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Digital Harrisburg Initiative: A Mid-February Update

About a year ago, a number of faculty and students from several courses at Messiah College and Harrisburg University partnered to launch a new initiative to digitize Harrisburg’s history. It’s incredible how our original vision of the Digital Harrisburg Initiative (DHI) has grown over the last year as we’ve found new partners and begun to outline the social contours of the City Beautiful movement. Here’s an update on the groups, courses, and institutions who are partnering this semester to contribute to the initiative:

1. The Digital Harrisburg Working Group (Rachel Carey, James Mueller, David Crout, and I) continue to plow forward in making progress on the 1900 and 1910 census. We lost our wonderful GIS tech, Rachel Morris, to an early graduation, but we’ve since gained a new member David Crout.  Rachel is digitizing the 1910 census for Harrisburg, James is working on normalizing the 1900 data, and David Crout is working on the triennial tax assessments. You’ll hear more from all of our group during the semester.

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2. John Fea’s class in Pennsylvania History at Messiah College is working on church rolls for Pine Street Presbyterian and St. Patricks Cathedral parish at the turn of the 20th century as well as the relationship of these communities to the City Beautiful movement. Once these membership rolls are collected and digitized, we’ll be able to plot members of these different communities according to their area of residence, and analyze membership against criteria like ethnicity, birthplace, and occupation, among others.

3. Jim LaGrand’s students in U.S. Urban History at Messiah College will be working on the occupational data for 1900 . It’s currently the only field in our database that is not at all normalized. It’s messy. Here’s an example:

Occupation
Apprentice (Baker)
Apprentice (barber)
Apprentice (machines)
apprentice (machinest)
Apprentice (pattern)
apprentice (plumbing)
apprentice baker
apprentice barber
apprentice blacksmith
apprentice book binder
Apprentice Electric
Apprentice Machinist
apprentice milliner
Apprentice Moulder
Apprentice Moulding
apprentice pattern maker
Apprentice Press Work
Apprentice; Compositor
apprentice-artist
Apprentice-Blacksmith
Apprentice-electirician
Apprisan Dress Maker
aprentice (plumbing)

In order to query and quantify this data, we need to collapse categories that belong together. LaGrand’s students will also be analyzing the population data and may even produce some blog entries for this site.

4. Professor Jeff Erikson is working with several students this semester on a directed study related to GIS. His students are georeferencing and tracing the 1902 Sanborn maps for Steelton, the community immediately south of Harrisburg. Since Rachel Carey has keyed the census data for Steelton, completing this will be a first step in understanding the large community of immigrants in Harrisburg 120 years ago.

5. Professor Albert Sarvis of Harrisburg University, in the meantime, is working with geospatial technology students on georeferencing the Sanborn maps of 1905 for Harrisburg. Once these are completed, we’ll add later years of Sanborn maps for the city.

6. Over at Jump Street, Andrea Glass is directing a group of capable high school student interns in digitizing images and documents from the Harrisburg City Archive. I’m hopeful that we’ll start to crowdsource some of the photos without provenience at this site to encourage identification. For some possibility, see the incredible site dedicated to the Philadelphia City Archive. We’re about to launch an Omeka site devoted to Harrisburg history that is a bit broader than City Beautiful.

7. We’ll be partnering this semester with Professor Michael Barton’s class at Penn State Harrisburg, who will analyze the census data for the Eighth Ward. This is a boon to us since Barton has been a pioneer in telling Harrisburg’s story, and his students produced some of the earliest work on the subject. See, for example, the excellent website about the Old Eighth Ward created and maintained by Stephanie Patterson Gilbert. Look for some interesting stories and historical analysis.

8. Several students working with Professor Nathan Skulstad have been working on a documentary on the Harrisburg Giants, a baseball team of the American Negro Leagues. This is scheduled to premiere at the School of Humanities Symposium at Messiah in two weeks.

9. Since launching this site, I’ve heard from a number of people who are also working on digital projects related to Harrisburg. I think of Robert Shoaff, who is doing interesting work with city youth to build up a digital 3D model of Midtown called the Midtown Minecraft Project (see the blog here). There are others who have contacted me recently about their interests in contributing to the initiative.

There are a number of other exciting projects that are just developing such as public memory harvests and gaming, which we’ll publicize when the timing is right. Stay tuned.

Beyond these endeavors, a number of presentations are in the works. We’ll keep you updated. If you would like to support our initiative, visit the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference page and follow the link to vote for including our project in a major DH conference in July.

Things are happening quickly with the DHI. It will be interesting to see where we are a year from now.

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