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McNeil Center For Early American Studies
Records, 1959 - 2006

UPB 159

18.5 Cubic ft.
Prepared by Theresa R. Snyder in 1992;
updated by Kaiyi Chen in 2010

Access to collections is granted in accordance with the Protocols for the University Archives and Records Center.


Transferred to the University Archives, 1991 and 2007.



This collection exists in two sections, which were processed in 1992 and 2010 respectively.  Each section is organized into four series.  They are Administration records, Fellowship records, Seminar papers, and Project records. 

The Administrative series is broken into two subseries, the General files, and the Financial files.  Fellowship records (both pre-doctoral and post-doctoral) are organized chronologically, by academic year of award, and within each year, alphabetically by applicant.  Seminar papers series are arranged alphabetically by author in the first section and chronologically in the second section.  The Project records are arranged chronologically in the first section and alphabetically in the second section. 



The McNeil Center for Early American Studies was founded in 1978 under the name of  the Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  The Center started to use its current name in honor of its benefactor Robert L. McNeil, Jr., in 1998.  It has been organized as a consortium of academic institutions and historical repositories in the Philadelphia area.  Currently, the Center is endowed by gifts from the Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Charitable Trust, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Barra Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania, and other donors.  Its institution members include the American Philosophical Society, Bryn Mawr College, the David Library of the American Revolution, Fordham University, Haverford College, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Johns Hopkins University, the Library Company of Philadelphia, Swarthmore College, Millersville University, Princeton University, Rider University, Rutgers University, the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Stony Brook University, Temple University, the University of Delaware, the University of Pennsylvania, and Ursinus College.

The Center’s mission is to "promote basic research in all areas of early American history and culture" through fellowships, seminars, assistance with publication of research, and other special projects. 

The Advisory Council of the Center is composed of distinguished scholars in the field from comparable research institutions as well as one representative, serving ex-officio, from each institution participating in the consortium.  The staff consists of a director, an associate director and an administrative assistant.

 Fellowships are awarded to advanced graduate students conducting dissertation research, or scholars engaged in post-doctoral research, in early American history and culture; the period of research typically does not extend beyond 1850.  Research projects using archival holdings in the area for studies in aspects of the Delaware Valley have a priority, though some fellowships are awarded to scholars who have done their major research elsewhere and need to use local sources only for part of their work.  Scholars in the writing stage of a project seeking scholarly support and criticism are also eligible for support.  The fellowships are awarded for a period from nine months to two years.  From 1978 to 2008, the Center granted Dissertation Fellowships to over 150 graduate students from American and British universities.

Seminars are presented up to more than twenty times each year and serve a broad range of scholars.  Each fellow is responsible for presenting a paper during his or her year in residence.  Additional papers are solicited from outside scholars who are doing related work.  The papers are distributed prior to the meeting date to allow attendees an opportunity to prepare, ensuring a lively, constructive discussion.  The presenters give a brief introduction of the paper and then entertain questions, comments and criticisms from the 30 to 50 people attending.  The papers represent new research and are often published as articles or as part of a monograph.

The publication and special projects of the Center have included the Papers of William Penn, the Biographical Dictionary of Early Pennsylvania Legislators Project, the Transformation of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, 1750-1850 Project, and many national conferences.

The Papers of William Penn is a five volume set of published and unpublished works of William Penn, published in 1981-1987 by the University of Pennsylvania Press.  The first four volumes consist of a complete annotated edition of letters and papers by Penn and include background and biographical essays.  Richard S. Dunn and Mary Maples Dunn served as the General Editors for all volumes.  The Associate Editors for Volume One, 1644-1679, were Richard A. Ryerson and Scott M. Wilds; Jean R. Soderlund served as Assistant Editor.  For Volume Two, 1680-1684, Richard A. Ryerson, Scott M. Wilds, and Jean R. Soderlund were Associate Editors; Ned C. Landsman served as Special Editor.  Marianne S. Wokeck, Joy Wiltenburg, Alison Duncan Hirsch, and Craig W. Horle acted as Editors for Volume Three, 1685-1700 and for Volume Four, 1701-1718.  The interpretive bibliographical study of Penn's published work, the final and fifth volume, was edited by Edwin Bronner and David Fraser. 

Lawmaking and Legislators in Pennsylvania : A Biographical Dictionary, Volume One : 1682-1709 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), the first published product of the Biographical Dictionary Project, includes biographical and background essays on Pennsylvania legislators which has previously been unavailable.  The Editors are Craig W. Horle, Marianne S. Wokeck, Jeffrey L. Scheib, Joseph S. Foster, David Hauggaard, Rosalind J. Beiler, and Joy Wiltenburg.

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The Transformation of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, 1750-1850 Project was a seven year research project on the early history of the Delaware Valley initially directed by Richard Beeman and later by Michael Zuckerman.  Each year the focus of the project was on a single topic.  These topics are the Peopling of Philadelphia, 1983-1984;  Commercial Capitalism, 1984-1985; Religion, 1985-1986; Science, Medicine, and Technology, 1986-1987; Industrialization, 1987-1988; Communications, 1988-1989; and Community Life, 1989-1990.   Fellows were considered in relation to the topic for each particular year.  Works-in-progress or recently published works were discussed at brown-bag lunch meetings.  Evening colloquia were held for 30 to 40 people, usually graduate students and professors from other local institutions, and a formal, two-day conference with presentations by the Transformation fellows is held each year.  Each phase of the project produced a bibliography of primary and secondary sources for the topic that year.  Additionally, it is expected that papers resulting from the work of each phase will be published in various scholarly journals.

Some of the special projects supported by the Center have been national scholarly conferences, which include "The World of William Penn" Conference, 1981; "The World Turned Upside Down: Working People in England and America, 1660-1790" Conference, 1981; "The Founding of Pennsylvania, 1682-1800" Conference, 1982; and "The Creation of the American Constitution Conference", 1984.  The results were published in The World of William Penn (Philadelphia, 1981), edited by Richard S. Dunn and Mary Maples Dunn.

"The World of William Penn" Conference was held in March, 1981 in conjunction with the Institute of Early American History and Culture, the Conference on British Studies, and the Conference of Quaker Historians and Archivists.  The conference brought together distinguished scholars of the late seventeenth century and addressed the political, economic, intellectual, religious, and social world in which William Penn lived.  Over 400 people attended the conference.  The results were published in Beyond Confederation, edited by Richard Beeman, Stephen Botein, and Edward C. Carter III (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1987).

"The World Turned Upside Down: Working People in England and America, 1660-1790" Conference held in November, 1981, addressed the changes taking place in the lives of working men and women in England and America at a critical period of activism and innovation.  Christopher Hill's book, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution has been a stimulus to this field of research, and he acted as moderator for two of these working sessions.

The tercentenary of the founding of Pennsylvania was celebrated with "The Founding of Pennsylvania, 1682-1800" Conference held in October, 1982.  This one day conference was concerned with the religious and ethnic diversity of the colony and then the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Another anniversary conference, "The Creation of the American Constitution Conference," was held in October, 1984 in collaboration with the American Philosophical Society and the Institute of Early American History and Culture.  The conference was designed to generate new research on the Constitutional period, encourage scholarly debate on the works presented, and publish the works in time for the bicentennial of the Constitution in 1987.




The records of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies document the efforts of a consortium of local archival and educational institutions to "promote basic research in all areas of early American history and culture" through fellowships, seminars, assistance with publications, and other special projects.  The collection will serve as a valuable resource to researchers interested in early American history and culture as well as those interested in the corporate structure of this and other consortia.

The collection is divided in two sections according to the date of their processing.  The first section, processed in 1992, is 12 cubic feet in volume; the second section, done in 2010, has 6.3 cubic feet.  Each section consists of four series:

The Administrative series consists of two parts, General files and Financial files.  The General files include correspondence, annual reports, announcements, brochures, personnel information, and mailing lists.  The Financial files include development records, budgetary files, and miscellaneous expenditure files.   The development records contain a wealth of information on the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment of Humanities, the two major funding agencies for the Center, as well as other corporate sponsors and fund raising efforts. 

The Fellowship files constitute the bulk of the collection.  This series contains files on all applicants for doctoral, post-doctoral, and travel fellowships. Applicant files normally contain statements of purpose, letters of recommendations, and writing samples, often in the form of research papers, speeches, articles, and book chapters.  As a result, there is a wealth of scholarly research in this series.  The Seminar series also holds a variety of scholarly work.

The Projects series includes information on the various national conferences and projects supported by the Center.  These conferences and projects include the Papers of William Penn; the Biographical Dictionary of Early Pennsylvania Legislators Project; the Transformation of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, 1750-1850 Project; "The World of William Penn" Conference, 1981; "The World Turned Upside Down: Working People in England and America, 1660-1790" Conference, 1981; "The Founding of Pennsylvania, 1682-1800" Conference, 1982;  "The Creation of the American Constitution" Conference, 1984; and the Graduate Student Conference, 1999-2001.

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