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Looking Backward and Looking Forward

Sitting in the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg this afternoon, I was glad to find myself with a little time to reflect on this past semester in Digital History. It was strange to realize how much we had accomplished Photo 2in terms of reading, learning techniques, and project research. Project 1 seemed to fly by as I confirmed the effectiveness of religious organizations in promoting the City Beautiful Movement. For Project 2, I cataloged the wealthy female property owners in the Ninth Ward in Harrisburg to take a deeper look at their personal lives. Finally, for Project 3 I mapped ten locations critical to the African American presence in the Harrisburg improvement campaign.

While at the bookstore, no more than seven blocks away from the exact same sites I mapped, I was struck by the reality of Harrisburg’s past. For the last few weeks I had been investigating the lives of real Harrisburg citizens who found themselves in the same city I did today. After much difficulty tracking down these African American reformers, I dedicated myself to speaking up for them through the silences of the past. What resulted was an ArcGIS Story Map detailing the African American reform locations throughout Harrisburg which can be accessed here: http://arcg.is/1m5ofMF. These places were planted in a nice circle surrounding the capitol area indicating the Eighth Ward was an important hub for the activities of African American reformers in the early 20th century.

map

At the beginning of the semester, I had no idea what to expect from this class. In my first blog post, I mentioned how one of my goals was to journey through unexplored paths to preserve the past. I am happy to say I feel as though I’ve met and possibly surpassed this goal by hiking over steep terrain to discover the lives of those forgotten by the present moment. The stories of women of the Ninth Ward or African American reformers of the Eighth Ward are just as important to understand as those who are more commonly remembered today. This is why I love history. No other discipline allows you to become so richly acquainted with the people of the past in order to retell their stories.

Looking forward to receiving my bachelors degree in less than a week, I plan on taking these lessons with me. Not only did I learn how to work with various historical technologies, but I also learned how to serve the greater wesleyameHarrisburg community with my set of skills and various digital platforms. Digital History has taught me to look at old material with fresh eyes and to stay steadfast even when the going gets tough. I will carry these experiences from Digital History with me when I leave Messiah College and look forward with great expectation to what future students of Digital History produce in their studies.

Before I close I have one more story to tell. When I left the bookstore tonight, two little blue books caught my eye on a bookshelf. Upon closer examination I realized they were two volumes of a biography on William Howard Day, one of the African American reformers I researched. Photo 1Seeing these filled me with the hope and excitement that an interest in the history of Harrisburg was resurging, especially in its lesser known
residents. It took a lot of self control to not rush up to the cashier and purchase both of them but I didn’t leave empty handed. I left with the assurance that historians who pursue the past diligently, whether by speaking for the voiceless or exploring new methods like digital history, will make a difference in the world.

-Megan Ekstrom

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