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Kislak Center and Historical Society of Pennsylvania Teaching Alliance

The Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts seeks to enhance the academic experience of Penn undergraduates by supporting courses that engage in meaningful, intriguing, and well-mentored archival research opportunities using the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) collections. The Kislak Center and HSP have formed a teaching alliance through which the Kislak Center provides curatorial assistance and resources to Penn faculty and students in their study of HSP collections.

student hsp

About the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Located at 1300 Locust Street, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is a premier library of historical records whose holdings include 600,000 books, pamphlets, serials, and microfilm reels; 20 million manuscripts; and over 300,000 graphics items.

At HSP, students can engage with this vast array of documents. Archival holdings include treasures like the first two drafts of the U.S. Constitution, extensive collections on slavery, abolitionism, and the Underground Railroad, and immigration and the formation of diaspora communities. The collections stretch from the early colonial period to the twenty-first century and encompass local, regional, national, and global developments.

The range of subjects is manifold: constitutionalism, citizenship, political divides, reform movements, and wars; science and medicine; global commerce and industrial, mining, transportation, and banking firm development; religion and ethnocultural conflict; family history and community heritage; architecture and urban planning; arts and popular culture; race, gender, and class; and more. 

Penn Courses Supported

The following courses have employed the collections and expertise of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania:

  • Philadelphia: Immigration, Disease, and Quarantining (Professor David Barnes, HSS, Spring 2022) 
  • Race, Ethnicity, and American Constitutional Politics (Professor Rogers Smith, Political Science, Spring 2022)
  • History Workshop (Professor Sophie Rosenfeld, History, Spring 2022)
  • Language of Abolitionism, England/U.S. (Professor Chi-Ming Yang, English, Fall 2022)
  • Abolitionist Movements and the Law (Professor Kathy Brown, History, and Professor Sally Gordan, Penn Law, Spring 2023)
  • Freshman Seminar: Investigating the Old 7th Ward (Professor Amy Hillier, SP2/Urban Studies, Fall 2023)
  • Orthodox America (Professor Reyhan Durmaz, Religious Studies, Fall 2023)
  • Art in Philadelphia in the 19th Century (Professor Michael Leja, Art History, Spring 2024)
  • American Revolutionary Era (Professor Emma Hart, History, Spring 2024)
  • Penn Slavery Project (Professor Kathy Brown, History, Spring 2024)

Get Involved

Instructors who are interested in working with HSP are invited to contact John Pollack, Curator of Research Services. Kislak Center curators and HSP archivists can provide guidance and support to faculty in their course and assignment design and discuss additional resources for faculty and students.

Courses with topics heavily represented in HSP’s archives, team-taught courses, cross-department/cross-school courses, and Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) courses are encouraged.


This past spring, I taught a new and experimental undergraduate course in the History Department at Penn. One purpose of the course was to introduce prospective History majors,  to what historians do in a hands-on way. A second purpose was to inaugurate this terrific new partnership between Penn’s libraries and HSP. Both worked wonderfully. The students were extremely enthusiastic about the whole experience. As for me: it was a joy to teach in this different format and to introduce students to real research long before they embark on the writing of a senior thesis.
- Sophia Rosenfeld, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History

Though most of the students in my seminar on "Race, Ethnicity, and American Constitutional Politics" were juniors or seniors, few had experience working with historical primary sources in a research library. They were all excited to discover the amazing resources of the Historical Society of Philadelphia, and the partnership inspired many to write research papers with far greater historical depth than would otherwise have been the case.
- Rogers M. Smith, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Political Science 

I visited the Historical Society of Pennsylvania as a student in a political science seminar called "Race, Ethnicity, and American Constitutional Law." As part of a research paper, I set out to examine the impact of 19th and 20th-century immigration laws on racial formation in the United States. Quickly, I realized that I would need to consult primary sources [at HSP] to understand the motivations behind these immigration policies. The HSP staff were exceedingly helpful throughout this process. They set up a tour of the library, flagged resources that were relevant to my research topic, and worked around my busy class schedule to arrange a visit. Overall, HSP was an excellent resource for this paper and taught me valuable research skills that served me while writing my senior thesis the following year.
- Adalyn Richards, University of Pennsylvania Class of ’23