DARE Project: The Future of Historic Sites
2018 - 2021
The Lenfest Center received a two-year grant (2019-21) through the Drexel Areas of Research Excellence (DARE) program to explore The Future of Historic Sites: Increased Access, Engaged Communities, Sustainability and Archives Without Walls. This interdisciplinary project built on the foundation of the Lenfest Center’s inaugural Faculty Fellowship program (2018-19), where we began the collaboration with a partner site, Wyck Historic House, Garden & Farm, in Germantown.
Wyck—a National Historic Landmark known for its house/collections, historic roses, and home farm—was home to nine generations of one family for nearly 300 years.
In addition to Lenfest Center professional staff, this team included faculty from Drexel’s:
- Westphal College of Media Arts & Design (Troy Finamore, Alan Greenberger, Elizabeth Milroy, Glen Muschio, Neville Vakharia)
- College of Arts and Sciences (Scott Knowles, Gabriel Rocha)
- College of Computing & Informatics (Alex Poole)
- School of Education (Aroutis Foster)
The DARE project resulted in the following activities.
In 2020, we recruited nine community members to be Wyck Community Fellows. These Fellows participated in three virtual workshops with the DARE team, and Wyck staff and board members (plans for public events were adapted in the pandemic). In these workshops, we tested ideas about how Wyck can better connect with the community—particularly through storytelling: Fellows shared objects and stories related to their experience living in Germantown, and Wyck shared related material from its collection. Five interpretive themes emerged that Wyck is using to make connections with the community. The Fellows continued to meet independently to brainstorm ideas for Wyck, and they also mentored Drexel students in the course below.
Community events were transitioned to virtual workshops in the wake of Covid.
New Class: Cultural Planning and Digital Storysharing
In Spring 2020, Neville Vakharia and Glen Muschio developed and taught this course, based on the collaboration with Wyck. From remote, 12 Westphal students (mostly graduate) interacted with Community Fellows and invited leaders as guests. With input from the Fellows, students conducted community-based research (data collection, interviews) and developed a plan for a proposed project: community stories animated with community artwork, presented via “story cloths” and smartphone app, and archived at Wyck. The class resulted in a database of 60+ community resources for future use. The course also stands as a model for future community-based efforts.
Germantown photo shared by Wyck Community Fellow Ann Doley.
New Class: Community Archives and Collective Memory
In Spring 2021, Alex Poole (CCI) and Julie Rainbow (social researcher, oral historian, artist and teacher) developed and taught this course, offered through Pennoni Honors College, related to the collaboration with Wyck. With a civic engagement priority, the course was place based, addressing community archives, oral history/collective memory, and emphasizing unheard/marginalized voices.
Although the DARE team applied for but did not receive a federal grant to implement a larger digital storytelling project, our collaboration did lead to Wyck receiving a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for a related online project. The DARE project has also enabled Wyck to be competitive in other fundraising efforts, such as through PIDC.
Our Germantown Stories
As an example of how a historic site can connect with its community through storytelling, we produced a printed booklet, Our Germantown Stories, in collaboration with Wyck and the community (view online, here). Oral historian Julie Rainbow interviewed 11 community members, and the booklet features their words and images alongside thematically related content from Wyck. Wyck is distributing the booklet to neighbors and visitors. Also using the interviews, Wyck has produced an online exhibit, “Our Germantown Stories” (visit, here), intended to be an ongoing, evolving project.
Germantown community members John Lewis and Regina Robinson sharing their African shaman/medicine man’s breastplate.
As part of the DARE project evaluation, we surveyed the Community Fellows before and after their fellowship, and shared feedback with Wyck to inform future work. In addition to constructive suggestions for the site, feedback was overwhelmingly positive, for example:
“In the most positive way...I learned more about the site and loved that there is an intention of inviting community in and love that perhaps my work or input will help to do that in a way that works for both Wyck and the Germantown Community.”
“I think [Drexel and Wyck are] off to a great start. All good works start with conversation, planning and an action plan. All of which is either done or on the way to being done. Keep moving as you are! It’s very much appreciated. Work well done!”