Posts Tagged ‘history’

Nerd Nite #102: Colors, Smallpox, Toy Companies

We’ve got three great talks lined up for you, including:

AJ Freeman, “What Color Is Our Sky?”

Many of us don’t properly appreciate that color, in human handcraft, is a powerful form of technology…Van Gogh could only dream of using certain shades of Blue, and the secrets of Purple were once so jealously guarded that for most, to wear it was to take one’s life into one’s hands.

The history of humankind is illustrated in color, and in “What Color is Our Sky,” we explore the role of these shades in shaping civilization. What was the first color? Why was the first synthetic fabric dye a medical miracle? Why is Red the most common color used in national flags? Why do the Flyers wear Orange? These answers and even more questions in “What Color is Our Sky?”

BIO: AJ Freeman is one of the region’s foremost chronochromatic experts and author of “64 to Infinity: Love Letters in Crayon. His favorite color is Indigo, because Isaac Newton pretty much made it up.

Dan Sanford, “The Life and Death of Smallpox”

The Life and Death of Smallpox

With Covid-19 still on the move you might wonder has humanity ever actually beaten a disease? It is rare, but sometimes medicine and policy manage to triumph. By 1980 doctors around the world were able to say that smallpox was gone. How did we manage to beat a disease that had spent centuries beating us?

BIO: Daniel Sanford was once seen in the Pine Barrens but nobody has been able to prove he is the Jersey Devil. Today he works in Philadelphia making sure you can access databases to prove the first part of this biography is false.

Ben Leach: “Philly’s Local Toy Companies”

Did you realize that the Philly area has given birth to some of the world’s most beloved playthings? In this talk, Nerd Nite Philly favorite Ben Leach returns to discuss Philly’s surprising toy past!

BIO: Ben Leach is a New Jersey-based science and medical writer. However, he is also a collector of the eclectic and unusual, especially if it’s something that relates to his childhood from the 1980s and 1990s. He has been a published author on collectibles since he was 19, with work appearing in Lee’s Toy Review, Toyfare, and Currently, he operates a website dedicated to antiques and collectibles with his family called The Collector Gene (

It all happens on Wednesday 12/15 at 7:30pm. Doors open at 4, we advise arriving early to get a good seat. $10, there’s an ATM on site and we also accept Venmo.

PLEASE NOTE: Attendees at Frankford Hall are required to be fully vaccinated and provide the restaurant with proof of vaccination. Contact the restaurant at 215-634-3338 for further information on masks and other questions you may have.

Nerd Nite No 54: Social Media Travels, America’s True Birthplace, and Fun with Weird Al

Greetings Nerds!

Are you ready to enjoy a fine fall evening with us on November 4? We know we are! Check back soon for more details on our talks, but in the meantime, we’ll hopefully pique your interest with the following info:

Kae Lani Kennedy will present “Your Social Media Habits are F*cking with the Travel Industry: Here’s How We’re Adapting”.

Social media is driven by users sharing experiences and one of the most commonly shared experiences online is travel.  Whether it’s to a restaurant in our city, or to a distant continent, we want to humblebrag, take selfies, and hashtag where we and what we’re doing.  So what does all this social media jargon mean for the travel industry?  In this talk, we’ll discuss the social implications of social media, shifting trends and travel habits, and how the travel industry is adapting to this changing media landscape.

Kae Lani Kennedy is a Philadelphia-based travel journalist and the Social Media Manager for Matador Network, an independent travel media site specializing in capturing “human stories”.  Straddling the worlds of journalism and marketing, she has developed social media strategies that have earned her and her company the title of the travel industry’s “Most Effective Brand on Social Media” by Skift and American Express.  When she’s not traveling the world in the name of journalism, she enjoys street photography, flying drones, and sampling nachos from every bar and restaurant around town.

David Krueger will discuss the topic of his recent book, in his talk entitled “Vikings Myths, Pseudoarchaeology, and the “True” Birthplace of America”.

Why do people believe things that scholarship has disproven? Is myth more powerful than science? I’m going to tell you the story of how a charismatic Norwegian immigrant was able to persuade the masses that the nation began in 1362, with the deaths of Christian Vikings at the hands of skraelings in what was one day to become Minnesota.

David M. Krueger is an independent scholar of religion, history, and American culture with a PhD from Temple University and a ThM from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author of the new book Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America published by the University of Minnesota Press. He’s a farm kid at heart, loves ’80s hardcore punk, and is a dedicated offspring wrangler a.k.a. parent.

And, recent Geek Awards Winner Kelly Phillips will share some Weird Al stories in her talk “Everything You Know is Wrong: Growing Up Online with “Weird Al” Yankovic”.

See Weird Al through the eyes of an impassioned teenage girl who could only truly express and legitimize her fanhood in the form of an early 2000’s website. The former webmaster will read from her comic series “Weird Me” which documents her diehard fan years, and the audience will be quizzed with the kind of Weird Al trivia that only a questionably obsessive adolescent could know.

Kelly Phillips is a cartoonist living in West Philly. She is the creator of the comic series Weird Me: the true story of her teenage years as the moderately successful webmaster of a “Weird Al” Yankovic fan site. Her work has appeared in various publications, including Philadelphia City Paper, Quarter Moon, and Secret Prison. She is also the co-editor and publisher of the award-winning all-girl comic anthology Dirty Diamonds, which recently debuted its sixth book around the theme of Beauty, featuring work from over 50 international contributors.

And what else? Music by local singer-songwriter Brian Gray!

When: Wednesday, November 4

What time: Doors open at 4pm. Show starts at 7:30pm

How much: $5 cover gets you admission plus happy hour specials all night

Where: Frankford Hall, 1210 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19125

Be there and be square!

Nerd Nite Philly

Nerd Nite No. 53: Celebrating Archives Month Philly!

Hey Nerds!

We’ve planned October’s Nerd Nite with the fine folks that organize another nerdy celebration: Archives Month Philly. What is that, you ask? Archives Month Philly is a chance to learn more about the rich history of Philadelphia, to toast the important work archives are doing, and to have a good time with interesting people. There are all kinds of archives-themed events going on in October to bring greater awareness to the collections in Philadelphia, but, um, obviously Nerd Nite’s will be the best.

So what do we have planned?

Lisa Berry Drago will present “You’ve Got Some Gall: Early Modern Inks and Pigments”

So, you’re a monk in the fourteenth century, and you want to copy a few pages of your favorite hymnal. No problem! First, you catch a goat. Then you skin a goat. Then you find some gall nuts on an oak tree, and some good red wine… okay, you get the idea. Writing and book-making were highly specialized arts requiring patience and expertise. This Nerd Nite, you’ll learn about the process of making manuscripts, and even get to try your hand at writing with real iron-gall ink and feather quills.

About Lisa: Elisabeth Berry Drago is a PhD candidate in art history at the University of Delaware, specializing in the 17th-century Netherlands. Her dissertation centers on the painter Thomas Wijck (1616–1677), whose pictures of alchemists in the laboratory offer new perspectives on early modern science and artistry. She received her MA in art history from Temple University in 2010 and holds a BA in fine arts from SUNY, Fredonia. In her free time she enjoys volunteering with the Fleisher Art Memorial and the Free Library of Philadelphia, teaching youth workshops in painting and drawing, comics, and picture-book illustration.

Tara O’Brien will discuss the history of cursive writing. Maybe we can get her take on the importance of teaching penmanship in Philly public schools?

And Matt Herbison will talk about “She-Doctors and Shameless Non-Blushers: Women Physicians in the US”

Philly has always been a big medical school town, including the Female Medical College of PA, the first med school for women in the world, founded in 1850 by Quakers (naturally).  Women working outside their accepted sphere of home and family and getting elbows-deep into unwomanly medical situations was far from universally accepted – in fact, over 160 years later, the gender imbalance for doctors is still significant.  To do up Archives Month the way it deserves, we’ll get our own hands dirty with this turbulent history and uncover juicy original documents that reveal the struggles these women faced when they deigned to enter the men’s world of science and medicine.

About Matt: Matt is an archivist at the Drexel Med School, working with researchers and students to dig into the history of women in medicine and the history of homeopathy in the US.  His hobbies are snacks and transit.  He is unwilling to converse about a broad range of topics.

And what else? Music by local singer-songwriter Lainey Quinn!


When: Wednesday, October 7

What time: Doors open at 4pm. Show starts at 7:30pm

How much: $5 cover gets you admission plus happy hour specials all night

Where: Frankford Hall, 1210 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19125

Be there and be square!

Nerd Nite Philly

Nerd Nite No. 50: Nerd Nite Teams Up with the APS!

Hey Nerds! We’re at a bit of a milestone here in Philly– the 50th edition of nerd-based entertainment in the city of brotherly love! How awesome is that? We’re celebrating in two ways: first, on July 1 we’ll be presenting a series of talks in conjunction with the American Philosophical Society and, second, on July 9 we’ll be celebrating 5 YEARS in Philly with a party. We hope to see you at both!

So what’s up for July 1?


Bernard Brown, “Spermataphores, Orgies, and Chin Grinding”

Philly herper Bernard Brown will explore the hot cold-blooded sex lives of our local salamanders, including the spring ‘breeding aggregations’ of spotted salamanders, newt leg locks, and the seductive dance of the diminutive redback salamander.

About Bernard: Bernard Brown has been herping Philadelphia for over 10 years. He has written about natural history topics for Grid Magazine, is the Philadelphia County Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Amphibian and Reptile Survey (PARS), and co-hosts the Urban Wildlife podcast.


Jane Boyd, “Bears in the Backyard, Plants in the Attic: Collecting at the American Philosophical Society”

Before Philadelphia was chock-full of museums and libraries, there was a rectangular redbrick building next to Independence Hall where all the cool stuff went. During the late 1700s and early 1800s, people all over the country sent strange and interesting things to the “ingenious and curious men” at the American Philosophical Society. Find out about Thomas Jefferson’s live grizzly bears, Lewis and Clark’s pressed plant specimens, Charles Willson Peale’s mastodon skeleton, and other remarkable items that filled Philosophical Hall.

About Jane: Dr. Jane E. Boyd gets around town as an independent curator and museum consultant specializing in interdisciplinary exhibitions and projects, on topics ranging from natural history to Civil War medicine to chemistry sets. She has worked for the APS Museum and Library, the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, the Mütter Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Wagner Free Institute of Science. More on her website at


Steve Alt, “So You Think You Know Plants…”

…But you probably don’t, at least not about their origins. While certain founders were hard at work in the business of creating a country, other colonists were exploring the natural history of the New World. With thousands of new species to investigate and a substantial market in the import and export of exotic plants, there was a lot of green to be made in the greenhouse. This talk will explore the world of agriculture and horticulture in the 18th century.

About Steve: Steve Alt started farming in Plainsboro, NJ when he was just a wee lad. When the malls came to cover the strawberry and potato fields of NJ, Steve moved to botanical gardens and eventually trained in horticulture at the Morris Arboretum. He has a BA in history from the University of Pennsylvania, serves as a museum guide at the American Philosophical Society Museum, and has been in the landscaping and horticulture business in Chestnut Hill for 16 years.


What else can you expect? Lauren Duguid is going to show us all that you can play some pretty sweet music using a saw!


When: Wednesday, July 1

What time: Doors open at 4pm. Show starts at 7:30pm

How much: $5 cover gets you admission plus happy hour specials all night

Where: Frankford Hall, 1210 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19125


Be there and be square!

Nerd Nite Philly

Nerd Nite 37: Presidential Hair, Bears on Flags, Spider-Man Weirdness

Yo nerds!

Wednesday, May 14th is our next Nerd Nite, and this time around we’ve got what is probably the most diverse lineup we have ever had. See for yourself!:

Jennifer Vess, “Presidential Hair: Collect Them All!”

The Academy of Natural Sciences has a unique collection in the archives that includes locks of hair from the first twelve Presidents of the United States.  Why?  For centuries locks of hair played a role in remembrance and mourning, and eventually science.  The talk will (hopefully) take everyone beyond the ‘ew’ factor felt by most people today concerning human hair no longer attached to a human head and get into the weird and wonderful world of souvenirs, Victorian memorials and microscopes.

Bio: Jennifer Vess is the Brooke Dolan Archivist at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.  She has spent the last ten years in the world of museums moving from museum education to collections care and exhibition development.

Simon Joseph, “Bear Flags and Bad Puns”

From the man who brought you the the History of and behind the Flag(s) of Germany comes a new ill-advised venture into the world of Vexillology. In this talk, Simon Joseph will travel the world looking at interesting flags that you probably have never heard of. Well… at least travel Europe and North America. And maybe some boring flags. And maybe some that you have heard of. At the very least, there’ll be bears involved… somehow.

Bio: Simon M. “the Cannibal” Joseph has never invaded a country for profit or personal gain, and definitely did not start the Russo-Japanese War. A merry-maker and gregarious fellow, he’s wasted many bar napkins explaining what mixed-member proportional representation is, showing how to draw the flag of the UK, and creating terrible coats of arms (with blazon!) for unsuspecting victims.

Chris Cummins, “The Secret World of Spider-Man”

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can…which apparently sometimes involves using a giant robot to fight monsters and utilizing his super powers to help a Yeti who loves to steal ice cream return home. Confused? You aren’t the only one! In this speech, Chris Cummins will talk about some of Spider-Man’s weirdest adventures in comic books and on television. He will also take a look at some of the strangest Spidey merchandise you’ve never seen before.

Bio: Chris Cummins is a writer and comic book historian whose work regularly appears on Den of Geek US, Geekadelphia, and Topless Robot. He’s also the creator of the websites Hibernation Sickness and What’s Dave Kendall Wearing? and the host of the upcoming Sci-Fi Explosion event at PhilaMOCA. Most importantly, he’s also one of the Nerd Nite Philly co-bosses. Whee!

Plus music by Sidewalk Atlas!

Wednesday, May 14.

Doors open at 4pm. Show starts at 7:30pm. $5.

Frankford Hall

1210 Frankford Ave.

Philadelphia, PA 19125