My Digital Semester

Map of Harrisburg boundaries in the early 1900s showing the State Capitol grounds (green) and the Capitol Park Extension that replaced the Old Eighth Ward (dark orange)

When I started taking digital history at the beginning of this semester, none of us could have predicted just how much digital learning would impact our semesters. When we had to go home because of Covid-19, online learning became essential to classes. For certain classes, this switch was hard, but my history classes did not significantly change since most of my assignments were online even before the switch. Digital History works well with this online learning environment since we have access to most of our work online, and I brought my books for the class home. Some changes did still occur to this class and others. We still had online classes, where we mostly learned how to use new technologies, and class periods were shorter, but there was also more outside work. We also had weekly discussion posts and replied to our classmates online instead of in-class discussions.  We also still had to do mini projects to learn how to use the technology each week which helped me decide which technology to use for my final project.

Throughout this class, I feel like I learned so much that will be helpful in the future. I learned how to use tools to further my research and presentation of materials, and how to use tools to help me analyze the information better. Spreadsheets and databases like Microsoft Excel and Access make it easy to analyze the information in different ways. Learning how to use sites to make websites such as WordPress, Omeka, and Arc GIS Story Maps gave me new ways to present materials based on what I want to say about my topic.

Map of the Pennsylvania State Capitol grounds in 1900 and the residential area of the Eighth Ward adjacent to the Capitol Building (orange) that was demolished in the 1910s to make way for a new park

In addition to learning how to use the technologies, I also learned a lot of new ideas from the weekly readings. I learned a lot about Harrisburg and the City Beautiful movement from reading articles about the subject, and books such as those written by Paul Beers. I also learned about other topics not directly related to any specific technology, such as copyright law and preserving digital history in a world where we have access to so much information. I also learned about the pros and cons of digital history, such as increased access to information, but at times too much information, because something important can get lost in all the other things.

Based on what I had learned in class, I decided to do a Story Map for my final project. This technology has been helpful with the final project because it gives me a way to display the information.  For my final project, I am working to show the changes that occurred in Harrisburg’s Eighth Ward during the 1910s. I want to show what the area looked like before and after the extension of Capitol Park. I also want to show where some of the residents and businesses moved.  I found lots of information to help me in my search for information in places like the Pennsylvania State Archives. I found related historical documents and used databases like Microsoft Access to study Census records.  I also am showing information about the Capital Park buildings which were designed by the architect Arnold Brunner. I am also showing information about the sculptures in front of the Capitol building, which were designed by George Barnard. Together this information shows the story of what happened in Harrisburg’s Eighth Ward, and how Capitol Park came to be the way it is today. I was glad to have the opportunity to research this area of Harrisburg history this semester and learn more about digital technologies that I can put to use in the future.

From Pennlive‘s website of Barnard’s Statues outside the Capitol Building

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