Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Viewing historical markers

In college, I would ride the Greyhound bus back to school after vacations. Winding our way from Harrisburg, PA to Elmira, NY, we would pass many historical markers. Zipping along at 55 mph (or even slower), they could be hard to read.

Pennsylvania has created a database of its historical markers and made that database available online. The site is searchable by text, category, county or title. The information given on each marker includes marker name, county, date dedicated, marker type, location, category and text.

The word "digitization" means to convert to digital form. Indeed, these historical markers have been converted to digital form. They have been digitized. The text of each marker, and its history, has been preserved. And since each marker preserves a piece of history, this database also helps to preserve history.

Unfortunately, you do not see pictures of the markers so you cannot see where they are and what they are marking. You also cannot view a map of the markers. And you cannot do complex searchers. Yet even without those things, this is a good resource and I'm glad the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has done it. Hopefully they will add more functionality to it.

What functionality could be added? Well, let's look at what information is available. For example, there was a Civil War training camp in Harrisburg called Camp Curtin. You can read the marker here. Without a photo, you cannot tell that this marker is by a park in front of a statue of Governor Curtin (info). And even this site doesn't tell you that this is the smallest park in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania (info). So if you just look at the marker database, you are not getting the entire story. Just the addition of a few links makes the history on the markers come alive.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Jill,
Did you see our website of Ohio Historical Markers It is similar to Pennsylvania's site, but also allows user to submit photographs and GPS coordinates of historical markers.


Angela O'Neal
Digital Projects Manager
Ohio Historical Society

Anonymous said...

Great post. I agree wholeheartedly.

In fact, we at the Center for History and New Media are working to launch a project called Virginia History Here, which will use new mobile communications technologies—especially cell phones—to improve access to Virginia's historical roadside markers. In addition to providing searchable web access to the markers, Virginia History Here will allow travelers on congested roads to access the full text of historical markers from within their cars via cellphone. Moreover, in order to help extend the historical and educational value of cast iron markers, Virginia History here will also provide these travelers and web visitors with links and directions to nearby and related markers, contextual essays, and related primary source materials such as photos and short audio and video clips. New mobile technologies allow us to make all of these resources available to travelers when they are most interested and engaged: when they are at the marker sites themselves.

We are still waiting to hear about funding, but if all goes well, we should launch a prototype by 2008.

Anonymous said...

There are a number of Pennsylvania historical markers with photographs on The Historical Marker Database.

You are absolutely correct: photos, of the marker and its surroundings, and of the subject of the markers, make all the difference.