[Cross-Posted at digitalharrisburg.com]

The Digital Harrisburg working group is pleased to announce a beta version of an interactive map of Harrisburg in 1900/1901 hosted at ArcGIS Online. This map and the data it contains was developed as a collaboration between faculty and students at Messiah College and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. The  Historical Society of Dauphin County generously provided JPEG scans of the entire 1901 Harrisburg Title Company Atlas (the layer visible as the historical map of the city) and Ancestry.com provided access to the United States census data records for 1900. Working from the census data, Messiah College students created a complete database of the population in 1900, while GIS students from Messiah and Harrisburg University created building polygons and individual census record points in GIS mapped to the level of individual properties.

What you can do with the site:

The interactive website offers a high-resolution map of the entire city in 1901 overlaying (at 50% transparency) modern aerial photographs of Harrisburg. Every place of residence (at present, about 90% matching) in the city has embedded data from the federal census. You can explore the city in 1901 by looking at property and ownership on the maps. Or you can click on the individual blue dots and scroll through the inhabitants of any particular residence. We have made available the complete fields from the federal census:

  • Ward
  • District
  • Address
  • Last Name
  • First Name
  • Relation to Head of Household
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Marital Status
  • Years Married
  • Number of Children
  • Number of Children Living
  • Birthplace
  • Father’s Birthplace
  • Mother’s Birthplace
  • Year of Immigration
  • Occupation
  • Months Unemployed
  • Can Read?
  • Can Write?
  • Can Speak English?

The map is currently searchable by inhabitants’ name, so may be of use to people looking for their ancestors in Harrisburg. It is important to note that the data is not yet complete or perfect, and we will be working in the spring 2015 toward a more complete project. We are also thinking ahead about embedding photographs and historical documents in the map. If you have ideas about how you might contribute to this work, please contact Professor Pettegrew (Messiah College) and Professor Sarvis (Harrisburg University)

How to Use the Site:

When you visit the site’s web address, you will see the following image. The light shade over the aerial photograph represents the extent of the 1901 Atlas. The light blue shade (visible in this photo toward the bottom) marks digitized residence polygons. The blue circles represent individuals. From this view point, not all the data is visible.

Screenshot (4) (1024x576)

Zoom into a place on the map by clicking on the + sign. Find the part of Harrisburg that you wish to explore. If you click on the ? in the upper right corner, you will access our summary of the site. We will develop this in the future.

Screenshot (18) (1024x576)

Zooming in further will reveal all the residence polygons and the blue circles representing the population.Screenshot (5) (1024x576)

The following images, for example, show the residence polygons (light blue shade) over both the 1901 atlas and the modern aerial photos in the area of the Capitol Park and State MuseumScreenshot (6) (1024x576)

The 1901 atlas overlaying the State Museum of Pennsylvania.Screenshot (7) (1024x576)

Click on a blue dot to see who was living at that place in 1901. This house under the state museum was inhabited by a 15 year old girl named Bertha M. Phillips.

Screenshot (8) (1024x576)

Scroll down to see what we know about Bertha. She was single, born in Pennsylvania, the daughter of a man born in Pennsylvania and a father born in Kentucky. At the time of the census, she was listed as being “At School”. She could read, write, and speak English.

Screenshot (9) (1024x576)

Another residence nearby has a 37 year old boarder named Ellen Troup. If you click on the right arrow above her name, you’ll be able to see the other 9 people living in her house. Screenshot (10) (1024x576)

The site also allows you to search by first or last name. The search for the last name of Hogentogler pulls up a list of people of that last name in 1900.Screenshot (11) (1024x576)Screenshot (13) (1024x576)

Clicking on the name will transport you to Edith’s house elsewhere in the city.Screenshot (15) (1024x576)

Finally, if you find the background aerial photograph too distracting, simply select the second icon from the left at the top. Then select “Streets” and you’ll be left with just the map of the city in 1901. Screenshot (17) (1024x576)

The site is fairly straightforward and has a lot of potential for development in different ways. Please contact us if you see potential partnerships.

[Cross-posted at www.digitalharrisburg.com]

It’s been an eventful month for our work on the Digital Harrisburg Initiative. About time to round up some of the latest updates:

1. Presentations

Since our last update, faculty and students from Messiah College, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, and Harrisburg Area Community College presented on research related to Harrisburg’s City Beautiful movement.

The first presentation occurred at Bucknell University’s Digital Scholarship Conference which was dedicated this year to the theme of “Collaborating Digitally: Engaging Students in Faculty Research”. Professor Sarvis and I presented to a room of about 50-60 faculty and a few students currently exploring the intersection of GIS spatial technologies and undergraduate humanities research. It was fantastic. We heard some inspiring talks, including one by Professor Linda Aleci (Franklin & Marshall College) on an outstanding project titled “Curating the -City: People and Places in Lancaster, PA.” We also got the sense that we were doing something unique in creating collaboration between humanities faculty and students at Messiah College and geospatial technologists at Harrisburg University. I have used Scribd. to embed our PowerPoint presentation from the conference, and also our process paper, which the Digital Harrisburg working group contributed to:


I embed below the draft of a process paper about the work we’ve done over the last year.


Our second presentation occurred on Wednesday, Nov. 19, at Central Pennsylvania GIS Day at Harrisburg Area Community College. Students and faculty from Messiah, HACC, and Harrisburg University gave the opening session on “GIS and the Harrisburg City Beautiful Movement.” Below, Messiah College and Harrisburg University students Rachel Carey, Rachel Morris, and Dan Stolyarov discuss their part for the City Beautiful project.

2014-11-19 09.03.38

_DSC7435 (1024x683)

_DSC7440 (1024x683)

_DSC7461 (1024x683)

The group also gave a workshop on working with the census data to area high school students and GIS professionals. High school students were fascinated by the opportunity to visualize Midtown, Harrisburg, in 1900.

_DSC7451 (1024x683)

Here is the presentation from the GIS Day.


2. City Social Data and GIS Data Update

Our second main activity has been to improve the connection between the federal census database for Harrisburg 1900 and the GIS map of the city in 1901. We’ve been manually going through the people-less properties in the GIS and the homeless people in the census database to place missing people into empty homes. At our last report, we had an 84% match rate between properties and census data, and a 72% match rate with the population. Professor Sarvis now reports that we’ve been able to link 45,415 individuals from the total population of 50,167 (90.5%) to places on the map.

3. Interactive Map of the City

Our third highlight is the launch of a beta version of an interactive map of the city in 1900. We’ll announce this tomorrow or Wednesday.

4. Next Steps

For the spring, our work will continue in different ways.

The Working group will:

  • Finalize the census database for Harrisburg 1900
  • Create a census database for the 10,000 people living in the Steelton community to the south
  • Begin to digitize the 1910 federal census
  • Work on creating more social layers (race, ethnicity, rent vs. own, etc…) for the interactive map of Harrisburg
  • Experiment with ways to link historical images and documents to the interactive map of the city

Other courses at Messiah College scheduled for next semester, such as U.S. Urban History and Pennsylvania History, may develop the initiatives in new ways.

And student projects, including a documentary on the Harrisburg Giants, should develop substantially.

Check back this week for our announcement of the Interactive Map of Harrisburg in 1900.

The History Department of Messiah College is pleased to announce the induction of four new members to the Alpha-Kappa-Sigma chapter of Phi Alpha Theta (History Honor Society). The induction will be held in the Howe Atrium (Boyer Hall) on Wednesday, December 10th at 4:30pm.  A reception will follow the induction ceremony. All friends of History are welcome to attend. For more on Phi Alpha Theta visit http://www.phialphatheta.org or see the information below.
Best wishes,
Norm Wilson (nwilson@messiah.edu )
Professor of History
Adviser of the Alpha-Kappa-Sigma chapter of Phi Alpha Theta

The Alpha-Kappa-Sigma Chapter of Phi Alpha Theta was established at Messiah College on April 4, 2003. The local chapter promotes the study of History on campus and in the local community.

Phi Alpha Theta has grown to more than eight hundred thirty-nine chapters in fifty states, more than any other accredited four-year college honor society. The total number of initiates since its inception is more than 281,000. As part of its commitment to academic excellence, Phi Alpha Theta continues to participate actively, through its Executive Director and President, in the Association of College Honor Societies. Phi Alpha Theta enjoys the distinction of being one of three original departmental honor societies with membership in the ACHS. In 1996 Phi Alpha Theta received recognition as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Contributions to our Society are now tax-deductible as allowed by law.

We are a professional society whose mission is to promote the study of History through the encouragement of research, good teaching, publication and the exchange of learning and ideas among Historians. We seek to bring students, teachers and writers of History together for intellectual and social exchanges, which promote and assist Historical research and publication by our members in a variety of ways.

James Mueller is a sophomore history major at Messiah College.  As a first-year student he was deciding whether he wanted to major in history or engineering. He eventually chose history. Now, over at the blog of the Messiah College Center for Public Humanities Fellows Program, James defends his decision.   Here is his post, in its entirety:

Asking people for money over the phone is as eventful as you suspect. Occasionally they pick up and you have a successful, or at least a pleasant, conversation. More often, they tell you (with kindness levels varying from person to person) that they’re not interested. Most of the time though, you just get voicemail – lots and lots of voicemail. It was one of those voicemail nights last Thursday at the Messiah Phonathon Call Center when my mind started to wander. Normally I would shoot the breeze with a coworker until an alumnus or alumna in my calling pool picked up the phone, but I wasn’t much in the talking mood. So I just listened. And, on par with what normally happens when you listen well, eventually I heard something that was worth thinking about.

He was talking to my supervisor: “Look, there’s a reason Messiah has such a terrible ROI. Most of the kids going to this college are majoring in things like English or some other pointless degree. What are you gonna do with that when you get out of college?” A couple of the 9 other people in the Call Center started to snigger in agreement. He went on: “Get this, the first couple days of class, my Shakespeare prof  even tried telling us why being an English major is a good idea. He talked about how it would be good for being a lawyer or even a good businessmen – he said every business needs good writers. Like, what? Why don’t they just major in Business if they’re gonna be working for a company?” More laughter and agreement followed from a couple others.

I almost spoke up. I almost told him how wrong I thought he was. But I didn’t. I held my tongue and spared my coworkers an argument that may not have made sense to them and that they probably didn’t even want to hear – I do like these people after all. Instead, I decided to preserve my thoughts, reflect on the matter, and then respond with the written word. I figure giving people the opportunity to stop reading and close the web browser is a kindness.

The first thing that needs to be set straight is this notion that humanities majors are worthless and impractical. I could write another whole post about how skewed this is; I could highlight the indispensable analytic and verbal skills the Humanities hone; I could mention the many notable business and political icons who ‘wasted their time’ on ‘worthless’ degrees; I could talk about how hilariously modern this notion is; but instead I’ll hold off. If you’re really itching for some fact check though, a simple Google search ought to clear things up (‘successful liberal arts majors’ perhaps?). You’ll be surprised. For now, I’ll talk about something you’re probably more interested in: success.

Success is simple. Go to college, get a useful degree, score a well-paying job, settle down, raise a family, send your kids to college, retire. Done. You probably think I’m making a gross generalization. Maybe you even think my trite imagery is a weapon that only angry hipsters use to justify their failures. Oh, how I wish I could make fun of hipsters and agree with you! But talk to someone. Right now, tomorrow, a week from now, whenever: ask someone why they do what they do.

Preferably ask a college student. Now listen. What do you hear? Money, job security, practicality…all prudent reasons some would say. And I don’t entirely disagree. I understand wanting to be self-sufficient. I understand wanting to start a family and provide for that family. Those are responsible and unselfish goals. But they are not the most important goals.

So then, what is the ultimate goal? I don’t know. There are a lot of things I could say, but many of them would probably be wrong. So I’ll just stick to something I think is more important: understanding people. Husband, wife, kids, family, friends, coworkers, everywhere you look we’re connected to someone else. Relationships form the heart of all domestic and workplace activities. Despite this, we’re bad with people. We hurt each other. A lot. I’ve watched countless relationships fall apart. It’s depressing, frustrating, and generally due to a web of complex issues which have pushed both people to the brink. Many people just can’t seem to grapple with their partner’s humanity (or their own for that matter). They don’t understand what makes other’s tick, their judgment is impaired from an inability to draw on more experiences than their own, they don’t understand why people can’t seem to just get it right (aka, do it the way they think it should be done), and they end up alienating the people they love most because of all this.

Okay, so it’s clear our relationship I.Q. is low. But how do we fix this? How can we understand more about ourselves and about the people around us so that we can form healthier and longer-lasting relationships? Studying one of those ‘worthless’ degrees just may be the key.

I can’t speak for English or any of the other Humanities majors (though I’m sure students of each respective field could give you a great argument), but I can confidently say that history is all about people. Sorry if that sounds like tautology, but I think it truly does need saying. Most people think history is in the business of facts and dates, but that’s just not true. The facts and dates are important because they are attached to the people of the past. Not the other way around.  From the individual to the collective, history gives you the opportunity to intently study the human experience. ‘What did this person say? What were they actually trying to say? What did they really mean? Why?’ Such simple and nuanced questions transport the historian into a wild and unfamiliar land; a land where he has to navigate the conflicted, confused, and utterly different personalities of countless human beings. Sometimes the trip is lovely. At other times it’s terrifying or disgusting. All the time it’s enlightening.

It’s impossible to turn off a brain once it starts thinking historically. You’ll continually want to hear people’s stories, you’ll carefully examine the motivations and actions of others, you’ll become a good listener, and, if you practice history long enough, you’ll start to understand.  Or at least understand that you don’t know it all. And this understanding can lead to humility, appreciation, patience, and, hopefully, to more wholesome relationships.

I’m not going to barge back into the Call Center on Monday and tell my coworker he’s wrong. Because, from his perspective, he’s not. That’s what makes life annoying and beautiful all at the same time. We all have lenses that we look through. Change over time, and all the funny things it does to humanity, is one way me and a lot of other people look at the world. So please hear me: I’m not asking you to get a new pair of glasses. You don’t even have to like the ones I’m wearing. All I hope is that people will recognize there’s more than one barometer for success. Understanding is nice. Trust me: I’m going to school for it.

Congratulations to history major Jonathan Fuller who has been awarded one of the coveted library research grants from Friends of the Murray Library. Jonathan is a double major in Christian Ministries and History, and will be conducting research for a project titled "Going Home: A History of American Christian Zionism". The funds will allow him to travel to the Library of Congress and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Library. Congrats, Jonathan.

Every year the Messiah College History Department sponsors a “Career Night” in which we bring alums back to campus to talk about the ways that their undergraduate study of history has helped them in their workplace.  We could not have been more excited about our speakers at this year’s event.

Beth Baggett graduated from the Messiah College History Department in 1997 and went on to pursue a career in the fashion industry.  She has worked for Guess Jeans, Nautica, Sean John, and is currently the Vice-President for Sales–Men’s Division–at Perry Ellis International.

Caitlin Babcock graduated from the Messiah College History Department in 2010 and went on to pursue an M.A. in Peace and Conflict Resolution.  She is currently Executive Management Assistant at the Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia, a non-profit organization that helps new immigrants assimilate to American life.

Both Beth and Caitlin discussed how they transitioned from a Messiah College history major to their current jobs.

Beth talked extensively about how she has used the writing and research skills that she learned as a history major to rise in the fashion industry.  (She currently heads a $40 million division–men’s retail–at Perry Ellis).  She also discussed how history has helped her “to see the big picture” as she takes sales data and tries to weave it into a story about the products she is charged with selling. She credits her study of history and a lot of hard work with getting a leg up in this very competitive and global industry.

Caitlin uses her history major every day in her work with immigrants.  Part of her job is to tell the stories of the immigrants she encounters in a fair and compelling way.  She has learned to listen and empathize with those she encounters at work–something she learned listening to and empathizing with the dead people she encountered every day as a history major. The ability to craft written narratives has also been essential to her work as a grant writer for this non-profit agency.

This session reminded us that a solid undergraduate training in a liberal arts discipline such as history can prepare one for a variety of jobs. It was clear that Beth and Caitlin love their work. It was also clear that if they had to do it all over again they would still major in history.

The co-director of the “Documentary Film and History” program at Syracuse University just contacted me.  He would love to see some Messiah College history majors apply to this program.  Here is a taste of his e-mail:

Syracuse University offers a unique MA degree for History majors and minors.  Currently in its tenth year, our “Documentary Film and History” program is designed for students interested in making documentary films on historical themes, offering them the opportunity to deepen their understanding of history while they acquire the practical skills of the filmmaker’s craft.

This fifteen-month program is a collaboration between the History Department and the renowned Newhouse School of Public Communications.  Applicants do not need a media background.  In addition to taking courses on film production, screenwriting, and historical methods, students choose courses that allow them to deepen their knowledge of a specific field within history.  For their M.A. thesis, students make films on topics chosen in conjunction with their advisors.   Recent films have examined topics such as the role of race in college football, the history of the video game, and the idea of the outlaw in country music.   

Our alumni work at the History Channel, Focus Films, National Geographic, as well as for independent film companies such as Sundance.   Some have also used the degree to pursue work in public history, or as a gateway to a Ph.D. program.  

For more information on the program, please visit:  http://newhouse.syr.edu/academics/degrees/masters/documentary-film-and-history.   

For even more information contact:

Norman Kutcher


M.A. in Documentary Film and History

Syracuse University



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