Reconstructing Philadelphia’s Earliest Museums, 1774-1827

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Athenaeum of Philadelphia

219 South 6th Street

Philadelphia, PA 19106

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Reconstructing Philadelphia’s Earliest Museums, 1774-1827

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The city’s – indeed America’s – earliest museums were the one operated from 1782 to 1784 by Pierre Eugène Du Simitière and the one opened in 1786 by Charles Willson Peale. Neither museum survives, and their contents were long ago dispersed. Using many contemporaneous sources, this project will create a database (and ultimately a website) of the thousands of objects once in these museums – paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture, natural history specimens, Native American artifacts and other ethnographic materials, antiquities, fossils, minerals, coins, medals, models of inventions, manufactures, books, pamphlets, maps, lusus naturae, and myriad “curiosities.” This virtual reconstruction will therefore document an important part of the city’s visual and material culture during the half-century from the beginning of Du Simitière’s residence in Philadelphia in 1774 until Peale’s death in 1827.

John C. Van Horne is Director Emeritus of the Library Company of Philadelphia, which he served as Director from 1985 to 2014. Previously he was Editor of The Papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe. He was educated at Princeton University and received his PhD in history from the University of Virginia. He has published many scholarly articles and edited or co-edited numerous volumes, including America’s Curious Botanist: A Tercentennial Reappraisal of John Bartram; Traveling the Pennsylvania Railroad: The Photographs of William H. Rau; The Abolitionist Sisterhood: Women’s Political Culture in Antebellum America; and seven volumes of the Latrobe Papers. He has been President of the Independent Research Libraries Association and a Board member of the National Humanities Alliance, the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League of Philadelphia, and the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary. Currently he serves on the Committee on the Library and Museum of the American Philosophical Society and as Chair of the Administrative Board of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. He lives in Wynnewood with his wife Christine, and they have a grown daughter.

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Athenaeum of Philadelphia

219 South 6th Street

Philadelphia, PA 19106

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