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The Beginning of Digital History at Messiah College

The world around us is changing.  Laptops, smartphones, and other technologies are increasingly becoming an integral part of our daily lives.  As historian Charlotte Lydia Riley pointed out in the book History in the Digital Age, members of the millennial generation have lived most, if not all, of their lives surrounded by technology that is progressing leaps and bounds by the day.  The Internet, of course, plays a critical role in modern technology.  When one has a question about any subject, he or she usually has the tendency to Google it instead of answering it by way of the old-fashioned library.  Because of the prevalence of the Internet in everyday life, it is not surprising that historical archives and public history projects are becoming more readily available online.

At Messiah College, we are beginning to taste what it is like to preserve history digitally.  One of our first projects in Digital History with Dr. David Pettegrew was to digitize old pictures of local life owned by the Ye Olde Sulphur Spa Historical Society in nearby York Springs.  This assignment served as practice for later in the semester when we will work at digitizing archival material.  It enabled us to compare the quality of photographs that were taken by digital cameras and smartphones, and we also learned how to overcome other challenges that come along with digitizing primary sources.  For example, most of the photographs were glossy and bent, and our pictures of these old photographs suffered from the glare of the lights of the room we were in.  To solve this problem, we had to exercise our creativity.  After numerous attempts to use our bodies as a shield from the unwanted light and glare, we discovered that umbrellas were the most effective tools for reducing the glare on the photographs.

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The result was a class that probably looked a tad strange to passersby, who would have had no clue why we were using our umbrellas inside.  Nevertheless, we were able to obtain some high quality pictures that will be of good use to the historical society in their digital preservation efforts.  It was a humorous start to what is sure to be an adventurous semester of digital historic conservation.

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