As a North Carolinian, I never considered learning about the history of Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania. However, after enrolling in Digital History this semester, I have appreciated learning about the city of Harrisburg in the 20th Century.
Despite our focus on Harrisburg in the late 19th Century and earliest 20th Century, we were able to explore the richness and uniqueness of this capital’s history through our City Beautiful and City Social projects. Reflecting upon this current spring semester, I remember learning of our first assignment–recording 2,000 census entries from the 1900 Federal Census in Harrisburg. I sat in my desk wondering what have I done to myself. Although, this task was tedious, we did not realize the “fruits of our labor” until the very end. Once the information was compiled into a master spreadsheet through Microsoft Access, we were able to run queries to determine the average age, the city’s racial demographics, the number of immigrants from Ireland, or even the number of first- generation residents. This was made possible because of our work.
In our second project, we worked with Omeka launching Harrisburg: The City Beautiful. Concentrating on the Campaign for Improvement, my group spent countless hours at Dauphin County Historical Society’s archives pulling out these past stories from the boxes upstairs allowing history to reclaim its once held glory. We met Vance McCormick prior to his mayor days, read the minutes of the Municipal League, and laughed at the random cartoons drawn which we concluded were a result of boredom from meetings. We opened a treasure box of history–an old scrapbook full of countless newspaper articles which ultimately became the basis of our research. We explored maps journeying through the familiar, yet unfamiliar roads, back alleys, and streets of Harrisburg. From our project, we gained a greater appreciation of the city and presented our findings to the world through digital history.
Most of the class was only aware of the Harrisburg we know today, the city full of violence and financial troubles. This project allowed the beauty of the city to show. We were able to study how a community came together to change the city for the better even if it was through an increase of parks, improvement of streets, and implementation of sewage systems. The community was able to foster change regardless of their class, race, or gender. This has been mirrored today in the city’s efforts to improve the educational system, financial issues, and the re-beautification of the city in City Beautiful 2.0.
Harrisburg has awakened again.