My Final Digital History Post

As I have been working through this semester, a good portion of my focus has been on the veterans of the Spanish American War. Back in early April, I posted about my idea for a final project where I track some of the veterans who served in the Spanish American War. Bridging to that idea, I later went through the 1930 census and made a blog post showing some of the statistics about the veterans living in Harrisburg at the time. In doing so, I gained a better understanding of how to utilize tools such as Microsoft Access. With this previous experience, I went through the Muster In and Out calls for the Governor’s Cavalry which was made up primarily of Harrisburg residents. Using the roll in conjunction with the census, I was able to map out where the soldiers lived after returning from war, how they moved over the course of 30 years, what their jobs were and if they changed, how their marital status changed, and how many of them stayed in Harrisburg. My final project can be found here.

In order to analyze the data, I manually searched for every name and added in wildcard factors to help assist in locating names where spelling was more or less fluid. There was also the issue of the penmanship being in a very different style from what I am used to reading today. The majority of the roll was written in a form of cursive that I was not entirely familiar with. This did cause me some issues with reading and understanding what was written. Also, it appears to be that some of the names were spelled by sound and not a traditional convention which further compounded consistency issues. I did this detailed search for names through all four censuses. When analyzing the data, I did encounter a few problems likely resulting from human error. Unfortunately, I was only able to track approximately 30 people (10 by 1930). This low number may be due to changes in how people spelled their names over the course of the censuses. I also ran into a problem where people would be around for one census, and then miss the next one, only to return at a later census. This caused some discontinuity with the data as I was unable to paint a complete picture for all of the remaining soldiers.

This is an image of one of the sheets that I analyzed to get the names and ages used on which to base the data.
This is a screen cap showing where the Governors Cavalry Veterans lived in 1930.

Over the course of this semester I have learned much about History in this digital age. I have had the opportunity to visit the Pennsylvania Archives and conduct proper archival research. My experience visiting the archives can be found here. I was able to learn about how the archives work and follow the processes required to see documents. In addition to visiting the archives, I have explored programs and utilized tools such as Microsoft Access, and ArcGis which have both allowed me to work on my research project as well as other projects in the class. With Microsoft Access, I have been able to quickly search through thousands of names and points of information to compile a story depicting the lives of many soldiers after returning from war. Through ArcGis, I have the ability to map out where they lived and gain a glimpse at the obstacles they faced in their every day lives.

I have also learned about digital history technologies and how they have evolved over the past 20 odd years. Digital history has taken different forms and faced different challenges. These challenges range from issues of storage, to issues of credibility and the challenges associated with curating a collection of information that can be accessed by anyone. Currently, we are adapting and changing methods of storage faster than we can transfer old documents and storage types to the new file types. I have also learned just how easy it is to go and make changes to information in online sources such as Wikipedia; but I have also learned just how accurate these sources can be. With the greater amount of people using and accessing them, it is astounding to see how well curated our shared history actually is. One would think that Wikipedia and other public information receptacles would be plagued by trolls and grievous misinformation. While the information is not always correct, it can be a great place to start and gain additional information.

Thanks to this class, I am more prepared now to go out into the digital world of History and work to forwarding the practice of studying history in this burgeoning historical age.

Due to the outbreak of the coronavirus and the resulting social distancing rules, my Digital History class has been conducted in an online- remote learning style. Initially, I was a bit hesitant and quite frankly, nervous for the transition to the online learning environment. However, my fears turned out to be unjustified. Due to the very nature of the class being in a digital format, there was actually very little transition required to keep the class functioning. As it stood, the class already had a large dependency on technology with less of a focus on the person to person contact and discussion that can be found in a more typical history class. But I suppose that should have been expected, considering the class is titled Digital History.

Unfortunately, due to the transition we have had to sacrifice our person to person discussions and instead have taken to discussions via messages which can be useful but in some cases lack the traditional feel of a history class. It has been unfortunate to lose the physical presence in the classroom, as that dynamic to learning can be very beneficial to understanding material, but the Zoom meetings that have taken its place work to make up for that loss of contact. Another change has been more of a push to asynchronous learning, where we learn about and complete a project, blog post, in place of part of the class time. Switching to this style of instruction has been really interesting and quite nice, actually. With the asynchronous style, it gives me the ability to work and learn at times that may be more convenient.

Overall, my course in Digital History transitioned to an online format rapidly and successfully. The transition was fairly smooth and painless. This experience–being thrust into a completely digital environment, has been quite remarkable and I think I will miss this class in the future as it has been quite the exciting journey.

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