The Digital Harrisburg Project has done much to rejuvenate the culture of the History Department here at Messiah College. As chair of the Department, I am excited about this initiative for several reasons:
1. It allows our students to “do history.” So often college history majors sit passively as their professors lecture at them. Since Digital Harrisburg is directly connected to coursework in the History Department at Messiah College, our students can be actively engaged in the practice of history as they take courses in Digital History, Pennsylvania History, Urban History, Public Archaeology, and Public History. We have decided that all of these courses will feed into our Digital Harrisburg Project.
2. It offers opportunities for community service. As our students start to make their presence known in local historical societies, they get a sense that they are contributing to the historical identity of a place. As a result of Digital Harrisburg we will know a lot more about the social and cultural history of the city. For example, right now students are working on The City Beautiful Movement, race relations, the Harrisburg Theater, a local organization to promote better libraries, and the 1900 census in the eighth ward.
3. Harrisburg is a wonderful laboratory. Harrisburg has a rich history and it is a small enough city to make a project like Digital Harrisburg manageable. There is a little of everything here and the fact that the State Archives and State Library are located here allows our students to engage in undergraduate research at a very high level.
4. Students are connecting their traditional history training to the digital world. Whether or not Messiah College history majors pursue careers in history, they are gaining valuable experience in working with digital tools such as Omeka, GIS, and Zotero.