Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

You are hereMW / PhilaPlace


The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Night Kitchen Interactive

Overview of PhilaPlace:

PhilaPlace is a learning, teaching, and research Web site. It is an interactive and deeply interpretive site that connects stories to places across time in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, creating an enduring record of the city’s heritage. The site weaves stories shared by ordinary people of all backgrounds with historical records to present an interpretive picture that captures the rich history, culture, and architecture of its neighborhoods – past and present.

The Web site, at, uses a multimedia format – including interactive maps (both contemporary and historic), text, photographs, and audio and video clips.  It represents a new model for connecting with audiences – employing the latest digital technologies to share archival collections in an engaging and meaningful way.  Visitors to the site can view both personal stories and historical records mapped to specific locations, and can map their own stories in place and time.  PhilaPlace encourages new historical and cultural interpretations and interconnections between community stories and the historical record, and creates a virtual, collective memory of each neighborhood.

The interpretive content focuses on two of Philadelphia’s oldest immigrant and working-class neighborhoods – Old Southwark and the Northern Liberties – with additional neighborhoods to be added in the future. The PhilaPlace Web site began as a grass roots heritage tourism project with on-the-ground trolley tours of these two neighborhood areas. Situated north and south of the center city historic district respectively and home to successive immigrant communities almost three centuries, these areas continue as vibrant multiethnic neighborhoods featuring many sites of interest—historic houses of worship, community art and culture centers, gardens and murals, marketplaces, and ethnic businesses. These neighborhoods started out as rough-and-tumble waterfront communities along the Delaware River. Although these suburban districts were not incorporated into the city until 1854, they were essential to the development of Philadelphia and grew through the twin forces of industrialization and immigration. Characterized by block upon block of low-rise row homes where common laborers, artisans, and skilled industrial workers, usually immigrants or migrants, settled, the boundaries of these neighborhoods were defined by work, home, religion, and ethnicity. With the Web site as its anchor, PhilaPlace continues to be more than a Web site; it engages diverse communities through local programs, teacher workshops, trolley tours, exhibits, and printed neighborhood guides.

PhilaPlace is a collaborative endeavor undertaken by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in partnership with the City of Philadelphia Department of Records, the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, and more than 21 for profit and non-profit institutions and grass roots community organizations, and members of the community who share their personal stories.

PhilaPlace is a big idea, one that has taken on central issues in public heritage including:

  • PhilaPlace strives to bridge disciplines, media, and audiences by creating a 21st-century learning and communication environment.
  • PhilaPlace attempts to connect audiences with rich archival repositories and entice them into engagement with their past and present historical and cultural heritage.
  • PhilaPlace aims to represent the dynamic and layered character of place by creating a co-constructed narrative inclusive of diverse voices. 

In order to achieve its goals, PhilaPlace is governed by several principles including transparency; inclusivity of voices and experiences; collaboration among multiple partners; assessment and shared technological platforms (Collective Access--an open source system) to increase accessibility. We are aware of the ethical challenges that exist in this era of emergent technologies; therefore, we have built in opportunities for community interactions. These include participatory workshops, training sessions, and online contributions (through the Share a Story feature and the Blog) that allow for and encourage divergent viewpoints.


PhilaPlace is deeply interpretive. Because the Collective Access open source system is robust and extensible, PhilaPlace continues to add content by HSP, its partners, and visitors. Through its top tab options (Map, Topics, Collection, Educators) and free search box, the visitor can explore the Philadelphia featured neighborhoods in multiples ways.

  • The Map page ( allows the visitor to choose the turn five map layers (contemporary and four historic) off and on. The Places tab allows visitors to narrow selections by choosing neighborhoods, topics, contributor, and to “Take a Tour.” The Streets tab (launching at the end of March 2010) will allow visitors to see visual representations of demographic qualitative data superimposed on the map layers. By clicking on a map marker, a pop up with a short description of the site appears. By clicking the “more” link on the pop-up, the visitor is taken to a second page where h/she can explore more about a particular site on the map. This page includes all media associated with the site, locates the site on a small map, external links, references, tags, and also shows if the site is on one of the two neighborhood tours, related media, and related topics.
  • The Topics page ( allows visitors to search information by themes organized around the topic of everyday life in the neighborhoods.
  • The Collection page ( features all media (photographs, audio, video) included in the PhilaPlace collaborative collection including visitor contributed content. By clicking on an image, metadata about the image is provided.
  • The Educators tab ( features two neighborhood time lines and four activities that encourage teachers and students to use the Web site to explore
  1. Place as a lens for the interpretation of history and culture
  2. Mapping as a tool for historical and cultural inquiry
  3. Local history and how it informs our understanding of larger historical questions
  4. Historical and cultural change over time especially the city’s multiethnic landscape

Functionality and Technical Approach: The back end of the site uses Collective Access, a robust and fully extensible open source system. This allows PhilaPlace to add new content, incorporate new neighborhoods and allows partner institutions to upload their own content.

Interactivity: Through references, tags, related media on the story pages, relationships among objects and ideas were facilitated. The connection and linking of archival materials from different institutions in one story allows a visitor/researcher to see primary source material online that would in other circumstances require physical visits to several archives. The social media links on every page allows the visitor to share information and the blog and Add a Story feature allows the user to contribute to the site itself.

In general the traffic generated so far has been substantial when compared to other cultural content sites. We can interpret this as a high level of interest from users clicking around on the stories and exploring the site deeper. 

Traffic from launch to date as of 1/19/10:

10,862 Visits (of those 8,154 are unique)

47,339 Page Views

4.36 Pages per visit

Avg Time on Site 4:08

PhilaPlace has been made possible by generous support from The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, through the Heritage Philadelphia Program; jointly by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, the Federal-State Partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities; The Pennsylvania Department of Education; Southwest Airlines; Samuel S. Fels Fund; and the Walter J. Miller Foundation. PhilaPlace has been designated as a We the People project by NEH.

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