Writing History Among the Tombstones: Notes from Har Hasetim


This paper examines the collaborative project to preserve and interpret Har Hasetim, the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery. In fall 2015, Villanova University professor Craig Bailey approached the Friends of the Cemetery, an organization affiliated with the local Beth David Reform Congregation, about jointly restoring Har Hasetim. The ensuing project, in which the authors participated as M.A. students, began by expanding the database of known interments in the cemetery, relying on local archives, Philadelphia death records, and census data. This initial work evolved into a range of public history projects such as scout and school lesson plans, informational booklets, academic research papers, and preservation plans. This paper reflects upon the lessons learned from the partnership between our public history class and the Friends. The authors of this paper detail their personal research projects as well as their classmates’ findings about the cemetery, the people buried there, and the neighborhood of Philadelphia— the historic Jewish Quarter—where the deceased once resided. The Har Hasetim project treated history as a civic initiative, helping a community organization to document its history, preserving a physical site, producing materials for site-specific education, and sharing historical discoveries with the public.

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