Getting it right: The rewards of history

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Independence Hall
Independence Hall in Philadelphia

One of the perks of experiencing the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) conference in Philadelphia was the opportunity to visit the city steeped in US history.

History is important to me; perhaps because (along with geography, or in elementary/secondary school, “social studies”) were my brainy subjects — where I had no trouble acing the exams. Ultimately, this led me to the post-graduate track Honours History program at the University of British Columbia (UBC). I lasted one year, drummed out because I discovered living history, that is journalism, was much more fun. I earned my informal post-graduate degree in 1979/80 by experiencing the Rhodesian/Zimbabwe transitional historical vortex.

But US history has also been one of my fascinations, and I knew well that much of the big stuff in American history happened in Philadelphia. This was the embryonic country’s original capital; where early American luminaries signed the declaration of independence and 11 years later, drafted the constitution (and shortly afterwards, the initial amendments including the Bill of Rights and — for those who have an interest in weaponry, the second amendment.)

The neighbourhood in Philadelphia where I stayed (near the University of Pennsylvania)
The neighbourhood in Philadelphia where I stayed (near the University of Pennsylvania)

The historical landmarks, preserved, restored and in some cases rebuilt, are concentrated downtown in an area largely administered by the U.S. Parks Service. There are plenty of museums but the best value attraction probably is the Independence Hall tour, which is free. (I decided to pay the grand sum of $1.50 to reserve my space.) The interior building visit is brief — there are just two rooms to see — but one of these rooms demonstrates the environment where representatives of the original 13 states gathered to change the rules and establish the first stages of democracy in the western world. (We should of course remember that the US constitutional drafters were all white men — and they had personal slaves — so this could hardly be considered an egalitarian environment.)

There was no electricity, no telecommunications; the mother country (Great Britain) was an incredibly distant and challenging ocean away, and the population would have been relatively small, yet ideas were developed and rules set that continue to be among the most important in the world today. Notably the trades were well represented in this environment — Carpenters’ Hall is one of the most prominent buildings in the Independence Hall area.

I stayed in Philadelphia in an old walk-up in a neighbourhood far newer than the constitutional historic district, but still ancient by my perspectives. Meanwhile, downtown at the Marriott, the SMPS conference wrapped up.

The association has thrived although it is incredibly young in this context; founded only in the 1970s. Yet you can see how healthy businesses, organizations and ideas can thrive. SMPS has evolved its conference to ensure near perfection in programming and scheduling, and through a careful (and highly competitive) process, has ensured its programs/presentations don’t include “duds” — if you make the short list to present at this conference, you’ll be exceptionally good, and you still might not be accepted to speak.

Overall, SMPS’s aspiration to excellence, independence, and courage reflect the best of the US story. We can shake our heads about the blunders, unnecessary wars, violence and mixed-up politics, but if you travel down memory lane, you’ll realize these seeming weaknesses are largely part of America’s national success story.

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