Reflections on Digital History and my work with Frederick Douglass

This past semester I have learned an incredible number of applicable skills in the world of digital history. Our class went through learning multiple platforms of website builders, while also learning a lot about different softwares that can be used in many creative ways – especially in the field of history. Some our first little projects were simply collecting metadata from online artifacts. Those little practices would be built upon in other projects like our website creation, Omeka lab, working with data for Digital Harrisburg, and collecting data for memory boxes. One of my favorite little projects we got to take part in was our Wikipedia Lab! We created profiles and helped add information to different files. The file I choose to add to was that of my former place of work, Pennsbury Manor. We had recently done a lot of repatriation work in partnership with the Lenape Tribe.

I was not all that surprised to find that it hadn’t been updated in a while, so who better to update the site about all the happenings at Pennsbury Manor than one of their former employees! You can read more about the work Pennsbury Manor has been doing on either the Wiki page or from a news article written by a Native American online news paper.

Another exciting project that I had a lot of fun tinkering with was building an Omeka page featuring some of the research I have done previously on Frederick Douglass. Omeka taught me a lot about how to make database collections, making pages, exhibits, searchable data sites and more! Who knew you could do so much on one simple website? You can find my page here.

Another section to our course was archival work and uploading it to the digital world. We took two trips as a class over the course of the semester one to the state archives and the other to the Historic Society of Dauphin County Archives. Both spaces provided us with unique materials and experiences. While working at the State Archives I got to work with microfilm, which is something I have never been able to use before until now! Then at the county archives I got to read and flip through an original book from the 1830’s. These trips provided us with some foundational material for our final projects.

The culmination of this course resides around our final project, our story maps. Each of us were tasked with picking a place and then telling it’s story. I found myself drawn to the famous place where Frederick Douglass gave a speech to the old eighth ward. I kept hearing about this story and being at this place but struggled to find something more to the story. So, I did what any good historian would do, I started my research. I wanted to know what impact Frederick Douglass had on the citizens of Harrisburg and not just within the old eight ward. Things started to fall into place when I found a news column written by the Harrisburg Telegraph in 1895 remembering Frederick Douglass’s first trip to Harrisburg.

It wasn’t exactly what I had expected. He was a well known man and abolitionist with powerful friends, but that didn’t mean he was free from hatred and acts of violence. It seems that multiple stops of his on his journey throughout Pennsylvania were met with violence. However, he also had ripple effects of change within communities. It would be twenty two years before Douglass returned to Harrisburg, but his first visit laid the foundation for organizations like the Bethel AME Church in Harrisburg to help educate citizens about their rights to vote and register them after the passing of the 15th amendment.

To learn more about Douglass, his ripple effects in Harrisburg and other places in PA you can read about it on my story map site here.

This class has been an absolute joy and an amazing learning experience that gives me a cutting edge in this up and coming field that is digital history. I highly recommend learning the ins and outs of database websites, programs like adobe acrobat, exel, microsoft access, and website builders. Goodbye for now, but not forever!

Keli Ganey is now a Senior History major at Messiah University with a concentration in Public History and minor in Digital Public Humanities. She holds the position of Humanities scholarship program leadership council co-chair, President of the Messiah History Club, works for Yellow Breeches Television as the station’s historian and serves on the editorial staff. Keli also is the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archival Intern for spring 2023. You can see her many works in various forms on her personal website.

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