Assignment for HIS 155 at La Salle University

[Please note that I discussed this assignment, including how I introduced it to my students and how they responded, in this post at The Junto.]

Visual History Essay I: Places in the City

Step 1

Try out the tools in the Visual History Essay folder on Blackboard under Interactive Tools. Use these tools to find an address, intersection, or area in Philadelphia that you consider significant somehow—a place you find personally meaningful or visually interesting or strange. You may have to try out a few different locations to find one that works really well for this assignment. Be patient and play around with the tools a bit before deciding what location to use.

Step 2

Use the digital tools to imagine what that location was like at different times in our past. Look around the neighborhood in different years, moving either forward or backward in time to see how the area changed. Take notes as you go. Consider questions like these (and come up with others yourself):

  • How long did your location remain forest, fields, or farmland?
  • Were any of the streets in the area today once country roads?
  • Have any features like streams, ponds, roads, or hills disappeared from the area?
  • What kind of homes and businesses were in the area at different times?
  • How wealthy were the people in that area at different times?
  • Were any of the buildings that exist there today built to do something else?

Step 3

Prepare an outline to organize your paper. (Chronological order is generally best.) Then write a two-to-three page essay about how your location has evolved. Be sure to identify what street address or area you are discussing and why it matters to you. Your paper should begin with a brief introductory paragraph explaining what the essay is about.

Whenever your paper uses evidence from a particular map or other digital source, you should cite the source "parenthetically" with an acronym from the list on the next page [Acronyms for Citing Sources]. Sentences that cite a source should look something like this:

In 1797, the neighborhood around the intersection was mostly forest and farmland, with no major roads (CIE). Fifty years later, several roads connected the neighborhood to the city, including the street that is now called Old York Road (ELT).

Please be very careful to cite your sources using the correct acronyms. You want to make it possible for a reader to retrace your work and verify for herself that what you say is true.

Use the model paper on Blackboard under Course Documents as a guide for formatting your essay. Your paper should be typed in 12-point Times New Roman, double-spaced, with one-inch margins on all sides of the page. There is no need for a separate works-cited page.

Acronyms for Citing Sources

[Page 2 of the assignment]

SCP—Survey of the City of Philadelphia (1777)

CEP—Plan of the City and Environs of Phila. (1777)

CIE—Plan of the City and Its Environs (1797)

HIP—Historical Images of Philadelphia collection

Note: When possible, include the inventory item number of the image you are discussing. For example, to discuss the photograph posted online at, you should write this citation: (HIP pdcm00309c). The page for each image in this collection identifies its item number.


To cite a particular story in the PhilaPlace collection, include the story number (the numbers at the end of the address in the browser bar). For example, to discuss information from the story about Congregation Mikveh Israel located at, you would write this: (PPL 1051).

Maps in the Digital Maps of Philadelphia Mosaic viewer:

  • ELT—Ellet map (1843)
  • DRP—Dripps map (1849)
  • BRN—Barnes map (1855)
  • HXL—Hexamer & Locher map (1860)
  • SMD—Smedley map (1862)
  • BRW—Brewer map (1934)
  • L42—Land Use Map (1942)
  • L62—Land Use Map (1962)

GGM—Google Maps

If you are using a special feature like satellite photography or Street View, please note that in the citation: (GGM satellite).