New History: Updates on Digital Harrisburg

The team of students and faculty at Messiah College’s branch of the Digital Harrisburg Initiative have been hard at work for the past few months on a variety of different projects. Our on-going involvement in the Look Up, Look Out campaign and Commonwealth Monument project allows many different students to lend their voices to important biographies and stories that came out of Harrisburg’s 8th ward in the 19th and 20th century. Some students are also working on individual research projects while others continue to organize new exhibits on the Digital Harrisburg website. All of our current projects, however, are centered around the effects of City Beautiful on the Old 8th Ward.

Interactive Map of Harrisburg from the Digital Harrisburg Website. This map includes census data point from 1900 as well as a map of the city from 1900 overlaying an aerial photograph of the present.
The pedestal section of the Commonwealth Monument dedicated on June 6, 2019 in Strawberry Square in Harrisburg. The monument contains an explanation of the project, 100 names of important individuals from the 8th ward, and a relief of the Old 8th on the top. it will be placed along with bronze figures of influential orators in August 2020.

Our current team consists of seven student members and two faculty advisors, Dr. David Pettegrew and Katie McCardle. Returning students senior Anna Strange, senior Mary Culler, and junior Molly Elspas are continuing their work with Look Up, Look Out and have both written and edited many of the stories soon to be displayed in the Pennsylvania Capitol building. These biographies and narratives are dedicated to the influential stories of those who either lived in or were frequently involved with the Old 8th Ward of Harrisburg. The goal of the project is to encourage those who work in the Capitol as well as the general public to look into the history of the capitol grounds which were created at the expense of 541 homes, businesses, churches, and schools at the turn of the century. The team will complete the installation of the final set of posters by the first week in November.

Anna and Molly just finished up an article for the Pennsylvania History Journal on the correspondence between two major City Beautiful reformers: Mira Lloyd Dock and J. Horace McFarland. This article will be in the January issue of the journal entitled “Harrisburg, Digital Public History, and the ‘City Beautiful’ ” and will be featured alongside other articles written by Messiah College faculty, former students, and guest historians. In reference to her work on this article, Anna Strange states, “I have appreciated learning what the editing and publishing process looks like.” Through outside opportunities like this, DHI also offers students a chance to develop professional experience in different kinds of historical work.

Aside from Look Up, Look Out, DHI focuses on a variety of projects associated with redefining perceptions of the Old 8th. Up until recently, that section of the city had been characterized as dirty, backward, and “bloody” (The Evening News). A lot of our work centers around humanizing the ward and giving voice to the people who once lived there. Senior Chloe Dickson and junior Joshua Reid are working on exploring ways the 8th ward was represented in newspapers and building collections photos of people who inhabited it (respectively). Chloe has spent time researching differing opinions in the Patriot News and Harrisburg Telegraph and developed a biography for one of the 100 names of influential people from the ward. She and Mary are using their respective research to write a paper along with Dr. Pettegrew discussing the reputation of the 8th ward and how this reputation is shaped by digital resources.

View of Filbert street from the north side of Walnut street. Pennsylvania State Archive RG17, Box ?

In order to provide resources that explore the entirety of the Old 8th, we are working to create exhibits which showcase different artifact mediums. Team members Joshua Reid and sophomore Ned Kuczmynda are compiling photos of people from the ward into new collections. Gathered from different trips to the Pennsylvania State Archive, these offer a snapshot of everyday life for citizens in the old 8th. Joshua is in charge of editing the photos while Ned organizes them by location for the purpose of using them in an interactive story map of early 20th century Harrisburg.

Looking to the future, our different team members will continue to develop more datasets utilizing the digital archives which have been compiled over the years. The Digital Harrisburg Initiative’s early years of research and data organization are now being opened to the public. With new exhibits based on archived letters, photos, and further research into geographic data we will be able to offer picture of the Old 8th Ward that is both exhaustive and interactive. Even though the staff changes every year, projects are given new life through the perspectives of different contributors. According to team member Chloe Dickson: “Having just joined the DHI, I have had a great time getting acquainted with the resources we utilize.” This dynamic nature allows DHI to add new perspectives into a common narrative. Moving forward, we strive to bring new light to the Old 8th, creating an interactive experience for the public that invites them to learn more.

Follow our Facebook page to be updated on our future projects and events:

Facebook: @OldEighth

For other news on humanities projects at Messiah College, follow the Messiah College School of Humanities @Messiah.Humanities and the Center for Public Humanities @messiahcollegepublichumanities


“Fewer Serious Crimes”, The Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 29 June 1926.

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