Digital Harrisburg Initiative: A New Year Update

While this website has generated only a few posts over the last year, our team has been hard at work in developing datasets and researching the history and culture of Harrisburg. Beginning next week, I will be teaching a three-week intensive course in Digital History, which will focus on Harrisburg. As our 9 students explore geospatial, demographic, newspapers, and archival datasets, expect a great burst of activity and new information on this site. In addition, I will be teaching an evening course in the spring on the History of Harrisburg for local Harrisburg residents through the Hoverter Course in the Humanities program offered through Messiah’s Center for Public Humanities. That will generate some new material as well. We now have a twitter account: follow us @digharrisburg

Our last major update was about a year ago, but you can read about some of the student work of our DHI Working Group and Public Humanities Fellows at this site (here, here, and here) and at Humanities in Place website.

Our main updates since then:

  • Harrisburg Census Data: We continue to input and refine federal census data for Harrisburg. We’ve been working on the 1880 census data and certain neighborhoods in 1940. For some districts of the city, we’ll have a complete run of federal data from 1880-1940. A lot of messy data has required a lot of work — and we continue to use Open Refine and Access to fine-tune and improve these datasets. Our scheduled release date for disseminating the 1900 census and geospatial datasets is December 2017. Other years will follow.
  • Greeks of Pennsylvania: We’ve built small census databases (for small population groups) for Lancaster and Philadelphia. With friend and collaborator Kostis Kourelis of Franklin & Marshall, I’ve been studying the Greek immigrants in Harrisburg, Lancaster, Steelton, and Philadelphia using census data, historic maps, and architectural studies. You can read Kostis’ work here at this blog and see slides from my recent presentation on Greeks at the Modern Greek Studies Association. More on this over the next year.
  • Geospatial Data: Great progress on this front as well. Students at Messiah College have improved the 1901 Harrisburg Title Atlas data, as they reported here, and the team at Harrisburg University has completed digitizing residences from a 1929 Sanborn Map.
  • Address Matching: One of the challenges is linking Geospatial Data to Census Data via a common geocoded field name. Our current data match rate is over 90% for the 1900 data and about 85% for 1929 data. We’ll need to fix the errors to improve match rates.
  • Property Values:  As she noted here, Rachel Williams made excellent progress over the summer keying tax data for property owners in Harrisburg in 1900. We’ll be working to connect this to our GIS data in the coming semester.
  • Facilities and Working Group: Our work continues at two institutions: Harrisburg University through the Geospatial Technology Center Lab, and at Messiah through a new space — the Beatrice Howe Humanities Lab — dedicated to the work of digital and public humanities (see photo below). At Messiah, a small team of faculty and students meets weekly to discuss progress and brainstorm new ideas. Students include majors in history, computer science, and business.
  • Spaces of Fear Project: As we finetune datasets, some of our team has begun to pursue redlining practices and restricted racial covenants in Harrisburg and surrounding communities. You can read more about that here.
  • Websites and Platforms. Our teams continue to explore the best platforms for delivering stories about Harrisburg. Currently our projects are distributed across too many platforms and websites: ArcGIS Online, Story Maps, Omeka, WordPress, Access databases, Excel spreadsheets, Squarespace, and our institutional servers. A team of Computer Science seniors at Messiah are working with us this semester to streamline our presentation of data.
  • Funding: We continue to pursue funding through both local and national organizations. We’ve made two attempts –neither successful but with encouraging marks — for one of those National Endowment for the Humanities DH grants. And we’ve applied to a couple of other grants that we still await word on. Thanks to our own institutions, Messiah College and Harrisburg University, for providing funds to move our work forward.
  • Public Humanities Fellows Program: What we post on this site is only one component of a broader array of work we’re doing in Harrisburg. Go check out the Humanities Fellows page at Humanities in Place to see other forms of community-based research and public engagement.

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