Reflecting on a Semester Spent With Digital Harrisburg

Unbelievably, it seems to be the end of the 2019 fall semester. September seems to have turned into December at a whirlwind pace. As the year comes to a close, I’d like to take a moment and reflect on my time on the Digital Harrisburg working group.

The first thing that I quickly realized was that historical work of any kind is a tedious, detail-intensive process. I had envisioned making great, revelatory discoveries on a regular basis, and that simply was not the reality of the project. The reality was painstakingly examining pictures, and placing their locations on a map, in order to enter them into a Geographic Information System and create a Storymap. Having finally completed the entering of this data is a massive relief. I have accomplished a tiny portion, a drop in the bucket, but it is an accomplishment no less. I am excited to hit the ground running on the Storymap next year and whatever else the Commonwealth Monument Project might entail.

Expectations aside, these experiences on the Commonwealth Monument Project promoted valuable skills that I probably couldn’t gain elsewhere. In fact, there was a lot about this experience that would not be replicable in any other context. Working in the Humanities lab for example, was different that any research situation I had ever been in. Group oriented, discussion heavy, and actually a lot of fun, this was a far cry from the stoic source-searching I was used to.

I was also able to publish writing on a sizable platform. Being able to write blog posts for this website was exciting for someone who plans to write professionally. Never before have I written for such a sizable readership, nor for a website with such a unified purpose. I was able to write about things that mattered and perfect it in the editing process with constructive feedback from Dr. David Pettegrew and Katie Wingert.

Hands down my favorite experience from the semester was when I was able to attend a Chautauqua workshop at the Harrisburg’s McCormick Riverfront Library and I witnessed the raw zeal of catalysts like Lenwood Sloan and Calobe Jackson as they spoke on the 100 names, Harrisburg’s Lincoln Cemetery, and minstrelsy. This meeting was also attended by Harrisburg-area citizens who were simply to act out their passion for their local community and for history. Through this experience I witnessed firsthand the enormity of the Commonwealth Monument endeavor. It is so much bigger than just Messiah College.

Lenwood Sloan speaking at the Chautauqua workshop

Finally, I was able to learn and work with people who were passionate about history. Every time I entered the Center for Public Humanities Lab in Boyer Hall, I interacted with skilled student research employees, humanities fellows, and even high school students. Working with such varying perspectives as they came together was inspirational, and vital to my success this semester.

One prime example is my categorization of the Lincoln School Building. The source I was using for the building’s identification simply listed it as 1601 State Street, and I was recording it accordingly. It was only when my fellow student Josh Reid, who had been studying buildings, businesses and people alerted me to the importance of this building that I was able to record it. Had I not realized, the Storymap would be missing a major part of Harrisburg circa 1911.

I began working on the Digital Harrisburg Initiative at the beginning of this semester to satisfy a requirement for my Digital Public Humanities minor. I had no idea what I was in for. I quickly realized that this initiative had the potential to be one of the most valuable experiences of my time in college. I have gained useful skills, learned crucial history, and encountered powerfully devoted people. I can’t wait to see what the initiative accomplishes in 2020.

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