fervor and shape founding era politics from the mid-1760s through the 1790s.

Ghost River in the Making

Led by Dr. William D. Fenton, Library Company of Philadelphia

Convened January 30, February 13, and February 27, 2020

This behind-the-scenes exploration of the Library Company’s public art exhibition and first graphic novel included hands-on access to the eighteenth century materials that inspired this story and presentations from author Dr. Lee Francis IV (Laguna) and artist Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva).

Victorian Sweets: Exoticism & Agrarianism in Local Confectionery

Led by Eric Berley and Ryan Berley, Co-Owners of The Franklin Fountain and Shane Confectionery and  Kevin Paschall, Head Chocolate Maker at Shane Confectionery

Convened on November 21, December 5, and December 17, 2019

Using 19th century advertisements, photos, packaging, and broadsides from the Library Company of Philadelphia’s rich collections, co-owners of The Franklin Fountain Eric Berley and Ryan Berley and head chocolatier of Shane Confectionery Kevin Paschall will explore the written and visual culture of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century trades of confectionary, chocolate, and ice cream.

Mirror of a City: Images of Philadelphia, 1780-1950

Led by Erika Piola, Director of the Visual Culture Program and  Sarah Weatherwax, Curator of Print and Photographs, Library Company of Philadelphia

Convened on September 26, October 10, and October 24, 2019

The Print and Photograph Department at the Library Company of Philadelphia holds one of the few public historical, American popular graphic arts collections in the country. With a focus on the visual history of Philadelphia from the era of the early nation through post-World War II, the graphic materials chronicle the evolution of the city and the story of their creators, collectors, and distributors like few others.

Designing Afrofuturism: Imagining Black Futures through Art, History, and Literature

Led by Dr. Walter Greason, Monmouth University

Convened on January 24, January 31, February 28, and March 21, 2019

This seminar examined the surviving art, architecture, and technology from indigenous civilizations across the African diaspora. Complemented by the upcoming Library Company exhibition “From Negro Pasts to Afro-Futures: Black Creative Re-Imaginings,” this seminar, led by Dr. Walter Greason, explored how historical African American leaders envisioned the future. Designing Afrofuturism drew upon the Library Company’s prodigious African American History collections, including rare Afrofuturist literature and drawings, poems and songs, and speeches and protests.

Benjamin Franklin & Immigration

Led by Dr. Carla J. Mulford, Pennsylvania State University

Convened on March 6, 2019

Franklin’s ideas about immigrants and immigration evolved as his career moved from being a colonial leader in Philadelphia to a citizen of the world. Dr. Carla Mulford, a leading scholar on Franklin, curated records that reveal Franklin’s shifting views on immigration, demographics, economics, and the environment. Drawing upon documents from Franklin’s time in Philadelphia, London, and Passy, participants traced how local circumstances shaped Franklin’s early thinking and how later experiences encouraged him to fashion a more global vision about immigration problems, goals, and strategies.

Graphic Materials: Early American Political Cartoons and Propaganda

Led by Dr. William D. Fenton, Library Company of Philadelphia

Convened on October 23, November 8, November 20, and December 4, 2018

This seminar excavated the broadsides, engravings, political cartoons, caricatures, and ephemera that transformed early American politics. Canvasing the African Americana, John A. McAllister, and Political Cartoon collections, Fenton offered participants hands-on access to the Library Company’s vaunted visual culture materials. In addition to an eye-opening companion to election-year politicking, Graphic Material connected participants with leading practitioners, including award-winning editorial cartoonists Signe Wilkinson, Dwayne Booth, Ben Passmore, and John Cole.