Passing the Torch

Taylor Schock holds an umbrella to limit glare as Dr. Pettegrew digitizes old photographs from Ye Olde Sulphur Spa Historical Society.

As we make our final preparations to launch our Omeka website on Monday, we can not help but look back on all of our hard work this past semester. When the class started, we were told that it marked the launch of a new digital initiative here at Messiah College. This initiative would bring our study of history into the 21st century, utilizing new methods of research and practice. I was excited to work on a project that would reach a wider audience than just my peers and professors, but I did not realize the immense span of this project. Digital Harrisburg is larger than just one class and one semester: it reaches across different classes and campuses, like the GIS classes at Messiah, Harrisburg Area Community College, and Harrisburg University,  and will continue for many years to come.

If there is one thing I have learned, it is that this class is anything but ordinary. We have stood on top of tables holding umbrellas to digitize old photographs, spent about 12 hours completing research in the archives, worked together to analyze complicated handwriting from the 1900s on census data, and enhanced our web development skills on our Omeka site. While at times the work was difficult and even silly looking, the class worked together to accomplish the feat of creating our website.  As a public history student, the skills and experience in digitization, archival work, web development, and teamwork I have gained from this class are invaluable. In fact, I have already began to see the connections this class has to public history outside of the classroom.

A week ago, I stumbled across this article on the New York Times website announcing a new online edition to the American Museum of Natural History’s collection. The museum has digitized 7,000 images previously only available in the museum’s research center. These images are now available to the public on an online collection powered by Omeka. Sound familiar? Our work on the City Beautiful project has been very similar. We have digitized our own items from the archives, making them available to the public on our own Omeka site. It is exciting to see that the work we are doing as undergraduate students is connected to work being done by public historians out in the field.

A group of digital history students work alongside Dr. Fea and Dr. Pettegrew at Dauphin County Historical Society.

However, this project does not end with my class. This is just the beginning. Now, it is time to pass the torch. My class is leaving the digital history scene to allow another group to take our place. To the new digital history students, we challenge you to work hard, learn new skills, and add to a product that will benefit our community. Most of all, enjoy the class. It is a unique experience you are lucky to have.

As American Museum of Natural History’s director of library services Tom Baione has said about his Omeka exhibit, “Through the magic of the Internet we’re able to serve the whole world.”  I am honored to have been able to serve the world this semester.

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