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From Archive to Online: Digitizing The City Beautful

For those who did not read my last blog pot, I introduced myself and also explained how I was entering into the vast discipline that is digital history. I took emphasis in the “vertical integration”, so to speak, of digital history; and how it is used for each aspect of digital history; from research, digitization, and exhibition. This time, I want to focus on the digitization aspect of digital history, and more specifically, my research project.

Digitization can be a tiresome process, especially for someone who is new to the field of digital history such as myself. Having been introduced to the concept of Metadata, the standardization of all information for the internet immediately strikes me as a tiresome process. However, something that I have considered since reading and studying about digitization is how digital history is considered by historians. Jim Mussel in “History in a digital Age” asserts that “digital objects (and environments, tools and technologies) are considered on their own terms rather than derivatives or surrogates for those of the non-digital world.” The fact that historians are now considering metadata, digitized records and photographs as well as others for their historical research hand analysis is incredible.

For my research project in Digital history, I analyzed  at Mira Lloyd Dock’s contributions to the City Beautiful Movement. I looked at the historical Documents from the Pennsylvania State archives and the Archives of the Historical Society of Dauphin County for my research. Mir Dock was the oldest daughter of prominent Harrisburg businessman Gilliard Dock, and was a co-founder of the Civic Club of Harrisburg. She studied botany at the University of Michigan, and was very interested in the preservation of Harrisburg’s forests, but also in the beautification of Harrisburg’s parks and public and private gardens. I dug through the personal correspondence of Mira Dock from 1892-1945, as well as the minutes from the Civic Club Meetings from 1915-1925. Most of the collection of Dock’s correspondence that was in the State archives were the letters she received, so it was an interesting and also a difficult task to reconstruct her actions and personality from the words of others.

My conclusion is that she was personally interested in the work others were doing. Early on, before the City Beautiful Movement, she wrote a lot of different people, including Frederick Law Olmstead, Warren Manning, the US Department of Agriculture, and others. She inquired for a lot of different things, including how the Olmsteads filled in Back Bay in Boston, as well as advice on gardening, or glass slides of different types of flowers, bushes, and trees. Her expertise from her education at the University of Michigan was strengthened and nourished by her correspondance with others. This desire to listen and to learn more would eventually pay dividends, as she became a member of the Pennsylvania Forestry Commission in 1903. She was the first women to hold a government position of that type, and would tour the state working with municipal forestry commissions for 10 years. She moved out of Harrisburg in 1905, and didn’t contribute much else to the City BEautiful Movement.

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One of the Glass Plates from the Mira Dock Collection, PA State Archives

Her most important contribution, her speech to the BOard of Trade in 1900, has been lost to history, and is largely unknown. Parts of it are on the glass plates in her collection in the StatE archives, but most of it has been lost. However, it struck a chord with all who listened, and it was a springboard for the City Beautiful Movement to occur. If it had not been for Mira Dock’s hard work, dedication, and passion for the bettering of Harrisburg and its residents, the City Beautiful moment would not have been as succesful as it was.

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