First Steps into Digital History

I would love to tell you a story this afternoon. The story is my introduction to what brought you here to this Digital Harrisburg site— digital history. If it weren’t for the interest of professors at Messiah in pursuing the rising field of digital history, this site would presumably not be in existence.

My part of the story started last November, while I was sitting in my advising session for the upcoming semester. I was pondering which class to take over the January term (J-term). As my professor and I discussed the possibilities for J-term, we decided that the Digital History class taught by Dr. Pettegrew would be the perfect fit for the semester and I decided to register without even reading the course description thoroughly. I can honestly say I had no expectations or preconceived notions of what this class would be like. Over Christmas break, when my family and friends asked me which course I was taking I told them the title and everyone was curious about what I would be learning. When the follow-up question, “What is the class about?” came I was unsure how to answer. I knew the basics about the course — we would be studying digital tools and somehow connecting that to the study of history—but I was unsure about the scope and specific purpose of the class.

Fast forward to January 10th, the first day of the class. Dr. Pettegrew talked us through the syllabus and I became very interested and also overwhelmed. Words like metadata and GIS and digitization flew around the room and honestly, they flew pretty high above my head. Being in an environment where you are immersed in a new field is a little nerve-wracking but also very exciting. I previously had no experience in the field of digital history excepting basic exposure to conducting research online. The possibilities and opportunities for learning presented themselves right in front of me that day.

At the time of this writing, it’s now day ­three of the course and we have covered a lot of ground. We’ve gone through an overview of the course and introduction to tools like Zotero and WordPress. Learning about Zotero has been an eye-opening experience that will change the way I conduct research. With a few clicks of your mouse, Zotero catalogs sources and files them in an easily accessible and searchable way. I have also seen how WordPress is such a highly adaptable and intuitive site.

We’ve read many articles and chapters on digital history, blogging, digital resources, and concepts and themes relating to the field. Delving into all these topics has been interesting and rewarding. I learned the most from the Introduction to Cohen and Rosenzweig’s book on digital history. This chapter overviewed the main points of digital history in an impartial way, highlighting the main advantages and challenges of the rising field.

The Cohen and Rosenzweig book

We have just begun to learn about the history of Harrisburg. This, specifically the period surrounding the City Beautiful movement, will be the topic of our projects coming up in the weeks ahead. We have studied the early years of the city in Eggert’s book on Harrisburg and its industrialization and also the founding of Harrisburg on the river in Barton’s Greater Harrisburg: An Illustrated History. Since I moved here from Wisconsin, I knew next to nothing about the city of Harrisburg. I have been there twice since coming to Messiah, once to explore the city and the Capitol complex and second to go to this wonderful coffee shop a street or two over from the Capitol. I love the city so far and am so excited to delve into its history. Some apprehension about the upcoming projects is creeping in because I know how much I have to learn before completing them. This is the exciting opportunity of college though— expanding my mind and capabilities.

Pictures from my adventure to Harrisburg last fall

Digital history is an immense and exciting field that will be rewarding to immerse myself in for the next few weeks and also in the years ahead.

–Anna, first-year History major with a concentration in Administrative Studies here at Messiah College


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