Digital History: A ‘Bridge,’ Enabling the Past to be Elevated in the Present

By Rachel Dougherty

I sit down to write this final post in the midst of a hectic finals week.  I’ve been busy taking cumulative exams and writing papers in an attempt to synthesize what I have learned over the course of the semester; but my Digital History final has looked a bit different.  I was tasked with using the digital skills and methods I have learned this Fall to create a website that told a story bound spatially in Harrisburg and rooted in my research at the state and county archives.  I mentioned in my last post that I found a program detailing the dedication of the Market Street Bridge East Entrance in 1906 among J. Horace McFarland’s personal papers at the Historical Society of Dauphin County’s archives.  Since then, I have thoroughly enjoyed diving into the history of a space I have driven by so many times with no second thought.  More on that history briefly.  This project has been a reflective amalgamation of the basic skills I have developed in website design, digitization, metadata, archival research, and geospatial resources, and has truly been a cumulative undertaking.  I can truthfully say the following: I would not have been able to complete this project before taking Digital History. 

Image from:

Title: Proceedings at the Dedication of the Market Street Entrance to the City of Harrisburg, April 20, 1906
DescriptionProgram at the grand-opening of the East Entrance of the Market Street Bridge, including speeches by the mayor and J. Horace McFarland.  
SourceThe Historical Society of Dauphin County, MG229, Box 1, Folder 12. 
Curated by: Rachel Dougherty and the Digital Harrisburg Initiative.

We were asked to reflect in our final class period together on this very subject and I came up with three brief takeaways. 1.) I have an entirely new digital skill set and feel as though I have an edge in the job market because of this course.  2) While number one still stands, this class also solidified that I would rather not dedicate my life to working with digital tools in the strict sense.  (See my first post to appreciate just how far I have come in my outlook on digital history!)  3.) As a visual learner, and someone extremely interested in Art and Art History, I came to appreciate the process of the digitization of images.  I cannot even imagine these two disciplines without digitization, having now done it myself.

Turning now to my final project…I decided a Weebly-based website would be best for presenting my research due to its reliance on visuals and digitized documents.  What follows is a taste, in the form of an excerpt, of my story which seeks to present the dedication of the Market Street Bridge entrance as a pivotal point in Harrisburg’s journey towards City Beautiful:

“When it was McFarland’s turn to stand up and accept the East Plaza, and the accompanying responsibility of upkeep, on behalf of the Park Commission, he labeled the space as a “jewel that clasps together a green ribbon of trees and grass, gracing the beautiful riverfront which is our choicest possession.”  Here, McFarland emphasizes a City Beautiful ideal of green, clean, natural spaces accomplished through the East Entrance addition to Riverside Park.  He went on to express how this plaza would remain a seal for “municipal beauty.”  In the following paragraphs of his speech on page 18 of the program, he crusades against the ‘ugliness’ of the city and declares that the dignified columns now placed at Harrisburg’s entrance set a standard for future beautification of the city.  ​“May we soon live,” McFarland declared in closing, “ in all respects, in Harrisburg the Beautiful!”


Title: Market Street Bridge East Entrance, undated
Description: The East Entrance post-1906 opening and construction.   
CreatorWilliam M. Rittase
SourceThe Pennsylvania State Archives, MG 218.3.4, Oversize Folder 9
Curated by: Rachel Dougherty and the Digital Harrisburg Initiative.
Rights: This work is free of known copyright restrictions. Please attribute to the Pennsylvania State Archives

Even with all my new-found knowledge and skills in the digital realm (though I still have much to learn!), I suppose, I am still struck by this random document I found tucked away in an archive that led me to research a space that I have driven by many times without glancing twice.  I am grateful for the digital, but most of all, I am grateful for the ways in which the study of history has been elevated in this realm, and that I now possess the skills to contribute in this way.  

Be sure to visit my website to learn more about the Market Street Bridge’s East Entrance HERE!


Rachel Dougherty is a junior History major with dual minors in Studio Art and Art History at Messiah University.

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