A Fresh Look at Harrisburg’s Influential Women

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

by Alex Shehigian

Hello again! I’m Alex Shehigian, a public history major and digital public humanities minor at Messiah University. I’m excited to share with you about the project I’ll be contributing to for this semester’s section of Humanities Projects.

For this course, Messiah students partner with community groups to blend rigorous research with sophisticated digital technologies and create meaningful representations of Harrisburg history. I’m thrilled to be partnered with Humanities Fellows Jacob Silliman and Camryn Wimberly. In collaboration with the Civic Club of Harrisburg, we will create a self-guided audio tour of the Civic Club garden honoring women who have significantly impacted the city.

Our Humanities Projects group met with the Civic Club to discuss next steps for the project. Image source: David Pettegrew

Earlier this week, we met with Civic Club President Contrena Baltimore and Director of Communications and Media Joyce Davis. During this meeting, we narrowed down our target group of three historical women to be highlighted by this tour: Gabriella C. Gilbert, Mira Lloyd Dock, and Mary Stackpole. These women had ties to the early days of the Civic Club and the City Beautiful Movement, a twentieth-century initiative that was intended to sanitize and beautify Harrisburg and completely transformed the face of the city. From delivering speeches on the importance of public health to lobbying the city government for anti-littering legislation, the women of the Civic Club of Harrisburg were at the forefront of this movement. In the coming days, the Civic Club will also put forward three influential women from the present who will be paired with the already identified historical women.

The next task for our team is to synthesize our research on these Harrisburg women into stories we can present to the public through the garden tour. This will be accomplished using two formats. First, we will create information plaques to be placed around the garden, which we hope to install within the month. At a later date, we will record audio biographies of the women that will correspond with each plaque.

Our goal for the finished product is an immersive, multi-media tour experience that will allow visitors to enjoy the beauty of the garden and learn more about significant figures from Harrisburg’s past. After scanning a QR code displayed at the beginning of the tour on their mobile device, visitors will be taken to a web page from which they can access the audio biographies. They will then be able to wander from plaque to plaque around the park, listening to a blend of the stories of the city yesterday and the sounds of the city today.

The upcoming months will certainly be a journey of discovery as our team strives to uncover and share the oft-neglected stories of Harrisburg’s influential women. I look forward to providing further updates on this project as we progress.

Alex Shehigian is a sophomore at Messiah University. She is majoring in public history and minoring in the digital public humanities. She is also an Archives Office Assistant at the Messiah University Archives and volunteers with the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association archives. You can read more about me here.

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