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Losing the Training Wheels

Growing up in the digital age, my generation has been incredibly spoiled by our computers. After spending some time in the Pennsylvania State and Dauphin County Historical Society archives, I feel as though I have been researching with training wheels all of my life, and while the safety of training wheels is comfortable, researching without them just starts to feel right: handling the crumbling papers that are almost too fragile to touch, deciphering the handwritten notes on the sides of a first draft, flipping over a newspaper clipping to see the ads and stories that are fragmented on the back. The connection you get to the past makes the experience mean so much more.

I was scared that every time I turned the page a piece would fall off of the aging paper.

I was scared that every time I turned the page a piece would fall off of the aging paper.

However, it is easy to miss the comforts that digital research can provide.  For example, while at the Pennsylvania State Archives, my main objective was to find written proof that someone suggested that the capital be moved from Harrisburg back to Philadelphia. I knew that it could be hidden in any of the articles mentioning the capitol building, so this made my research very tedious. I couldn’t help wishing repeatedly that I had a “find” option in real life, then I would have just had to type in “Philadelphia” and skip around the various articles hoping to hit what I was looking for. However, now I am left wondering if I looked right over the sentence that held the key to my research during my skimming of the tangible newspaper articles.

Unfortunately, the problem of missing evidence doesn’t stop there. In an archive the documents are filed in preset categories; therefore, unlike when using Google, your searching parameters are restricted. Specifically, since the State Archives do not have a category of documents on the capitol building, I have had to take different avenues to find information; for example, I have looked at Joseph M. Huston’s (the architect of the new capital building) collection of articles referring to the architecture of the new capitol building.

According to the archivist at the State Archives, my best chance to find a newspaper article about the possible controversy would be to first discover a specific date that the issue was discussed or the name of a person who may have brought it up. Then I should ask at the Pennsylvania State Library to see the newspapers from that day or the Archives for records of that person. The same is true if I want access to the minutes from a DSC_2582government meeting. At DCHS, I was looking through folders of articles on the burning of the old capitol building, and finally, I found a name and date in one of the articles at DCHS. Hopefully this is the lead I have been waiting for!

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