Digital History, an experiment.

I never wanted to take this class. I stood outside, as my last class ended at the end of the fall semester, talking to my fellow History majors in regards to this course. I squished and squirmed about the possibility that I could learn anything from taking a course titled “Digital History.” “What kind of history would we learn in this course?”, “Is this real history?”, “I’m not taking this course.” I even questioned, “Why is Professor Pettegrew, a Historian on Ancient Roman and Greek History, teaching a course on digital history?” I stated these grievances to my friends. Of course, like most things go, not everything goes your way and I decided I would take the course.


As I bought the textbooks, read the course description, and registered for the course, looking back, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. Quite possibly, if one asked all of us in the class what we signed up for, everybody would probably be in the same sort of confusion as I found myself in.  I entered class on the first day and as the syllabus, the assignment, and the projects came to surface I still really had no grasp of the reality of the purpose of this course.

The beginning of the class dealt with a lot of background knowledge of the “City Beautiful Movement,” learning best practices for visiting archives, visiting the archives themselves, and learning some basic digital method. I found myself quite enthused, “Yay!” I exclaimed. Digital History defined a field of learning for undergraduate students. History majors are used to getting lectured about history, but “Digital History” allowed us to do history, to explore it through our own research. Thus beginning the revelry of digging into Harrisburg’s history.

It was not until I started to complete the assignment for “City Social” that I realized the the true nature of how I would have to approach history in this course. Most History courses, especially at the upper level, are based on a foundation of lectures, reading seminars, pettegrewbresearch papers, and heavy primary source analysis. Although this course incorporated some of these aspects I don’t think keying in census data into an excel document is what I had anticipated. That’s where I found myself though at 2 a.m. in the morning questioning, “Why did I take this course again?”

With the course in continuation I became enlightened to the possibility of the tools that I could now use to engage history and the general public. Professor Pettegrew, with guidance, tested my limits with what I could learn. Granted, the process in which I learned could be best described as “baptism by fire,” Digital History instilled in me the resilience to move beyond the normal confines of a classroom and into a new world.

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