This has been my summer for first encounters.
Of course, there are the obvious ones that I feel obliged to mention. As a new intern at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, my first days here were spent trying to figure out what the words “historical,” “society” and, even better, “historical society” really meant. And while I have yet to reach a definitive conclusion, what I can say is that my query has led me to experience even more firsts. For the first time, I’ve learned how to navigate a card catalog, flipped the pages of documents that date back hundreds of years, and deciphered the curlicues of a merchant’s letter book.
However, there are other firsts I’ve had here that have been guided by my own interests in Philadelphia’s history. Despite the immensity of materials in HSP’s collections, I was set on exploring what they could offer to someone of an ethnic minority whose history has at times been marginalized from what is traditionally associated with the city of Philadelphia. Having little prior knowledge of the Chinese and Chinese American narrative in this city, I decided to start my introduction from documents capturing the first encounters between Philadelphians and Chinese.
Within the span of a short blog series, it is neither feasible for me to offer a comprehensive historical account, nor is it my goal to do so. Instead, it is my hope that as I am better acquainted with the collections at HSP, my writing may also provide small snippets of insight into the experiences, the concerns, and the people who occupy their own space in Philadelphia’s history.
Click here to read my first post, Philadelphians, Chinese, and Chinese Philadelphians: Narrating First Encounters.