Introducing the Philadelphia Public History Truck

Can a former water ice truck help connect the city?

Last week, I heard that Philadelphia was getting the Philadelphia Public History Truck. I wasn’t sure what a Philadelphia Public History Truck was, or why a Philadelphia Public History Truck was something that Philadelphia needed, so I reached out to its co-founder, 28-year-old South Jersey native and Temple graduate student Erin Bernard, to find out.

So what the heck is the Philadelphia Public History Truck?
It’s a mobile museum going from neighborhood to neighborhood in Philadelphia, and the idea behind it is that instead of having a public history exhibit where academics have constructed it, the exhibit is community curated. So all of the community members are invited to come together and contribute and share their stories and objects to put into an exhibit.

Why haven’t I seen this on the street yet?
Right now, we’re in our first exhibit cycle in East Kensington. I’ve done oral history interviews, and I have objects that community members have given me. We’re doing a storytelling block party and First Friday at the Little Berlin fairgrounds in October, where I’ll be serving apple cider and pie and taking oral histories.

So when you say it’s a history truck, are we talking like a food truck, a semi?
The truck was a post office truck. Then it was a water ice truck. And we acquired it through the East Kensington Neighbors Association. The president of EKNA, Jeff Carpineta, he gave it to us. He’s been incredibly helpful. I love the truck. It says “Touch of Philly” on the front.

Erin Bernard with her work-in-progress History Truck.

Does this relate to your studies at Temple?
Yes, I am doing my grad work in public history, and the truck project was my first pitch to my advisor as a thesis project. I’m hoping to study for my thesis how pop-up museums can help historians better engage communities. This is an active way of finding out if that’s true.

Will people actually board the truck? Help me envision this.
We’ll pull up and open up the back, and people will climb in one at a time. It will look like somebody set up a street vendor site, but it’s a history exhibit. The exhibit will actually go up at a public space in the neighborhood for a month, and then my partner Jordan Klein and I will downsize it and take it neighborhood to neighborhood in Philly and tweet where we are, just like a food truck. We’re trying to engage specific neighborhoods and then understand how they connect.

And when will all this actually happen?
Well, the public exhibit will go up in January if indoors, April if outdoors. We’ve applied for grants, and we’ve also lined up some sponsors like Little Baby’s Ice Cream, Solo Realty and Fireball Printing. And we’re in the process of creating a Kickstarter.

Sounds great. Good luck to you.
Thanks so much.

PHOTOS: Mark Krendel