Breakthroughs: Digital Humanities shows us shape of the past

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology’s culture of inquiry has transformed the University into one of Pennsylvania’s premier Science and Technology research institutions.

Our professors have teamed with students on research that is poised to save animals, clean up polluted waterways, and revolutionize skin-graft surgeries.

But that’s just three Harrisburg University Breakthroughs.

HU professors continue to launch innovative projects, studies, and experiments that give students invaluable hands-on experience while placing them at the ground-floor of ceiling-shattering research.

To accomplish this, each year, University President Dr. Eric Darr awards Presidential Research Grants to professors whose goal is to work with students to enrich, innovate, and enhance human life with their work. The grants have funded nine projects this year alone.

An insatiable desire to Breakthrough barriers has helped make Harrisburg University the educational, economic development and research engine that it is today.

And we’re just getting started.

We aren’t simply lecturing and transferring information to our students at Harrisburg University. We’re discovering a dazzling array of knowledge that shapes our understanding and is changing the world.

HU’s Digital Humanities project, headed by Geospatial Technology Professor Albert Sarvis, is a two-time recipient of the Presidential Research Grant. This year’s funding will sustain an ongoing collaboration between the University and Messiah College that began nearly 5 years ago with what is dubbed the Digital Harrisburg, and the more recent Isthmus of Corinth Drone, survey projects.

Since the spring of 2014, Harrisburg University Geospatial Technology students and Prof. Albert Sarvis have been collaborating with Dr. David Pettegrew at Messiah College on the Digital Harrisburg project, an effort to understand the changing distribution of ethnicity, race, occupation and other variables that shaped early 20th Century Harrisburg.

Dramatic changes occurred during and after what is called the City Beautiful Movement, including the expansion of Harrisburg’s capitol complex in the early 20th Century, which forced many immigrants, minorities and lower-income citizens who lived in the city’s old 8th ward to settle elsewhere in the city, and beyond. More than 2,000 residents were displaced, and 430 buildings were leveled to make room for the Capitol.

Using census data and geospatial technology, Albert and his students created a comprehensive online map that outlines where each former building was located prior to demolition, who owned the properties, and where residents moved as the capitol complex expanded east.

They didn’t stop there, however.

Professor Sarvis and his students, also in collaboration with Messiah College, are plotting the entire city, and plan to continue expanding the online map as the early 20th-century expansion of Harrisburg is mapped out. For more than three years, Albert and his students have mapped the Harrisburg population from 1900 to 1930 using census data curated from Ancestory.com and translated by Messiah College faculty and students.

This ongoing work will culminate in the publication of Harrisburg University’s (HU) methodology and findings.  Originally slated for the spring 2018 issue of the Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, the incremental progress of the work has required publication to be pushed to Spring 2019. That issue will contain articles pertaining to the Digital Harrisburg work.  HU has been asked to contribute a co-authored article, by a student and faculty, detailing the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) component of the spatial data development and analysis.  The spatial data and analysis will also be published and hosted by HU through an expansion of the interactive online map.

The Isthmus of Corinth survey dates to May of 2017 when Professor Sarvis and student John Nieves-Jenings traveled with Dr. Pettegrew and a group of Messiah College students to Ancient Corinth to conduct drone mapping surveys of specific regions in the Isthmus.

The trip, the drone mapping training, and resulting map products were funded by Harrisburg University and Messiah College. By all accounts, that trip was a success.  Concept drone mapping produced highly accurate and useful products and allowed the researchers to document and perfect the methodology for future work. In all 16 separate flights were undertaken for a total of 6 compiled aerial photo mosaics.

Dr. Pettegrew’s book, The Isthmus of Corinth: Crossroads of the Mediterranean World, is the culmination of many years of research including time spent living in Greece.  Many other scholars have studied, and are currently studying, this area.  In the Fall of 2016 faculty from Michigan State and Ohio State performed the first archaeology drone mapping flights of the Isthmus. While their flights were focused on excavation locations, much more of the area must be inventoried as development spreads westward from Athens.

Dr. Pettegrew’s connection to the Isthmus region and the ongoing work by other institutions links Harrisburg University’s Geospatial Technology Program and Center to a large scale, robust and sustained research initiative. Furthermore, it allows HU to contribute an expertise and focus that adds unique value to the project.

About Harrisburg University

Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Harrisburg University is a private non-profit university offering bachelor and graduate degree programs in science, technology, and math fields. For more information on the University’s affordable demand-driven undergraduate and graduate programs, call 717-901-5146 or email, Connect@HarrisburgU.edu.