Image: Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent

Making the Case for History

As the nation approaches the July 4th holiday, the news isn’t good for the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent. After a planned alliance with Temple University fell through, news outlets reported that the Museum will close to the public indefinitely after July 1 while the city and the board “explore options.” Caught in the same squeeze as many cultural institutions — particularly those that focus on history — the Museum must compete for diminishing public funding and fight for attention from the region’s donors.

At SteegeThomson, we make the case to philanthropists every day for why they should support a host of good causes, from medical research and scholarships to fighting homelessness and hunger. Yet as a society, we have failed to make the case for history. In the dead heat for dollars, the timely and the urgent often win out. Tumultuous times are exactly when we need history as a teacher. Knowing our history makes us better actors in the present.

The Philadelphia History Museum has rescued the tangible artifacts of our city and nation time and again. Home to the holdings of the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, it took in a trove of objects and paintings from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania when that organization narrowed its focus: portraits by Charles Willson Peale and items owned by George Washington and William Penn. For the public to lose open access to irreplaceable treasures like these is a significant loss. Philadelphia is its history; when we lose it, we lose a big part of ourselves. And the consequences go far beyond the city, for the history of Philadelphia’s earliest years is synonymous with the history of America itself.

The objects of daily life are eyewitnesses to history, more enduring than their owners and with stories of their own to tell. The reasons to give the past a future are important: lessons from the past are the basis of knowledge, understanding, and tolerance. Someone must step up to articulate them — and soon.

We urge all Philadelphians to honor Independence Day by taking action to keep our history accessible in the most public way. As professional case-makers, we at SteegeThomson hereby volunteer our services to help make the case for the Philadelphia History Museum. It is the very least we can do.