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  • Monday, October 15, 2018 - 5:15pm to 7:00pm

Class of 1978 Pavilion in the Kislak Center, 6th Floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library

We will be welcoming J.M. Duffin for a talk entitled: “Draining the Swamp of Arcane Legal Text: Reclaiming the Geography of 18th Century Philadelphia.” Jim writes:

Researchers and scholars of early Philadelphia have labored under the limitations of graphical representations of the landscape in and around the colonial city.  Aside from a number of well known maps produced during the founding period of William Penn’s colonial venture, there are virtually no detailed maps of the greater Philadelphia area until the end of the 18th century.  This gap in the record led me to turn to other sources to answer a basic question: what did Philadelphia County look like in the 18th century?  With the help of the most complete set of public records for Philadelphia – land records – I have begun to answer that question and raise many others.  Shifting through the arcane texts of the deed records is challenging, but the rewards in transforming the text into maps are well worth the effort.  Thanks to modern technology and tools such as GIS and virtual texts, I have been able to undertake the task of reconstruction with incredible speed and accuracy.

This workshop will be more of a hands-on discussion and demonstration of the main sources and types of text I use, how I transform them into maps, and how these new representations can further our understanding of the past and what limits the sources and technology impose.

J.M. Duffin is a senior archivist at the University Archives at Penn and the regular land records guest speaker for the Penn Historic Preservation program.  He majored in Colonial American history at Temple University and has maintained an interest in the colonial history of the Philadelphia region with a special emphasis on Germantown.  He has written a number articles on early Germantown families and landownership and published Acta Germanopolis: Records of the Corporation of Germantown, Pennsylvania, 1691-1707, which chronicles Germantown’s early experience at self government.  He is currently working on a study of land use and ownership in the Philadelphia area prior to 1800, part of which can be seen on the Mapping West Philadelphia website.  In recent years, when he is not using his free time to do property ownership research, he has been active as a citizen historic preservationist working to save various historic sites in Philadelphia – one of the most recent being the William and Letitia Still Underground Railroad House

All are welcome! Those who do not hold University of Pennsylvania ID cards should bring another form of photo identification in order to enter the library building.


Sep. 17: Nicholas Herman (Penn): “The Book-Shaped Object in Renaissance Europe”

Sep. 24, 25, 27 - Rosenbach Lectures: Carlo Ginzburg (Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa): Fossils, Apes, Humans: A Chapter in the History of Science, Revisited

- Sep. 24: “Paleontology and Connoisseurship”

- Sep. 25: “Gods, Humans, Apes: Art History and Evolution”

- Sep. 27: “Medals and Shells: On Morphology and History, Once Again”

Oct. 1: Whitney Trettien (Penn): “Digital Book History”

Oct. 8: Priyasha Mukhopadhyay (Yale): “Unread: A History of the Book in Colonial South Asia”

Oct. 15: J.M. Duffin (Penn): “Draining the Swamp of Arcane Legal Text: Reclaiming the Geography of Eighteenth Century Philadelphia”

Oct. 22: Katie Chenoweth (Princeton): “Printers’ Devices, or, How French Got Its Accents”

Oct. 29: Sarah Guérin (Penn): “On Ivory, Wax, and Paint: New Insights on Devotional Booklets”

Nov. 5: Margo Natalie Crawford (Penn): “The Textual Production of a Shared Black Edge

Nov. 12: David Norbrook (Oxford): “‘But a copie’: Lucy Hutchinson’s Life in her Texts”

Nov. 19: Samantha Sommers (Ohio State): “Reading in Books”

Nov. 26: TBA

Dec. 3: Mitch Fraas (Penn): “Boilerplate: Documentation, Paperwork, and the Persistence of Form across the Early Modern and Modern Worlds”

Dec. 10: Arthur Kiron (Penn): “Hidden in Plain Sight: Christian Readers of Rabbinic Literature in the Colonial Americas”