A Review of Digital History

During this class, I have grown exponentially in my digital skills and digital awareness. Regarding skills, I have learned how to use Microsoft Access, ArcGIS, Story Maps, Microsoft Excel, Zotero, WordPress, and Omeka. I have so many more opportunities on my hands now that I know how to use these programs. One of the programs that made the most impact on me was Zotero. It is a game-changer for a history major. Being able to save, organize, and easily cite multiple sources at a time is amazing. The other program that I would like to explore more is Access. Being able to perform queries on information such as census material is very helpful when researching trends and changes. I have become more digitally aware as I’ve been dealing with lots of data at a time. You don’t appreciate how much digital tools help until you see how fast and easy they can perform functions it would have taken you a very long time to do. For example, if I wanted to manually search the Harrisburg census of 1900 for women over the age of 18 who had jobs outside the home, it would take me an extremely long time since there were 50,168 entries in that census. With Access, I can enter a few parameters and then the exact number I am searching for comes up right away. (If you’re curious, only 23% of the adult female population had occupations other than full time parenting in 1900). I have also become more digitally aware in the area of backing up your files. I now realize how important it is to store your files in more than one place, whether in physical and digital copies or on some cloud storage or a hard drive. I will begin to implement this as I continue in my academic life.

The concepts we covered in our readings have helped me as I’ve been working with the practical side of digital history. Toni Weller’s collection of essays on Digital History was an important resource. One distinction that she made that helped me understand the scope of this class was the difference between digital history and historians existing in the digital age. Digital historians are in the act of practicing history with digital tools and answering the larger questions of doing history in the present and the future. They are interested in using new tools for extensive research and are looking for ways to expand their audience digitally. Historians practicing history in the digital age are not necessarily interested in learning the tools needed to thrive in this digital age. We also covered topics such as blogging and tweeting as historians. Christine Kelly writes in her article, Tweeting History, that Twitter is a great way to bring history to the public without having to draw them into academia on their own. Cohen argues in his blog for historians that blogs can be the perfect outlet for your interests and passion projects. These are all new topics that I had not spent much time thinking about prior to this class.

Learning about the City Beautiful movement, which provided a focus for our research using our new digital tools, has been very interesting as well. Starting with zero knowledge about Harrisburg’s history was a little overwhelming but also very exciting. Reading Beers, Donehoo, Eggert, and Wilson greatly increased my knowledge base about the movement. After reading those sources and picking out a research topic (the network of Harrisburg reformers) it was exciting to go to the Pennsylvania State Archives and the Dauphin County Historical Society Archives. Doing research on my own at the archives was an amazing experience and will help me greatly during my last three years here as a history major and possibly in my future career.

Moving on to the last project, I am combining a lot of these topics and skills to produce a comprehensive project. I’m using my new digital skills to produce this WordPress site with some items I digitized from the Pennsylvania State Archives and Dauphin County Historical Society Archives. I am using my analytical skills to look through the data and find the connections between the Harrisburg City Beautiful reformers, specifically Mira Lloyd Dock, Warren H. Manning, and J. Horace McFarland. I’m exploring their relationships and their interactions as human beings, not just reformers. I’m primarily using their correspondence with each other and their personal papers., but also using data collected from historical maps of Harrisburg in 1900-1930 and the censuses taken during that time period. I was well equipped to tackle this project with the knowledge I’ve gained from this class.

Here is a link to my website.

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