Pennsylvania History: The Final Exam!

PA Hall

The 1838 burning of Pennsylvania Hall, a meeting place for abolitionists

For the past decade I have been teaching a course on Pennsylvania History at Messiah College. The class meets several requirements.  Some history majors take it for a 300-level American history elective.  Other history majors take it as part of their concentration in public history.  Non-history majors take the course to fulfill their general education pluralism requirement.

I have to make this course work for all of these students.  For the public history students, we do a lot of work on the relationship between “history,” “heritage,” and “memory.”  We also feature some training in oral history. Each student is required to do an oral history project in which they interview and interpret someone who can shed light on a particular moment in Pennsylvania history.  As a pluralism course, Pennsylvania History must address questions of religion, race, ethnicity, and social class in some meaningful way.

This year, I split the class into four units:

After several tries, I think I have finally found a pedagogical formula that works.   The students take their two-hour final exam on Friday.  Here are the questions they are preparing:

In preparation for the exam, please prepare an answer to one of the following questions:

QUESTION #1

In each of our four units this semester, we spend considerable time talking about the idea of race and race relations in Pennsylvania History. How do issues related to race play out in the following periods and places in state history:

  • Early 19th-century Philadelphia
  • The Pennsylvania frontier in the 1750s and 1760s.
  • The way the Civil War has been interpreted at Gettysburg
  • The City Beautiful movement in Harrisburg
QUESTION #2
We often use the past to advance particular agendas in the present. Consider this
statement in the following contexts:
  • The Centennial celebration in Philadelphia (1876)
  • The Paxton Boys Riots
  • Gettysburg as a “sacred” site
  • The portrayal of Harrisburg’s Old 8th Ward by reformers affiliated with the City Beautiful movement.

Good luck! Or as I like to say to my Calvinist students: “May God providential give you the grade you deserve on this exam.”

A Saturday Morning in the Old 8th Ward

Old 8th 2

I am really enjoying my Pennsylvania History course this semester.  As part of the last unit of the course we have been studying Harrisburg’s Old 8th Ward.  The ward is referred to as “old” because it no longer exists.  The largely working class (white immigrant and African American) neighborhood was demolished in the first two decades of the twentieth century to make way for the building of the state capitol complex.  The destruction of the Old 8th Ward was the brainchild of the middle and upper-class reformers who brought the City Beautiful movement to Harrisburg.

Much of the narrative of the Old 8th Ward has been shaped by these reformers.  As you might imagine, this narrative is not very flattering.   City Beautiful reformers painted a picture of a broken-down community of run-down homes, crime and licentiousness, gambling, drunkenness, racial and ethnic otherness, and sexual promiscuity.  But as the scholars and students at the Digital Harrisburg Project at Messiah College have shown, the Old 8th was also a vibrant community of men and women who deserve to be taken seriously in their own right.  The work of the Digital Harrisburg Project has restored agency to this vanished community by telling the story of its members.

Recently, the Digital Harrisburg Project received a grant to place historical markers in the Capitol Complex at places of importance in the Old 8th Ward–houses of worship, homes of  African-American leaders, and even the ward’s red light district.  The organizers are calling it the “Look Up and Look Out” project.

On Saturday, I took some of the students in my class to the Capitol Complex to learn more about the people of the Old 8th Ward.  We have been reading about the City Beautiful Movement, the African-American community of the ward, and the butchers, barbers, confectioners, and bakers in the ward, so it was fun to walk the ground where this energetic community was located.

Our tour guide for the morning was Drew Dyrli Hermeling.  Some of you know Drew as the producer of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, but he also works part-time as the director of the Digital Harrisburg Project.  Drew not only helped us imagine what the Old 8th Ward would have been like before its destruction, but he also gave us valuable insight into the work of Messiah College public history students and Digital Harrisburg as they seek to retell this important and under-interpreted part of Harrisburg history.

Old 8th 1

Drew gets us started with an overview of the Capitol Complex and the Old 8th Ward

Digital Harrisburg Has a New Website

Capitol

Check it our hereDrew Dyrli Hermeling, the producer of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, is behind this impressive new site.

Also check out Digital Harrisburg’s “Commonwealth Monument Project.”  The team is places monuments at different locations in Harrisburg’s Old 8th Ward, a Harrisburg neighborhood of largely African-Americans and other working people that was razed in the early 20th century to make room for the Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex.

How are People Using the Digital Harrisburg Initiative?

Verbeke

Digital Harrisburg is a digital public humanities project created by students and faculty of Messiah College and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology that explores the history and culture of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area.  Read more about it here.

Over at Harrisburg Magazine, write Rick Dapp has used Digital Harrisburg to learn more about four blocks on Verbeke Street.  Here is a taste of his article:

Memory is an elusive thing, often distorted by time and the inclusion of unintentionally specious fictions in the retelling of stories handed down from one generation to another. Occasionally a sliver of truth finds its way into our awareness and triggers a desire to expand our knowledge of it. When there is tangible evidence it’s a relatively uncomplicated process. When there is nothing to perceive imagination – and some research – is required.

If there is one pair of structures that provide an anchor for the Midtown section of the city, it’s the Broad Street Market. Despite the fact that there is no Broad Street in the city, it goes by that name nonetheless. In the nineteenth century there was an effort to make the name stick, but Verbeke Street prevailed. Named for William K. Verbeke, the street has two distinct characteristics. There is the section running from North 6th Street to 3rd Street, and, like a number of similar city thoroughfares, it terminates and then resumes on Cameron Street….

And he concludes:

How does one glean this knowledge that allows the imagination to recreate the past? It’s quite simple, you simply type in (on your computer – were back in real time again) https//digitalharrisburg.com/2014/12/16/explore-harrisburg-in-1900

The interactive map that has been developed as a collaboration between Messiah College, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology and the Historical Society of Dauphin County. The participants in this invaluable effort scanned the entire 1901 Harrisburg Title Company Atlas. Data includes information from the federal census that allows the viewer to determine the location of a specific property and numerous personal indices relative to families or individuals living within a specific property in 1901.

Log on and take a look at 314 Verbeke. You’ll never look at those vacant spaces on Verbeke west of the Millworks in quite the same way again.

Read the entire piece here.

Digital Harrisburg at the 2018 AHA

DHI

I just finished chairing a session at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association titled “Placing the American Community: Lessons from the Digital Harrisburg Project.”

Here is the session abstract:

In spring 2014, students and faculty from Messiah College and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology initiated a collaborative digital project to place the entire population of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and the neighboring (historically) immigrant town of Steelton, on contemporary historical maps from the early twentieth century. Through class exercises and projects, work study positions, and volunteer efforts, history professors and students input the entire population of these communities from the decennial censuses of 1900-1930, including all relevant census fields such as race and birthplace, immigrant status, occupation and industry. At the same time, and in conjunction with this work, GIS students and faculty at both institutions digitized contemporary maps of Harrisburg and Steelton. The result of this combined labor is a massive demographic database of over 300,000 names, linked to over 10,000 individual residences in a GIS. Teams have also begun to incorporate (via a unique property number) other large data sets such as church membership rolls, names and occupations from city directories, and property values for the same time span. And history faculty have mined newspaper databases and recorded oral histories to fill out the picture of the city.

The Digital Harrisburg Project has been a boon to our institutions, giving our history students new digital proficiencies in databases and GIS, and our GIS and computer science students an opportunity to tackle historical problems, while also creating real and enduring collaborations across departments and institutions. As importantly, the project has generated a new and powerful historical resource for understanding and rethinking major phenomena in U.S. urban history. The integration of multiple sets of information encoded at individual street addresses in GIS has created one of the highest-resolution digital images of an early twentieth century urban community transformed by immigration, population growth, and city planning. Plotting the population through time (1900-1930) sheds light on the dynamic patterns of human mobility and migration that were characteristic of communities at the junction of major roads, waterways, and rail lines. The datasets also have allowed us to reconsider the demographic, racial, and spatial aspects of Harrisburg’s successful urban reform movement, outlined most clearly in William Wilson’s pioneering work on The City Beautiful Movement (1989).

In this session, we provide an overview of the history of the Digital Project within our institutional contexts; outline the nature of the data sets including the geospatial framework; highlight the potential of the data for reconsidering broad issues of historiographic debate; and showcase our recent efforts to replicate the data for other cities and places through new technologies (computer vision). The goal of this session is to publicize the results of the project in anticipation of the imminent public dissemination of the demographic and geospatial datasets for purposes of research, and to highlight how others might engage in a similar project within their own communities. We also hope attendees will provide us feedback as we consider next steps.

Participants included James LaGrand (Messiah College History Department), David Pettegrew (Messiah College History Department), Albert Sarvis (Harrisburg University of Science and Technology), David Owen (Messiah College Computer Science Department), and Lisa Krissof Boehm (Urban Studies at Bridgewater State University).

Speakers focused on 3 aspects of the Digital Harrisburg Initiative:

  1. Digital Harrisburg as a collaborative venture between faculty and students at Messiah College, Harrisburg University, and civic institutions
  2. Digital Harrisburg as a pedagogical framework to help Messiah College history students develop digital proficiencies and make historical arguments with technology; and to introduce computer science and GIS students to historical applicatons of datasets.
  3. Digital Harrisburg as a public humanities project designed to engage different audiences in the city.

The audience–a combination of digital historians and Pennsylvania history experts–was small.  But they were also very engaged.  Commentator Lisa Boehm praised our work, told us to be “less humble” about it, and offered some great suggestions for moving forward.

Click here to learn more about the Digital Harrisburg Initiative.

“March on Harrisburg” Calls for a New Era in Pennsylvania Politics

Harrisburg_capitol_building

I am happy to publish this piece by John Craig Hammond,  If you care about the fate of democracy in Pennsylvania please give it a read. –JF

Google “corrupt” and “state legislature,” and guess what name pops up over and over again? Pennsylvania – of course.

This is not “new” news. Our commonwealth enjoys (if that is the proper term) a century-long history of corruption that continues unabated to the present. The impact on public confidence is predictable: a recent Franklin & Marshall College poll shows that only 35 percent of Pennsylvania voters think we are “headed in the right direction.”

It is news, however, that Pennsylvanians are at last so fed up with dysfunction, ineptitude and lack of responsiveness in Harrisburg that they are banding together to bring about fundamental change. A grassroots group that I’ve joined, March on Harrisburg, is living up to its name literally and figuratively, as thousands of citizens call, write, meet and actually journey to the statehouse with the goal of launching a new era in Pennsylvania politics.

We believe that just three key measures will go a long way to establish open and responsive government:

End gerrymandering. Pennsylvania’s current system allows the party in power to draw up the voting district map in its own favor; in essence, politicians get to pick their voters. Thus, Pennsylvania is one of the three most gerrymandered states in the nation, with some of the least competitive elections. In the 2016 elections for state house and state senate, for example, about one-half of incumbents ran unopposed thanks to the “safe” districts that they gerrymandered for themselves.

March on Harrisburg seeks to end gerrymandering by establishing an independent, non-partisan redistricting commission. You can help by calling your state legislators to demand that SB 22 and HB 722, currently in committee, be brought to the floor for a vote.

End gift-giving. Even as you read this, legislators, along with their staff and their family members, are accepting gifts from special interests – and it is perfectly legal. Pennsylvania ethics and reporting laws are so murky and ineffective that gift-giving is, in practice, an open invitation to corruption.

March on Harrisburg seeks to ban such gifts. Please contact your elected officials with two requests: to pledge personally to stop taking gifts and to propose legislation forbidding gift-giving.

Institute automatic voter registration. Politicians tend to favor our state’s antiquated voter registration mechanism because it narrows the electorate and reduces the number of pesky voters who otherwise might go around expecting good, responsive government.

Automatic voter registration is easy to implement, and there is no excuse for failing to do so in Pennsylvania. March on Harrisburg believes that if you are legally entitled to vote, you should be automatically registered to vote. We hope you will contact your legislators to express that view.

With these three important measures, Pennsylvania citizens can begin the process of reclaiming the state house. The fight will not be easy. But it can and must be done.

Please contact your state representative and senator, and let them know that you support March on Harrisburg and that you expect them to do the same. Democracy depends on you.

John Craig Hammond, Ph.D

Franklin Park, PA

Call for Papers: 2017 Eastern American Studies Association Meeting, Harrisburg

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Come out to our neck of the woods for what appears to be a great regional American studies conference. This looks like a great opportunity for undergraduates as well.  Here is the call for papers from Penn State-Harrisburg American Studies professor Simon Bronner:

The 2017 Annual Conference of the Eastern American Studies Association (EASA) meeting jointly with the Mid-Atlantic Folklife Association and the Society of Americanists

Deadline for Proposals: January 16, 2017Theme: “Milestones, Markers, and Moments: Turning Points in American Experience and Tradition”
Date: March 31-April 1, 2017
Venue: Harrisburg Hilton, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

In the upcoming year, Americans might reflect on several critical moments of the nation’s past and anticipate markers of the future that will define its experience and tradition. One hundred years ago in April 2017, the United States entered World War I to make the world “safe for democracy,” according to President Woodrow Wilson. Fifty years ago in January 1967, the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs competed in the first Super Bowl in Los Angeles. That spring, urban racial violence erupted, and by June and July it would reach significant magnitude in Boston, Tampa, and Newark. By summer’s end, over 150 cities had exploded. The year wound to its end with over 100,000 people marching on Washington to protest their country’s prosecution of the Vietnam War.

The year 1967 also saw turning points in the academic world. Responding to the racial unrest of the late sixties, the American Studies Association executive committee had elected the distinguished African-American scholar John Hope Franklin as its president. He would preside at the association’s first national convention in October. At Penn State Harrisburg, for the first time the graduating class included American Studies majors. Twenty years before that, Franklin & Marshall College had created the first folklore department in the state, and a public state folklorist position with an Americanist focus was created.

At both the national and local level, these events rank as milestones for the country and its study.

This year, EASA, in partnership with the Middle Atlantic Folklife Association and the incipient Society of Americanists, a coalition of persons and organizations devoted to the study of American culture, invites proposals for papers, panels, forums, and workshops related to the broad theme of turning points in American history, folklife, education, cultural conservation, heritage, and society. The program committee is particularly interested in examples of public memory and memorialization that have played notable roles in American culture and its global reach. Closer to the present, we also invite analyses of the presidential election of 2016 as a milestone event, already distinguished historically by the first woman to run for president as candidate of a major party.

The EASA hopes for presentations suggested by the conference theme and its discussion. As well, we welcome panels on topics of significance to scholars engaged in the practice of American Studies that the conference theme otherwise might exclude. We are, in other words, open to proposals that fall outside the conference theme.
Submission Guidelines:

For Individual Presenters: Send a short abstract (no more than 200 words) and a brief CV or resume (no more than two pages). Place your name and email address on both documents.

For Pre-formed Panels: Send a cover sheet with the title of the panel, the names of each participant, and the titles of their presentations. Include a short abstract of each paper (no more than 200 words each) as well as a brief CV or resume for each panel participant (no longer than two pages).

All materials should be sent to Jennifer Drissel (jzd5551@psu.edu) before Monday, January 16, 2017. Those affiliated with either MAFA or SOA should also send proposals/CVs to Jennifer Drissel and should indicate their organizational affiliation in their submission. In some cases, a submitter may indicate more than one affiliation.

Graduate students whose proposals are accepted will be encouraged to submit their final papers electronically several weeks prior to the conference to be considered for the Simon J. Bronner Award for the outstanding graduate paper in American Studies. The conference will also host an Undergraduate Roundtable. Faculty members interested in having their undergraduate students present research at the conference should contact Dr. Francis Ryan of La Salle University (ryan@lasalle.edu). Roundtable participants will compete for the Francis Ryan Award, awarded annually to the outstanding undergraduate paper.

Any general questions can be directed to John Haddad of Penn State Harrisburg (jrh36@psu.edu). For more information, including our downloadable newsletter, see the EASA website: https://harrisburg.psu.edu/…/confere…/2017-annual-conference.

What is Going On With Digital Harrisburg?

A lot.

I have been on sabbatical this semester so I am not privy to a lot of the day-to-day activity in the Messiah College History Department‘s Digital Harrisburg Initiative.  That is why I am thankful for the regular blog updates from the students in Dr. David Pettegrew’s Digital History course.

Yesterday Pettegrew published a wrap-up post (or perhaps mid-term report might be a better way to describe it) about all that is happening this Fall.  

Here is a taste:

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).

And here are some thing you can expect in the future from the Digital Harrisburg Initiative:

Expansion and Other News. Finally, our team has been thinking over the last few months about how we might expand the project over the next year or two. Here are some developments:
  • Professors Jim LaGrand and Jean Corey at Messiah College are working with their students this year through a course in Public History (Spring 2016) and the Public Humanties Student Fellows program to tell the story of particular neighborhoods and churches in Harrisburg. This will certainly involve more oral history and documentary work than we’ve done in the past, which will comprise a whole new layer for understanding the history of the city.
  • Too early to say much about this, but I’ve been corresponding with individuals in other communities of the region (Mechanicsburg and Lancaster) about developing similar demographic and GIS-based projects for those communities.
  • We’ve applied for external grants to fund the development and refinement of our data sets.
  • Professor Erikson will be teaching his intro to GIS class again in the spring and will add more geospatial layers for other communities of the region.
  • The Burg
  • The public student humanities fellows are working with an interdisciplinary group of volunteers to discover the rich cultural/ historical landscape of the city through a project called Poetry in Place project, which invites regional public poets and Harrisburg City School students to write about significant sites. Eventually this project will be linked to a digital map of the city.

More Good News About the Digital Harrisburg Initiative

As I have written here before, Messiah College hosts the Digital Harrisburg Initiative, a digital project that is trying to understand early 20th-century Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  (Read our coverage here).

M. Diane McCormick has written a very thorough piece about the project at The Burg.  Here is a taste:

The turn of the 20th century was the era of City Beautiful, when Harrisburg was a leader in the young nation’s progressive urban movement.

Though City Beautiful has been well documented, questions remain. When ridding the city of typhus depended on a yes vote for a municipal bond for sewer upgrades, why did some precincts vote no?

We know about the elites who championed City Beautiful, but how did the reforms affect the everyday lives of citizens?

The questions are still being explored, but Digital Harrisburg has begun seeking answers. It started when liberal arts Messiah College and nerdy Harrisburg University started conversing on ways to blend humanities and technology. At Messiah, Associate Professor David Pettegrew turned his digital history class students into sort of 1900 census-takers, transcribing census data into a database for easy searching.

At the same time, students of Albert Sarvis, Harrisburg University assistant professor of geospatial technology and project management, aligned Harrisburg’s 1901 road network with today’s map. Another class vectorized—that is, drew the shapes—of city buildings and lined up the shapes with the address codes tied to the census findings of Pettegrew’s students.

It’s not as if the findings themselves are new. They’ve been discoverable in records for decades—for anyone with the unlimited time to find them. Digitization makes results instantly searchable.

Demographic trends in income, occupation, race and ethnicity quickly pop up by geography. Where did families live who had the highest rate of living children, versus those who had lost the largest numbers of children? That might have influenced their City Beautiful votes.

It’s a way to compare “a pattern or any other spatial layer you want to,” said Sarvis.

“It’s not just how many German illiterate women there are, but exactly where in the city they are,” he added.

Never Knew Existed

Rachel Carey joined the project as a Pettegrew student and is now the data master. The history major with a minor in music (she plays French horn) graduates from Messiah College at the end of 2015 and then looks forward to a graduate program in history.

Digitizing history is the 21st-century solution to the age-old puzzle of how to engage new generations in history, said Carey. Historians have a new tool to “bring the past into the present” and help contemporary audiences relate to the neighborhoods and communities of the past, even in “this smallish city.”

“My favorite part is being able to visualize the past, and that’s what this project is all about,” she said. “We take these people who formerly we knew nothing about. We put it on the Internet and map their houses. You go onto the map, click a house, and you can read all of this information about these people you never knew existed.”

At Messiah, the project has become an “energized enterprise” among faculty and students from many classes. Some students of Messiah History Department Chairman John Fea added Market Square Presbyterian Church membership records to the database, finding where church members, many among the city’s elite, lived in relation to neighborhoods and ethnicities. For the rest of 2015, inputting citywide property values for 1900 is a top priority for the Digital Harrisburg team.

Read the rest here.

Pennsylvania History Wrap-Up

Yesterday was the last day of classes for the Spring 2015  semester at Messiah College.  It was also the last day of my Pennsylvania History course.  Teaching this course at Messiah has been an interesting challenge.  Pennsylvania History is taken by a cross-section of students: history majors, history majors with a public history concentration, and general education students pursuing a “pluralism” distribution requirement.  In other words, some of the students get pretty fired up about the study of the past, while others are just enduring the course in order to get their pluralism credits “out of the way.”

The History Department at Messiah hopes to achieve multiple goals and purposes with this course. First, we hope that our students will gain content knowledge and learn how to think like historians. Second, we want them to develop an appreciation for the state in which they live or are attending college.  Third, we want to teach them practical skills for “doing” history.  These include digital history, local history, and oral history.

So how did this all work out?

In terms of delivering content, we read all of Pencak and Miller’s Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth.  Students had a quiz on every chapter, exposing them to content from native Americans prior to the arrival of William Penn all the way up to the turn of the 21st century.  Most of the lectures in the class played off of my strengths in early American history.  We covered Pennsylvania history up to the Civil War.  These lectures focused on the  native American-European contact, William Penn and the Quakers, the connections between religious freedom and liberalism in the colonial era, the Paxton Boys Riots, the Enlightenment in Philadelphia, the American Revolution, the Whiskey Rebellion, early republican politics, and the Civil War in Pennsylvania..

Early in the semester the students did some work on the 1900 census for the city of Harrisburg.  They matched the names on the census records with the names on the 1900 membership rolls of the Market Square Presbyterian Church.  We were then able to begin identifying the religious commitments of the people on the census and, with the help of Digital Harrisburg guru David Pettegrew, were able to mark the Presbyterians on a 1900 map of the city.  As might be expected, Presbyterians lived in some of the most high-end neighborhoods of Harrisburg, especially those neighborhoods situated along the Susquehanna River.  Thanks to some ethnic mapping done by the Digital Harrisburg project, we were also able to compare the places where Presbyterians tended to live in 1900 with the  places where Germans (mostly Lutherans and Catholics), Irish (mostly Catholics), Greeks (mostly Orthodox), and African Americans (most AME or Baptist) lived.

Presbyterians in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, circa 1900

The students were also required to complete an oral history project.  They interviewed someone who experienced a significant event in Pennsylvania History, prepared a transcript of the interview, and then used the transcript to write an eight-page paper on that particular event, using the interview as their only primary source.  Popular topics included rural Pennsylvania and the World War II homefront, the Three Mile Island meltdown of 1979, agricultural and family life in Pennsylvania, and the history of various religious organizations and denominations.  Students were held to professional standards of oral history practice.  One student loved the assignment so much that she wants to pursue an M.A. in history with a concentration in oral history.

Finally, students were asked to contribute to the Digital Harrisburg Project through an exploration of Catholicism in the city during the years 1900-1910.  Each student was given a ten-month period from a Harrisburg newspaper (thanks Newspapers.com) and told to write a five page history of Catholicism in Harrisburg during that period.  We then spent a couple of class periods trying to redact their various reports into some kind of narrative.  We never did decide on one overarching theme that defined Harrisburg Catholicism in this period, but we did spend a lot of time talking about the relationship between Catholicism and ethnic identity, immigration in the city, the Harrisburg Catholic response to the assassination of McKinley, Protestant-Catholic relations in Harrisburg, the local response to the death of Pope Leo XIII, and the building of the Cathedral of St. Patrick.

I am not sure all of my students were thrilled about doing these assignments.  Some didn’t really care about history.  Others wanted more content and fewer skills-based assignments. Some had no interested in Harrisburg.  But in general, like all diligent Messiah College students, they did the assignments with little complaint and perhaps even a bit of good cheer.  For a lot of them this was their first exposure to a history course and how historians think differently than nurses, engineers, or business professionals.

Keep your eye on the Digital Harrisburg Project website.  Some of the stuff that the class produced this semester may eventually find its way there.

Pennsylvania History 2.0

The Cathedral of St. Patrick, Harrisburg, PA

Some of you who read this blog carefully and have a good memory will recall that in Spring 2014 I developed a course on Pennsylvania history.

The course serves several student constituencies at Messiah College.  First, it counts as an upper-division history course for Messiah history majors. Second, it counts as an elective in our public history program.  We are not only using this course to teach content (Lenape Indians to Three Mile Island and beyond), but our students also gain basic training in how to do oral history, local history, and even a very small amount of digital history. Third, this course counts as a general education course that meets Messiah’s “pluralism” requirement. As a result we spend a lot of time discussing questions of religious, ethnic, class, and racial identity as it relates to events that happened in the history of the state.  I challenge the students to ask whether or not William Penn’s so-called “Holy Experiment” has been a success.

Once again, I have decided to use Randall Miller and Bill Pencak’s book Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth.  I like this book because it offers chronological coverage of Pennsylvania’s past alongside chapters related to the skills and practices–oral history, folklore, genealogy, etc.–of doing Pennsylvania history.

Last year students had two major assignments.  First, they had to visit local archives and create an online exhibit using Omeka software.  Second, they had to conduct an oral history interview, transcribe the interview, and write an eight-page paper placing the subject of the interview in a larger historical context.

This year I have kept the oral history assignment.  Students are writing oral history papers based on interviews with longtime employees of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, people who lived through Three Mile Island, steelworkers who suffered through de-industrialization, and those who experienced the Pennsylvania home front during World War II, to name a few of the topics.

I have replaced the Omeka assignment with two smaller projects related to the work of our ongoing Digital Harrisburg Initiative.  First, students will be doing research that will eventually lead to the mapping of the Harrisburg Presbyterian community in 1900.  They are using church membership lists from Harrisburg’s historic Market Street Presbyterian Church and comparing the names and addresses with the 1900 census that David Pettegrew and his team of students have digitized.  Since the 1900 census has been mapped on a 1900 fire insurance map, it will be easy to develop the map further to include the location of Presbyterians.  This assignment is due next week, giving David’s team plenty of time to create the Presbyterian map in preparation for our analysis in class next month.

Second, we will be exploring the history of Catholics in Harrisburg in the years between 1900 and 1910.  Each student is assigned a 6-9 month section of the Harrisburg Daily Independent and the Harrisburg Telegraph.  Using Newspapers.com, they will find every article related to Catholicism in the city and write a five-page history of Catholicism in Harrisburg for their assigned 6-9 month period.  We will then spend several 90-minute class periods discussing these reports and piecing together the history of Harrisburg in this particular decade.  We are especially interested in the building of the Cathedral of St. Patrick’s on State Street.

Stay tuned:  I hope to do some posts on how these projects are progressing.

The Digital Harrisburg Initiative Rolls On

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DHI Fellows hard at work in the Messiah College History Dept.

Some of you who read The Way of Improvement Leads Home are familiar with the Digital Harrisburg Initiative.  If you still don’t know about the project, let me bring it to your attention here.  DHI is an interdisciplinary digital history project housed in the School of Humanities at Messiah College and run by my History Department colleague David Pettegrew.  It attempts to tell the story of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania from roughly the 1880-1930.  

Like most digital history projects, DHI is a work in progress.  David and his team of historians, GIS experts, undergraduate fellows, and student researchers continue to add new information to the site.

DHI was launched a year ago this month.  Here is a taste of David Pettegrew’s celebratory post:

About a year ago, a number of faculty and students from several courses at Messiah College and Harrisburg University partnered to launch a new initiative to digitize Harrisburg’s history. It’s incredible how our original vision of the Digital Harrisburg Initiative (DHI) has grown over the last year as we’ve found new partners and begun to outline the social contours of the City Beautiful movement. Here’s an update on the groups, courses, and institutions who are partnering this semester to contribute to the initiative:
1. The Digital Harrisburg Working Group (Rachel Carey, James Mueller, David Crout, and I) continue to plow forward in making progress on the 1900 and 1910 census. We lost our wonderful GIS tech, Rachel Morris, to an early graduation, but we’ve since gained a new member David Crout.  Rachel is digitizing the 1910 census for Harrisburg, James is working on normalizing the 1900 data, and David Crout is working on the triennial tax assessments. You’ll hear more from all of our group during the semester.
2. John Fea’s class in Pennsylvania History at Messiah College is working on church rolls for Pine Street Presbyterian and St. Patricks Cathedral parish at the turn of the 20th century as well as the relationship of these communities to the City Beautiful movement. Once these membership rolls are collected and digitized, we’ll be able to plot members of these different communities according to their area of residence, and analyze membership against criteria like ethnicity, birthplace, and occupation, among others.
3. Jim LaGrand’s students in U.S. Urban History at Messiah College will be working on the occupational data for 1900 . It’s currently the only field in our database that is not at all normalized…
4. Professor Jeff Erikson is working with several students this semester on a directed study related to GIS. His students are georeferencing and tracing the 1902 Sanborn maps for Steelton, the community immediately south of Harrisburg. Since Rachel Carey has keyed the census data for Steelton, completing this will be a first step in understanding the large community of immigrants in Harrisburg 120 years ago.
5. Professor Albert Sarvis of Harrisburg University, in the meantime, is working with geospatial technology students on georeferencing the Sanborn maps of 1905 for Harrisburg. Once these are completed, we’ll add later years of Sanborn maps for the city.
6. Over at Jump Street, Andrea Glass is directing a group of capable high school student interns in digitizing images and documents from the Harrisburg City Archive. I’m hopeful that we’ll start to crowdsource some of the photos without provenience at this site to encourage identification. For some possibility, see the incredible site dedicated to the Philadelphia City Archive. We’re about to launch an Omeka site devoted to Harrisburg history that is a bit broader than City Beautiful.
7. We’ll be partnering this semester with Professor Michael Barton’s class at Penn State Harrisburg, who will analyze the census data for the Eighth Ward. This is a boon to us since Barton has been a pioneer in telling Harrisburg’s story, and his students produced some of the earliest work on the subject. See, for example, the excellent website about the Old Eighth Ward created and maintained by Stephanie Patterson Gilbert. Look for some interesting stories and historical analysis.
8. Since launching this site, I’ve heard from a number of people who are also working on digital projects related to Harrisburg. I think of Robert Shoaff, who is doing interesting work with city youth to build up a digital 3D model of Midtown called the Midtown Minecraft Project (see the blog here). There are others who have contacted me recently about their interests in contributing to the initiative.
There are a number of other exciting projects that are just developing such as public memory harvests and gaming, which we’ll publicize when the timing is right. Stay tuned.
Beyond these endeavors, a number of presentations are in the works. We’ll keep you updated. If you would like to support our initiative, visit the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference page and follow the link to vote for including our project in a major DH conference in July.
Things are happening quickly with the DHI. It will be interesting to see where we are a year from now.

A Big Week in the Messiah College History Department

It’s been an exciting week in the Messiah College History Department.  The sight and sound of students cramming their heads with historical knowledge and writing research papers is palpable. Exam week is almost over and faculty and students will get a much deserved Christmas Break.

But in addition to the twice-yearly exam-fest, there are other things to report.

Those who read this blog know that the Messiah History Department was featured prominently in an American Scholar essay on the way history departments are training students to do research and develop the “habits of mind” necessary to live successful and meaningful lives.

And then today, David Pettegrew and his Digital Harrisburg team have released an interactive digital map of the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1900.  Here is a taste of David’s post from our blog “History on the Bridge”:

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 entire1901 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.

Read the entire post here or check out the entire Digital Harrisburg site.


Not only our we contributing to the history of a nearby city, but our students are getting wonderful opportunities to gain skills in digital history. 

Digital Harrisburg: The "Pennsylvania History" Perspective

Paxton Presbyterian Church

Cross-posted at www.digitalharrisburg.com

As David Pettegrew noted in his original post at Digital Harrisburg, I am teaching a course in Pennsylvania history this semester at Messiah College.  This course is part of our newly revamped public history concentration, so students are not only learning about the history of the Commonwealth, but they are also getting training in local history, digital history, and oral history.

After meeting with all of the students individually this week, I am seeing some excellent potential contributions to our Digital Harrisburg initiative.

For example, Ben is hard at work on an digital exhibit (using Omeka software) on the Paxton Presbyterian Church and the way in which the congregation, which dates back to the early eighteenth-century, has remembered its past.  He is particularly interested in the way the church has dealt with the history of the so-called Paxton Boys, the Scots-Irish settlers from Paxton who massacred a group of Conestoga Indians in December 1763.  Much of his work is taking place in the Dauphin County Historical Society in Harrisburg.

Megan is working on an Omeka exhibit focused on the Harrisburg Community Theater.  She has learned that the theater was a part of the early 20th-century “Little Theater Movement” in America.  Much of her work is being conducted at the Pennsylvania State Archives.

I am also really looking forward to learning more about Beki’s oral history interview with an African-American man from Harrisburg who lived through a period of intense racial conflict in the city.  I am requiring students to submit transcripts with their interpretive papers, so we might be able to get the interview up on our Digital Harrisburg site.

These are just some of the interesting projects from my Pennsylvania History class.  Of course David Pettegrew’s Digital History course is also doing some amazing things in the city.  Stay tuned as we develop this site with more content.

THATCamp Harrisburg: Oct 25-26, 2013

I am happy to announce that Messiah College and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology are teaming up to host THATCamp Harrisburg on October 25 and 26.  Head over to the event website to learn more about THATCamps, unconferences, and the digital humanities.  You can also find a call for participation, information about travel and lodging, and registration information.

See you in Harrisburg on October 25-26!