Connecting the Dots

A small team of faculty and students is putting together a presentation and paper for Saturday’s digital conference at Bucknell University. The presentation is titled “Harrisburg’s City Beautiful Movement: Mapping the Growth and Transformation of the Pennsylvania State Capital” and details the collaboration between GIS and History faculty and students from Harrisburg University and Messiah College (David Pettegrew, Jeff Erikson, Rachel Carey, Rachel Morris, Albert Sarvis, and Dan Stolyarov). Here’s our abstract:

In spring 2014, faculty and students from Messiah College and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology launched a new digital initiative to document the rapid growth and transformation of Harrisburg through its City Beautiful movement. Between 1900 and 1930, a movement of beautification and urban improvement transformed Harrisburg from a dirty industrial town along the banks of the Susquehanna River into a growing city with a splendid new capitol, extensive green spaces, upgraded sewage systems and pavement, and a booming population. To document this moment of change, Professor David Pettegrew and his students in Digital History keyed the United States census data for the city in 1900, digitized historical records from county and state archives, and launched Omeka ( and WordPress websites ( presenting primary source documents, photos, and exhibits. Professors Jeff Erikson and Albert Sarvis worked with their GIS students at Messiah and Harrisburg University to digitize an atlas of the city in 1901 relating the census data to geocoded addresses in GIS. During the summer and fall, students (will) continue to normalize the census data and relate it to maps in GIS. In this presentation, a group of faculty and students will discuss and demo the project in its current state and outline plans for extending the project. Our goal is to integrate historical records, demographic data, and geospatial data to create a high-resolution map that illustrates the tremendous social and physical changes in the capital city at an important moment in its past.

We’ve had breakthroughs on the GIS front just in time for our presentation. Rachel Morris finished digitizing the final ward on Tuesday afternoon with the result that we now have a complete digital data set of all the buildings in Harrisburg in 1901 as well as a complete census data set for the population of the city in 1900. Connecting the digitized individuals to the digitized parcels is not as easy as one would expect. Some people who show up in the census are recorded at living in places not identified on the map. And some addresses on the map do not have individuals associated with them.

Rachel Morris reports an 84% match rate of properties between census data and polygons in GIS, which is not too bad. Our partners at Harrisburg University (Professor Sarvis and Dan Stolyarov) report a 72% match rate with the population. Sarvis reports that about 14,000 have partial addresses, live at intersections (MARKET & SECOND), or have addresses that GIS doesn’t recognize (e.g., the county PRISON). In the last few weeks of the term we’ll be spending time trying to connect the dots by linking homeless Harrisburgers noted in the census with places in a digitized map.

The map below is courtesy of Professor Sarvis.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.