As I stood at Desk #1 in the Pennsylvania State Archives, tears welled up in my eyes. Maybe it was the fact that we had the privilege of blowing early 20th century dust off Harrisburg tax records or the fact that this same dust was deeply stuck in my eye; either way it was a special moment. The day our class spent at the state archives was memorable as we took the original 1900 Harrisburg property freeholder tax documents and captured digital photographs of them.
While we rifled through the many pages, my classmate and I noticed there were fewer registered dogs than we had expected. We then set out on a hunt for man’s best friend and, to our utter disappointment, found no registered dogs in any of the four wards our class had been examining. This peculiar absence is a minor trend out of many we should be aware of as we develop our database of knowledge for Project 2 which is centered around the “City Social.” Mainly our class aims to analyze these property values of Harrisburg in order to possibly connect personal wealth with the way precincts voted in the improvement campaign.
I can hear the history critics ranting about the frivolousness of such a pursuit where time is being dedicated to small details about a city which they would call irrelevant or off the radar. Before I lose my cool, I will allow Herodotus, the father of history, to speak first. In Cohen and Rosenzweig’s Digital History, they quote Herodotus as saying,
“I will go forward in my account, covering alike the small and great cities of mankind. For of those that were great in earlier times most have now become small, and those that were great in my time were small in the time before. Since, then, I know that man’s good fortune never abides in the same place, I will make mention of both alike.”
It is equally as noble to study Harrisburg’s history as it is to study New York City’s history. Minute details are the paving stones which build the road to a grander story. These lesser known areas have the potential to only increase in importance and to achieve that we need to continue to research.
This concept applies to our current project on the City Beautiful Movement in Harrisburg where some of the most important information can be found in the local newspapers. Our class has been scouring through The Patriot’s late 1900 to early 1902 newspaper editions with word searches directly relating to the campaign for improvement. To avoid removing articles too far out of their original context, we have been saving PDF files of both the article and the entire page the article is found on. This is a common issue encountered in digital history which Brian Maidment addresses in his article, “Writing History with the Digital Image: A Cautious Celebration,” in History in the Digital Age. Each time an article about campaign events is found, various details are entered into a spreadsheet including date of the event, location, sponsors, and more.
By doing this, we plan on plotting physical points of improvement support across Harrisburg. Eventually, we hope to take this data and propose correlations between societal factors and the nature of each precinct’s vote. As I pull newspaper articles, I am fascinated by the assortment of churches involved in hosting pro-campaign events. My project on the “City Beautiful” will likely be geared toward assessing the involvement and support of different denominations in the vote for improvements.
The semester is well underway and I find it is time to take the literal and figurative speck out of my eye. I need to keep my eyes and mind open to new possibilities and theoretical approaches as I look to Harrisburg’s historical resources to further document the exciting trends found in the campaign for improvement throughout the city.