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A Transformative Project

I never had a history class where I produced so much original work, at a decent quality so quickly. Maybe it is the nature of digital history. Maybe it was the intensity of the class. More than likely it was a privilege of experiencing both factors at once. Digital History taught us how to use online formats or computer programs to create something unique. Websites like WordPress or Omeka became the home for many of these projects. GIS was also used, sometimes as the main projects other times as supplement. We learned these free programs are a natural place to display multitudes of photos and pdf from online databases such as Newspapers.com or pictures taken from physical archives.

The work done in class was not only fluid but also accessible. Often when doing a research paper or project, the work completed seems locked away in a physical file, or hard drive. The chance for the public to interact with the research is often in the format of a presentation, which is sometimes limited to the school or the department the researcher is from. It keeps the work locked in an “Ivory Tower”. This “Ivory Tower” effect, diminished with the nature of these projects. It combines every element of the class on to an accessible format. Without knowing, the students of Digital history, including me, immersed themselves in the field of Public Humanities. Everything described so far points to a theme of transformation. This transformation is centered around the residue of technological advancement and its relation to historical research. By the end of class, we developed a project that fully embodies this transformation. While it is very much “our” original project it is open to the general public’s opinion. Much of the narrative rested in the text, but pictures and accessible primary sources were available to the reader. Lastly, the material such as the pictures and text are saved on hardware but the website is available nearly anywhere.

My final project for Digital History was a website called “The Battle for the Capital“. The website explores the pressure from Philadelphia at the turn of the 20th century to move the capital from Harrisburg to Philadelphia. The pressure to reconstruct the new building or move the whole capital is an important narrative to Harrisburg as it revealed the passion of the Harrisburg citizenry, Harrisburg press, and affection of the Pennsylvania politicians for the city. It also revealed the zeal of the Philadelphia’s people and politicians for their own city. The website breaks up the story of capital into two different parts. Each part describes a moment when the state legislature with the pressure from outside sources tried to change the capital, once in 1897 and once in 1901. The information for this website came from The Pennsylvania State Archives, multiple scholarly works, and an abundance of Newspapers clippings. All the pictures of the Capitol building came from the Pennsylvania State Archive manuscript groups 145, box 35, and manuscript group 213, which contains hundreds of postcards. In addition, pictures from manuscript group 75, collected by former student Alissa Vorbeck in 2014, provided pictures of the New Capitol. A majority of the Newspaper clippings are from Newspaper.com. The Scholarly books include City Contented City Discontented by Paul Beers, The City Beautiful Movement by William H. Wilson, and Harrisburg: The City Beautiful, Romantic and Historic by Dr. Geroge P. Donehoo.

A project such as this should move beyond this specific classroom. These digital history projects are a way to reintroduce history to k-12 students and provides a new medium for making history. The same lesson applies to students of higher education, amateur historians, and professional historians. Digital History is inherently interdisciplinary — recruiting those whose interests and talent go beyond history into technology and design. It attracts a larger audience, one that would not normally sit down and analyze an essay from JSTOR. What seemed to be a very theoretical change in academic thought, developed through practice to this class. It changed the way I personally do history and left me with a project I am proud of and accessible to all who are interested.

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