The Harrisburg City Beautiful Project: A Mid-December Update

It’s been an eventful month for our work on the Digital Harrisburg Initiative. About time to round up some of the latest updates:

1. Presentations

Since our last update, faculty and students from Messiah College, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, and Harrisburg Area Community College presented on research related to Harrisburg’s City Beautiful movement.

The first presentation occurred at Bucknell University’s Digital Scholarship Conference which was dedicated this year to the theme of “Collaborating Digitally: Engaging Students in Faculty Research”. Professor Sarvis and I presented to a room of about 50-60 faculty and a few students currently exploring the intersection of GIS spatial technologies and undergraduate humanities research. It was fantastic. We heard some inspiring talks, including one by Professor Linda Aleci (Franklin & Marshall College) on an outstanding project titled “Curating the -City: People and Places in Lancaster, PA.” We also got the sense that we were doing something unique in creating collaboration between humanities faculty and students at Messiah College and geospatial technologists at Harrisburg University. I have used Scribd. to embed our PowerPoint presentation from the conference, and also our process paper, which the Digital Harrisburg working group contributed to:

I embed below the draft of a process paper about the work we’ve done over the last year.


Our second presentation occurred on Wednesday, Nov. 19, at Central Pennsylvania GIS Day at Harrisburg Area Community College. Students and faculty from Messiah, HACC, and Harrisburg University gave the opening session on “GIS and the Harrisburg City Beautiful Movement.” Below, Messiah College and Harrisburg University students Rachel Carey, Rachel Morris, and Dan Stolyarov discuss their part for the City Beautiful project.

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The group also gave a workshop on working with the census data to area high school students and GIS professionals. High school students were fascinated by the opportunity to visualize Midtown, Harrisburg, in 1900.

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Here is the presentation from the GIS Day.

2. City Social Data and GIS Data Update

Our second main activity has been to improve the connection between the federal census database for Harrisburg 1900 and the GIS map of the city in 1901. We’ve been manually going through the people-less properties in the GIS and the homeless people in the census database to place missing people into empty homes. At our last report, we had an 84% match rate between properties and census data, and a 72% match rate with the population. Professor Sarvis now reports that we’ve been able to link 45,415 individuals from the total population of 50,167 (90.5%) to places on the map.

3. Interactive Map of the City

Our third highlight is the launch of a beta version of an interactive map of the city in 1900. We’ll announce this tomorrow or Wednesday.

4. Next Steps

For the spring, our work will continue in different ways.

The Working group will:

  • Finalize the census database for Harrisburg 1900
  • Create a census database for the 10,000 people living in the Steelton community to the south
  • Begin to digitize the 1910 federal census
  • Work on creating more social layers (race, ethnicity, rent vs. own, etc…) for the interactive map of Harrisburg
  • Experiment with ways to link historical images and documents to the interactive map of the city

Other courses at Messiah College scheduled for next semester, such as U.S. Urban History and Pennsylvania History, may develop the initiatives in new ways.

And student projects, including a documentary on the Harrisburg Giants, should develop substantially.

Check back this week for our announcement of the Interactive Map of Harrisburg in 1900.

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