Cover image for First City : Philadelphia and the forging of historical memory
First City : Philadelphia and the forging of historical memory
Nash, Gary B.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
383 pages : illustrations, map ; 27 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F158.3 .N37 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



With its rich foundation stories, Philadelphia may be the most important city in America's collective memory. By the middle of the eighteenth century William Penn's "greene countrie town" was, after London, the largest city in the British Empire. The two most important documents in the history of the United States, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, were drafted and signed in Philadelphia. The city served off and on as the official capital of the young country until 1800, and was also the site of the first American university, hospital, medical college, bank, paper mill, zoo, sugar refinery, public school, and government mint.

In First City , acclaimed historian Gary B. Nash examines the complex process of memory making in this most historic of American cities. Though history is necessarily written from the evidence we have of the past, as Nash shows, rarely is that evidence preserved without intent, nor is it equally representative. Full of surprising anecdotes, First City reveals how Philadelphians--from members of elite cultural institutions, such as historical societies and museums, to relatively anonymous groups, such as women, racial and religious minorities, and laboring people--have participated in the very partisan activity of transmitting historical memory from one generation to the next.

Author Notes

Gary B. Nash was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 27, 1933. He received a B. A. in 1955 and a Ph.D. in 1964 from Princeton University. He has taught colonial and revolutionary American history at the University of California at Los Angeles since 1966. He won the University of California Distinguished Emeriti Award and the Defense of Academic Freedom Award from the National Council for Social Studies. He is the author of numerous books including Quakers and Politics: Pennsylvania, 1681-1726; Red, White and Black: The Peoples of Early America; The Urban Crucible: Social Change, Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution; Forging Freedom: The Black Urban Experience in Philadelphia, 1720-1840; and The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Historical memory, especially its more public face, has emerged as an increasingly popular area of scholarly interest. This study falls within the analytical structure that has come to dominate much of historical memory research. Following the framework popularized by John Bodnar in Remaking America (CH, Jun'92), Nash (history, UCLA) explores the ways in which Philadelphians have remembered their past over time and the tension between vernacular and official versions of that past. At the heart of his study, and the area where this volume diverges from most works on historical memory, is a discussion of the collecting patterns of Philadelphia organizations interested in preserving a record of the past. That record, however, is neither random nor all-encompassing. Instead, it is driven by the desire to frame the understanding of the past by different segments of Philadelphia's population. However influential a constructed official past might have been, groups who possessed differing understandings of the city's historical experience systematically challenged it. As the institutions responsible for preserving the evidentiary record widened their collecting parameters, and as competing voices have grown louder, a broader and more varied Philadelphia story has shaped the city's historical memory. All levels/collections. P. Melvin Loyola University in Chicago

Table of Contents

Introduction: Making History Matter
Ch. 1 Pieces of the Colonial Past
Ch. 2 Recalling a Commercial Seaport
Ch. 3 The Revolution's Many Faces
Ch. 4 A New City for a New Nation
Ch. 5 A City in Flux
Ch. 6 Reforming Philadelphia
Ch. 7 In Civil War and Reconstruction
Ch. 8 Workshop of the World, Schoolhouse of History
Ch. 9 Restoring Memory
List of Abbreviations