Updates on the Digital Harrisburg Project

The first seven weeks of the fall semester have flown by here here in the history department at Messiah College. I hope to write more about some of the exciting events happening this semester, but only have a moment to post a link to an update about our recent work on the Digital Harrisburg Project, which has continued to develop in exciting ways in recent months. For a full overview of our historical work in Harrisburg, read this post. I’ve reposted the opening below.

1. Digital History Course

Student blog posts at this site over the last few weeks have showcased the work of another Digital History class currently underway. As I noted the last time I taught it, the Digital History class is designed to introduce students to “digital history”–the study and practice of history in the digital age–through discussions, labs, and projects. While our group of students is smaller this semester, the reader may expect a series of posts from students every other week for the next two months. Some will explore the concept, theory, and practice of digital history; others will focus on data analysis and the three main projects of the course. These include:

City Beautiful: The Campaign for Beauty. Students are now developing a section of the City Beautiful Omeka site originally created by students the last time I taught this class in Spring 2014. This semester we are focusing on the campaign for public improvements that occurred in the city between Mira Lloyd Dock’s speech to the Board of Trade in December 1900 and the vote for a new mayor and the bond issue in February 1902. We have collected stories, photographs, and news items from newspaper databases for The Patriot (Harrisburg) and The Harrisburg Telegraph to better understand the reformers involved in the movement (including their residences and networks), the venues and places used for promoting the bond issue, and the areas of the city where campaigning was most active. We are trying to understand how the reformers sought to convince the population to vote on a bond issue to take civic debt (and higher taxes) in order to implement reform. Students will soon be adding short overviews to the Omeka site explaining how campaign events related to the space of the city. This map below, for example, shows the the residences (red) of some of the principal reformers who drove the campaign for improvement in 1901-1902 against the background of how the different city precincts voted for the bond issue to support improvements. The darker the background, the greater the support for improvement. (The first number in the map below indicates the ward of the city, the second number the precinct, e.g., 7.6 = Ward 7, Precinct 6).

This map shows the residences (red) of some of the principal reformers in the improvement campaign of 1901-1902 against the background of how the city voted in February 1902 for the bond issue to support improvements.

City Social: The Vote for Beauty. The second project will introduce students to the creation, use, and analysis of spreadsheets and databases. The last time I taught the class, students digitized half of the federal census records for Harrisburg in 1900. That project is now completed (see below), and our students this semester will develop two new data sets: property values for 1900 and the city’s immigrant populations in 1900 and 1910. Property values will show in fine detail how wealth was distributed across the city at the turn of the twentieth century and influenced the vote on the bond issue in February 1902. As the map below illustrates, the city was split evenly between northern precincts, which were marginally in favor or even outright against the bond issue, and southern and eastern precincts that voted largely, if not overwhelmingly, in its favor. Inputting and visualizing property values across the city will allow us to determine whether that variable contributed to how precincts voted.

Immigrant data will highlight the global connections of the city and highlight the networks and processes by which the small group of immigrants (5% of the population) settled across Harrisburg.


Read the rest of the post here.

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