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Entering Into Digital History

Hello. My name is Sarah Wilson, and I am a junior history major who is currently in Digital History with Dr. Pettegrew. I am a public history concentration and am interested in Library and Information Sciences. Coming into the Digital History class, I already know a great deal about the subject. I have been working for Dr. Pettegrew for the Digital Harrisburg Project since my freshman year, working with GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to map out historic 1900 Harrisburg.

the 1900 map in ArcGIS

Over the next three weeks, I am looking forward to having more practice with digital history. Dr. Pettegrew is planning on giving us assignments using basic programs and tools that digital historians utilize. This week we will be doing some exercises using Zotero, a program used to save online sources and citations. Before this course, I did not know that you can share sources and citations with others through Zotero. I am also excited for working on learning the process for Wikipedia editing. I am also getting the opportunity in this class to read some scholarship on digital history, which I am now realizing is essential for understanding its historiography. I really only had an abstract idea of what digital history is before coming into this class, and I had a lot of practice in it. In the past week though, I have read a great deal of literature by Roy Rosenzweig and Daniel J. Cohen. They emphasize the importance of newfound programs in order to preserve and organize sources, as well as giving the public easy access to research.

In class we worked to develop a definition for “digital history.” To me, digital history is a method of disseminating historical information and interpretations through computer technologies, allowing for interactivity from users. Digital history is an essential part of public history because it can be accessed inside and outside the classroom. Digital history often allows for the user to complete their own research and draw their own conclusions. For example, Digital Harrisburg offers that with our online map of 1900. It can be found here. Users can find people across the city by last name, and draw their own conclusions based on where those people lived. People can also do their own research through Ancestry by using census data. Digital history is essential to public history because it gives users, often non-historians, the opportunity to experience the field and gain an appreciation for it. Digital history keeps history relevant for people who have completed their education.

Since digital history offers so many opportunities for research, a large portion of the class is dedicated to creating our own projects. My fellow students and I will be spending days in the Pennsylvania State Archives and the Dauphin County Archives to find sources on which to base our projects. I am still unsure about what subject I will focus on, but I do know I would like to incorporate GIS in some way. I have taken a class using the program before and in my work study with Digital Harrisburg. One of the most helpful things in discovering what I would like to research is seeing what sources are available at the archives using the Internet. I noticed that there is a large selection of Harrisburg postcards that would work well with a GIS Story Map. I have considered researching the women who led the City Beautiful movement in Harrisburg, like Mira Lloyd Dock or the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Dames. I need to do more research, and I will most likely complete that over MLK weekend. Whatever I do my projects on, I want it to be something I’m passionate about and increase historical knowledge about the city. I am looking forward to the rest of the class, and what lies ahead for my research and my digital history skills.

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