City As TExt

City as Text refers to structured explorations of environments and ecosystems. Designed as on-going laboratories through which small teams investigate contested areas and issues in urban environments, or competing forces in natural ones, these exercises foster critical inquiry and integrative learning across disciplines. Please note that these are NOT guided tours. Students will be given instructions, maps, and reflection questions to consider when exploring different areas of Philadelphia.











Please read the descriptions below and choose your City as Text excursion when you register for the conference.

As we get closer to the conference, look on the NRHC website to find more information that corresponds with your chosen excursion and potential entrance fees and public transportation costs associated with each excursion. On Friday, April 8th, we will gather for the City as Text Orientation, divide into destination groups, receive assignments, maps, and suggestions for where to eat. The larger cohorts will be grouped into teams of 4-5. Please note that some of these destinations (denoted by *) involve entrance fees, depending on what you choose to do in each of the neighborhoods. You will need to purchase your lunch on your excursion. You should come to the CAT Orientation Session promptly at 9:00 am, wearing good walking shoes, dressed appropriately for the weather, and armed with exact change for public transportation if needed. Depending on distance of route, public transportation may not be necessary and easily walked within a 3 mile radius.

City as Text Schedule

9:00am: City as Text Orientation and Keynote Address
10am-3:00pm: City as Text Excursions
3:30pm-4:30pm: Wrap-Up and Reflection


Arts in Philadelphia: Community, Inclusion, and Conflict
When people think of Philadelphia, its arts scene might not be the first idea that springs to mind. However, Philadelphia’s art – popular and high-brow – are not only celebrated, but publicly debated, disputed, even ferociously litigated. This strand asks you to read Philadelphia’s artistic landscape. Consume, observe and interpret publicly claimed concrete canvases, nuanced installations, institutional canons as well as contested curations. While Philadelphia is home to significant masterpieces of painting and sculpture, it can now boast the site of one of the most contested collections of our time. While visitors can get an education on all of this along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, many historic performing arts venues can be found in the Avenue of the Arts district. In this area you can find contemporary and centuries old venues that seat hundreds of guests or just a few to enjoy a night of theater, music, dance, or perusing galleries. While these areas are the hub of Philadelphia’s arts scene, travelers can find and experience significant installations of popular arts all over Philadelphia that capture the pulse of “the city of murals” featuring notable residents, the famed home of the city’s soul music production company, mosaics, monuments and public spaces that citizens and passers-by appreciate as pedestrian landmarks or popular leisure spaces.

Examples include: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rodin Museum, Barnes Museum, Magic Gardens, Murals Arts Philadelphia, Walnut Street Theatre (the nation’s oldest theater), Academy of Music, Kimmel Cultural Campus, Philadelphia International Records, virtual or audio themed self-guided public art tours, and more!


Brotherly Love: Philadelphia's Communities of Faith
When the new nation was founded, Philadelphia was noted as its most diverse city for its acceptance of various types of… protestants! Today, Philadelphia remains a city of religious diversity, coexistence and collaboration. Philadelphia is home to a variety of historic church sites throughout old Philadelphia. In other farther-reaching sections of the city, one can find houses of worship for congregants who practice Buddhism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Quakerism and more. Around the city, one can find a single building that was once a synagogue, then a church, and is now a masjid. In center city, many houses of worship date back to the 19th century and are listed on Pennsylvania state and national registries.

Examples include Arch Street Friends Meeting House, Arch Street Presbyterian Church, Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Congregation Mikveh Israel, Saint Clement's Church, First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, Church of the Holy Trinity, Saint Mark's Episcopal Church.


Communities of Inquiry: Philadelphia and the Birth of American Science
Best known for Founding Father Benjamin Franklin’s inventions and research, Philadelphia is home of a variety of attractions and sites for science enthusiasts. From the 18th century Yellow Fever epidemic to today’s COVID-19 pandemic, Philadelphia has continued to make its mark on American science. Known historically for the nation’s first hospital, Philadelphia remains a nexus in the region for health care and medical education and research institutions. It serves as home to complex networks of world class hospitals, universities, museums, and research centers – many with significant outreach to communities in need. As a result, Philadelphia offers a plethora of places to learn more about the advances and peculiarities that document her as a great starting point to discover and explore American scientific origins.

Examples include: Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Mutter Museum, Franklin Institute, Penn Museum, Science History Institute, Pennsylvania Hospital, Thomas Jefferson Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).


Should Walt Whitman Be Canceled? The Juxtaposition of Slave Trade Memorials and Camden’s Favorite Son
Walt Whitman is a key feature of Camden, New Jersey, and a part of the Rutgers University campus. While he is typically remembered for his groundbreaking poetry and even as an early queer writer, Derek Davis of the Camden County Historical Society also reminds us that “he referred to Black people as ‘baboons’ and ‘wild brutes,’ and questioned their inclusion in the American body politic.” What does Camden and Rutgers do with Walt Whitman? People of color are the majority population in Camden today. And the city is trying to reflect some of that heritage—for example, the Camden Historical Society erected 3 markers around the city indicating spaces where the slave trade and slave auctions flourished in Camden in the 18th and 19th centuries. And in 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement inspired Rutgers University students in Camden to ask if the Walt Whitman sculpture still has a place on campus? This City as Text event will bring participants across the bridge from Philadelphia to Camden, New Jersey, where students will see first-hand the historical markers of the slave trade, the spaces where black slaves were bought and sold, as well as see Walt Whitman’s footprint around the city and on campus. Our tour will conclude with a panel discussion with the campus Walt Whitman committee and lunch with campus leaders.


Community Service Initiative: Philadelphia Furniture Bank
This year, we call on students to volunteer with Pathways to Housing PA to assist their Philadelphia Furniture Bank. As an alternative to emergency shelter and transitional housing, Pathways’ Housing First model is simple: provide housing without preconditions, and then address underlying issues around mental health, substance use, medical care, and education to welcome people back into the community. They believe that housing is a basic human right, and everyone deserves a place to call home.

In late 2014, Pathways opened the Philadelphia Furniture Bank as a centralized resource for furniture for human service organizations from across Philadelphia. Member agencies schedule appointments for clients who then choose their furniture to start fresh as they move out of homelessness. Each individual or family receives a full home’s worth of furniture, including brand new bedding. The Furniture Bank recently furnished its 4,500th home.

Student volunteers will spend 4-5 hours assembling furniture, being personal shoppers (taking folks through the warehouse to choose furniture), staging furniture for delivery, loading and unloading trucks, helping to arrange inventory on the showroom floor, and repairing and painting furniture. Lunch will be provided. Learn more at


Imagined Community: Philadelphia, the Constitution, and the Quest for a More Perfect Union
When the delegates to the Constitutional Convention arrived in Philadelphia in May 1787, they perhaps did not fully realize that their discussions would result in the greatest feat of magical thinking that the world had ever seen: the creation of a democratic republic in an age of kings and empires. From its beginning, the American Republic was an imagined community in which ordinary citizens would decide who would wield political power in their society. The Founders understood, however, that such a community was inherently imperfect, subject as it was to the whims and follies of human nature. That said, they were driven by the compelling and elusive ideal of “a more perfect Union” that would evolve and change with the needs and responsibilities of its citizenry. In this scenario, Philadelphia, the stunning jewel of the American Enlightenment, was the only place where the Constitution could have been conceived and made a reality. This Strand will expose participants to the intellectual and cultural forces that swirled in Philadelphia and laid the foundation for the creation of the oldest continuous democracy in the world and, perhaps, provide clues as to how our Republic can survive the challenges of the third decade of the twenty-first century.

Examples Include:

National Constitution Center

American Philosophical Society -

Independence Hall -


Philadelphia on Philm: The City of Brotherly Love in Cinema
Some of the most iconic films in American cinematic history were shot in The City of Brotherly Love, which was as much of a character as the human actors and added depth and realism to their performances. Visitors to the Philadelphia Museum of Art still imitate Rocky Balboa running the steps, 46 years after the Oscar-winning Rocky premiered on the big screen.

Philadelphia was also the setting for another Oscar-winning film, Philadelphia, which portrayed the struggle of a gay lawyer with HIV against discrimination at his firm. Director M. Night Shyamalan filmed The Sixth Sense and the Unbreakable trilogy in Philadelphia, with the latter movies shot in such a way to resemble the pages of comic books. Comedian Eddie Murphy solidified his status as a bankable Hollywood star with Trading Places, which highlighted the Philadelphia financial district. And there is the futuristic 12 Monkeys, which eerily places Philadelpia at the center of the outbreak of a deadly virus. Participants in this City As Text experience will explore part of Philadelphia’s rich cultural history and how that history has been presented - and sometimes reshaped - by the movie industry.

Philadelphia Film Guide
The Greater Philadelphia Film Office


Architecture in Philadelphia: Envisioning Communities
Architecture is intrinsically a political act as the embodiment of past and present relationships amongst people. While the built environment in Philadelphia exhibits the aspirations, goals and values of individuals, groups and/or communities, it also reveals systemic inequities. From the onset of colonization to the current day, democratic ideals and aspirations, as well as contradictory inequities, are embodied in Philadelphia’s built environment. As you explore the city, pay close attention to city planning and the the gridded street layout. Developed under the leadership of William Penn in 1600s, these established an order to Philadelphia that facilitates governance, commerce, property ownership and colonization, while also eventually deprives the indigenous inhabitants, the Lenni-Lenape, of their lands.

As the first capital of the United States, buildings associated with Independence Mall were the site of democratic nation-building, the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the development of a national culture. However, evidence of the enslavement of people can also be found in this historic area. In the 20th century, the architect, Ed Bacon, in his role as city planner, enacted several urban planning changes that leads to the character of Philadelphia today. One of these initiatives was the creation of a dynamic boulevard, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, that provides a scenic route whether traveling by car, foot or bike, as well as a spine for several notable cultural institutions such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation, the Free Library, the Franklin Institute and the Academy of Sciences. It also acts as a backdrop and stage that enables large scale events such as concerts, the Pope’s visit, fireworks, parades, marathons, activism and protests, as well as activities for local residents in the adjacent playing fields. While the parkway is iconic in Philadelphia, it has also created a separation between different parts of the city and necessitated the destruction of existing communities for its development. Inherently, these types of contradictions between inclusion and exclusion can be seen throughout the city.

Location examples with self-guided tours:

Independence National Historic Park.

Independence Mall and Old City

Walk Philly's Black History with These Two Tours of the City's Antislavery Sites

Architecture sites throughout Philadelphia

Benjamin Franklin Parkway: Overtime - Monument Lab

Faith & Liberty Trail App

Mural Finder: Mural Arts Program


Conrad Benner (Photo Credit, Linette Messina Kielinski).jpg

This year's City As Text featured Speaker is artist Corad Benner. Mr. Benner is the founder of Named one of the 76 most influential people in Philly by Philadelphia Magazine in 2020, Conrad is a Fishtown, Philadelphia born-and-raised photo-blogger, curator, and podcaster. For the last 10 years his work has explored art, our public space, and the creative minds shaping the world around us. Conrad has also used his platforms to advocate for better public transit with #SEPTA247; increased funding for Philly's unhoused youth with #AmICutOut; and various voter drives including #ToThePolls and #MailboxVoters, among other efforts. "I focus on the public space because that's what connects us. I believe that our shared spaces are powerful tools for building and supporting a more equitable city."