Nothing immerses you in history like physically engaging with primary sources. Physical interaction allows for a greater conception and understanding of the material. So, when our Digital History class took a trip to the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg on September 24th, the experience was well worth the drive and the cost of parking.
At the archives, we took photographs of each page of the 1900 annual freeholder tax assessment records for various wards of the city. This data will be analyzed to detect any correlations between property values and whether or not different precincts voted in favor of the improvement campaign’s “bond issue”, which would allow tax revenue to pay for improvements in the city. The ward I specifically focused on during our time at the archives was the tenth ward. Although it seems this ward was one of the smallest, I could not help but think how valuable the information I was gathering would be for understanding a host of spatially related questions.
For example, could there be a direct correlation between the property values of the tenth ward and the specific areas of Harrisburg that were improved through the City Beautiful Movement? Or could there be a connection between property values and areas in which the leaders of the movement were most active? These questions may then help to answer deeper social questions. Did poorer neighborhoods vote for the improvements because they believed, based on what leaders told them, that their community would be improved, or did they not vote in favor of it because they did not want to incur debt for something that would only benefit those who could most contribute to it? These are some of the things our class might consider with this data as we apply it to the interactive Harrisburg map and the information we have gathered in our City Beautiful project.
Through the City Beautiful project, our class has been analyzing specific articles and pages of digital versions of the Patriot newspaper between 1901 and 1902. Our search centered on the relevance of the articles to the campaign for improvement. These articles and pages were found using specific word searches and were then saved in Google Docs as PDF files. These saved articles are now being synthesized into a spreadsheet in order to understand what events the articles relate to, where they took place, and who was involved. Again, by gathering this information we can conceptualize the movement spatially, knowing where the ideas for improvement were being spread, who was involved and how these individuals were geographically spaced. Each student in our digital history class will be writing an essay based on the information gathered from these articles. I will be focusing on the leaders of the movement and their spatial interaction throughout the campaign.
While some may say “oh my” to the quantity of information gathered through our trip to the Pennsylvania State Archives and our searches through the Patriot newspaper, the possibilities of what can be gleaned through this information is cause for greater exclamation.