Hello everyone. Sarah here. For two and a half years, I have been working with Digital Harrisburg, first as a Work-Study and now as a Student Fellow with the Center for the Public Humanities. The end of this school year stands as the ending of my time with the Initiative that has been such a large part of my college career. Even though I am graduating in December, I chose to not come back to give another history-lover the opportunities I had my freshman year. To help anyone who follows in my footsteps (as well as my friend Rachel’s, who will be leaving after next Spring), or to inform anyone who is interested in Digital History, I am going to answer some questions about my experiences with the Digital Harrisburg Initiative.
How did I get involved with Digital Harrisburg?
At the end of the Fall my Freshman year, Dr. Pettegrew called me into his office to discuss classes for the following semester. At the end of the meeting, he informed me that he had an opening for a work study position with the Digital Harrisburg Initiative, a recently founded program under Diversity Affairs. He told me that I would be working with data sets and maps of Historic Harrisburg. I was so excited not just by the job opportunity, but the fact that a professor saw such potential in me, even in my Freshman year. After calling my parents and much prayer, I accepted the position and the rest is history.
What type of work did you do?
My work has changed over the years. At the beginning, Rachel and I focused on data entry, adding information to the 1901 Harrisburg insurance map. Between the two of us, the work took about a year. Throughout the time we wrote various blog posts. Spring semester Sophomore year I focused on refining the data and making corrections to the data. My junior year working with the Student Fellows, I worked with marketing for the Initiative, designing postcards. I also worked on creating maps displaying the data we have collected. My last project was digitizing an HOLC redlining map of Harrisburg.
The work varies for everyone. Rachel has been working with refining data and historical tax information. Kelly, our computer science major, has continuously been working with data and web design in ways us history majors could never dream of. There is a job for everyone at Digital Harrisburg.
How did you pass the time when it came to data entry?
During the year of data entry, it could sometimes feel monotonous. However, Rachel and I learned to pass the time while still being productive. Back then, we were in the history resource room on the second floor instead of the Digital Humanities Lab. That gave us the space to listen to music (without headphones) while we typed. We also talked about whatever was going on in our lives. It was during data entry that I gained a close friend in Rachel.
What has been your favorite part of Digital Harrisburg?
My favorite part of Digital Harrisburg has got to be when I could use past work to create a finished, refined product. This past year, I have been using my creative and problem-solving skills more, which has been especially enjoyable. After hours of creating data sheets and creating polygons, I love seeing a map I have created in its final stages. Knowing that I can help people better understand our work through maps and other projects makes all the work worthwhile.
What are some of the most important skills you gained while working for Digital
Digital Harrisburg has opened so many doors for me. One of the first skills I gained were computer skills, especially with GIS (Geographic Information Systems). After using it for a year, I was inspired to take a class on the program, and now I am able to create maps using the multitude of data sets we have created over the years. I have also been able to practice my creativity and problem-solving skills. When a project seems impossible, there is always a way to make it work. Finally, I have gained writing skills in writing blogs for the Digital Harrisburg WordPress. Digital Harrisburg has been a fantastic experience in gaining computer, problem-solving, and writing skills.
What was a struggle when working for Digital Harrisburg?
One struggle for me was during the end of the year to find time to complete my hours. Luckily, Dr. Pettegrew was always very gracious at the end of the semesters.
What will you miss the most about the Initiative?
Above anything else, I will miss the people at Digital Harrisburg. I have made good friends with Rachel, Kelly, Arion, Brian, and David. Dr. Pettegrew has been a great mentor, and I look forward to seeing all of them outside of Digital Harrisburg in my last semester.
What do you plan on doing now?
This summer I will be researching the Spanish Flu Outbreak of 1918 in Harrisburg for the Pennsylvania Historical Review. Using 1918 death certificates, Excel, Access, and GIS, I will study the movement of the outbreak among varying demographics. I will also study the work of the City Beautiful Movement for public health improvement. I look forward to my future work. I will be graduating in December and plan on joining the workforce.
What advice do you have for people who will take part of the Digital Harrisburg in future years?
For those who will work for Digital Harrisburg in the future, I would tell you to that after you finished an assignment to ask what you can do next. There is always something that needs to be done at Digital Harrisburg, and Dr. Pettegrew is happy to offer opportunities. Also, do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Whether it is from a fellow work study or a faculty member, they are there to help you.
Find your niche, but be sure to branch out and try new things. Make friends, listen to good music, and dive into historic Harrisburg believing that you are capable of making a large impact on the research of the capital city. If you are willing to do the work and are passionate about bringing history to life, Digital Harrisburg is the place to come, learn, and serve.
I wish the best of luck to all future students and faculty working with Digital Harrisburg. And thank you, readers, for taking part in this highlight of my college career.
Signing out, Sarah.