I am not a huge podcast listener. I have tried a few, but, much like my ever-growing Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu video lists and the never-ending stack of must-read books, adding a series of podcast downloads feels like even more pressure to keep up. I don’t commute or take long runs, and when I’m in writing mode it’s either classical music for me or nothing at all. No distracting words, please. But my curiosity was piqued when I heard about Lori Aument’s audio project, Found in Philadelphia. I began web searching Philadelphia-based podcasts to discover what I’ve been missing. I came across quite a few relating to cooking, books, haunted buildings, culture, and countless podcasts relating to our professional sports teams. There was one that caught my attention that is focused on telling stories of local families, but I only found one focused specifically on Philadelphia history, which was quite a surprise, given the increasingly popular interest in the subject. If Aument’s first episode is example of what is to come, Found in Philadelphia will fill this void perfectly.
Aument is a Philadelphia resident who’s been working in and around historic sites for nearly 20 years. And like avid Hidden City Daily writers and readers, she is always happy to discover new tidbits about our city. Aument’s expertise is the history of architecture and the practical methods needed to protect and repair historic sites. Through this work she peels back the layers of history of a particular site, a process that allows her to develop appropriate repairs to ensure a building has a sound future. This is the same approach she has taken with her podcast.
Funding for Found in Philadelphia, which is currently in production, comes from a Charles E. Peterson Fellowship, which is administered through the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. Peterson established the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and was an important figure in the restoration and development of Independence National Historic Park and the redevelopment of Society Hill. He endowed a trust fund for projects that reflect his career-long dedication to the preservation and study of early American architecture and building technology. Aument’s podcast project is an interesting take on Peterson’s legacy. She believes new approaches are needed to connect people to the history found in their everyday experience of our city’s built environment. A podcast might be just the thing to help us connect to the buildings we walk by daily, especially by utilizing compelling stories of our past that link to issues that are relevant today. Aument thinks her podcast will bring in new audiences, diversify the conversation about history, and foster broader support for preservation efforts.
What Aument likes about podcasts as a method of storytelling is the intimacy they create with a simple soundscape of the human voice. Found in Philadelphia was inspired by several other podcasts, including The Bowery Boys, where the narrators share the history of New York City by grounding stories in a particular neighborhood and highlighting the physical remnants. But she looked to Uncivil as inspiration in revealing a more complex history, especially themes that resonate through time.
Stories give Aument the opportunity to challenge our perspectives, up-end our misconceptions, and breathe new life into our cultural heritage. With the first season, she plans to focus on topics like immigration, social justice, prison reform, women’s reproductive health, and environmental issues, through stories of Philadelphia’s built heritage. Each episode will be 20-40 minutes long in a documentary style. Production takes place in partnership with the community-based recording studios at Drexel University. On the website listeners will find helpful supplements to each episode including maps, links and a recommended reading list. I appreciated the inclusion of Aument’s inspirations for the first episode along with a hefty bibliography. I now have added two more books to my must-read list.
“Every podcast will take you on a field trip in the city,” says Aument, which does feel like a great descriptor for her first episode, “The Germantown Protest of 1688.” In telling the story of a group of radical thinkers who came to Philadelphia to live in “liberty of conscience,” Aument draws a line from the original indigenous peoples of the region to current residents of the Germantown section of Philadelphia. We see in the DNA of the neighborhood a strong sense of community and a tradition of progressive thinking. We learn from residents which sites they find inspirational. While the protest in question—whereby a small group of Quaker converts worked to speak truth to power and shine a light on the injustice of slavery—was deemed a failure at the time, we are reminded of the deep African American roots of this community. There is a specific reason why The Colored Girls Museum has a home in Germantown. As it turns out, Aument has more to share on this story of protest, and her next episode of Found in Philadelphia will answer the question “What came after?” I have already signed up as a subscriber. Bring on the podcast list.