Bookshelf

Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

A Vigorous Spirit of Enter­prise

by Thomas M. Doerflinger
University of North Carolina Press, 1986 (413 pages, cloth, $32.00)

Subtitled Merchants and Economic Development in Revolu­tionary Philadelphia, this book offers a social, economic and political study of Philadel­phia’s merchants and their role in American economic devel­opment from the mid­-eighteenth century through the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. No other work so thoroughly plumbs archival sources to present both the spirit and statistics of Philadel­phia merchant life. The author studies the structure and de­velopment of the city’s mer­chant community from three perspectives: their commercial world, their confrontation with the Revolutionary War and its aftermath, and their role in diversifying the local economy. Fifty-seven tables, graphs and maps profile their social and economic experience; twenty-one plates illustrate the men, their homes and their work. Quantitative analysis plays against rich vignettes of the day to day logistics of staying successful, or at least solvent. In addition to proving that the city’s merchants helped lay the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution in America, the author also probes the larger realm of the entrepreneurial origins of economic develop­ment. A Vigorous Spirit of Enter­prise examines the individual and collective dynamics which drove certain societies, such as Philadelphia’s, to respond to adversity as opportunity, while other regions ignored the opportunities and stagnated. The author’s approach to this subject constitutes a major contribution to early American history – and economic theory.

 

The Pennsylvania Spice Box

by Lee Ellen Griffith
Chester County Historical Society, 1986 (160 pages, paper, $25.00)

Edited by Ann Barton Brown and Roland H. Woodward, the catalogue accompanies the exhibit which is subtitled “Pan­eled Doors and Secret Drawers,” on view through August 23 [1986] at the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester. The essay by Lee Ellen Griffith, guest cura­tor for the exhibition, dis­cusses the place the miniature cabinets occupied in eight­eenth century households and the ways in which they were used. The author examines the spice boxes as miniature forms of furniture and analyzes their methods of construction, orna­mentation and styles that were used exclusively in Chester County. Also identified are materials, the inlay work and makers. By treating the Penn­sylvania spice box as a distinc­tive regional furniture form, the catalogue – and the exhibition – interprets eight­eenth century cultural values and craft traditions. The cata­logued pieces are carefully organized in groups by style and painstakingly described in measurements and materials. Inlays, signatures, dates or inscriptions found on boxes are recorded exactly as they appear and the locations are noted as precisely as possible. But The Pennsylvania Spice Box is more than a special interest exhibition catalogue. It is a beautifully illustrated docu­ment which examines furni­ture styles and the types of households they enhanced two centuries ago. The cata­logue goes much further than merely accompanying the historical society’s exhibit; it is, in itself, a valuable resource for individuals and organiza­tions interested in eighteenth century furniture forms and their interpretations in minia­ture.

 

Growing Up on the South Side

by M. Mark Stolarik
Bucknell University Press, 1985 (147 pages, cloth, $19.50)

This discussion of three generations of Slovaks in Beth­lehem analyzes the reasons why Slovaks left nineteenth century Hungary for America, why they settled in Bethle­hem, and the ways in which they adapted to their new and unfamiliar surroundings. Written for historians and a general audience, but particu­larly for the residents of the city’s South Side, the book is the first history of an ethnic group, other than the Moravi­ans, in Bethlehem. In clear, well-documented passages, the author describes the first­-generation Slovak communi­ties in Bethlehem, which, as in the rest of America, coalesced around families, boarding houses, churches and fraternal organizations. The second and third generations, because they had never seen the Old World, looked upon their mature American settlements as the models to which they either must adapt or escape. Unlike traditional academic histories, Growing Up on the South Side identifies by name both leaders and followers. It is not suffocated by charts, diagrams, statistics and refer­ences to other groups and cities. Instead, it tells for the Slovak community and the City of Bethlehem the story of one of the largest groups in a specific neighborhood in a way that can be dearly understood and easily appreciated.