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The Inspiration Behind the Old 8th Ward Project

Long involved with the study of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Professor Michael Barton recognized the unique opportunity for 19th century studies presented by the Old 8th Ward. In 2002, Barton, Associate Professor of American Studies and Social Sciences at Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg, published a book, co-edited by former Penn State Humanities professor Jessica Dorman, which dealt with Harrisburg's Old 8th Ward . Harrisburg's Old Eighth Ward, part of Arcadia Publishing's Making of America series, is a compilation of articles written by J. Howard Wert for the Harrisburg Patriot between 1912 and 1913. The 8th Ward had already been chosen for demolition for the Capitol Park Extension by that time, and Wert's articles attempted to preserve the 8th Ward in print before it was gone forever.

Realizing Wert's articles only represented a fraction of the stories the Old 8th Ward had to tell, Barton began suggesting its study as the final project for his 19th Century America Graduate Seminar in Spring 2002. For this project, students were required to do first-hand primary source research in a local archive, and the proximity of PSU Harrisburg's campus to the repositories of 8th Ward data has allowed Barton to move class to the Historical Society of Dauphin County in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to provide his expertise to his students while they engage in 8th Ward research.

The Inspiration Behind the Old 8th Ward Website

As the graduate student research accumulated, Professor Barton sought an avenue through which he could share his student's scholarship. The method of dissemination needed to be flexible in order to support ongoing research and needed to offer students a venue in which to publish their work. Stephanie Patterson Gilbert, a graduate student in Barton's 19th century seminar in Spring 2004, suggested that the internet could accomplish these goals and many others. As part of an independent study in Fall 2004, Gilbert took on the task of creating the 8th Ward site. The overall vision and design of the website are Gilbert's as are all of the introductory texts, supporting articles, and website features found on this website. Nearly 150 individual web pages, which contained all known information about the Old 8th Ward by January 2005, were created by Gilbert before the site's launch.

Gilbert graduated from PSU's American Studies program in May 2005, but she will remain a contributor to the site as well as the editor and webmaster, working in coordination with Barton and his students in order to realize her vision of reconstructing the lives of those who walked the streets of the Old 8th Ward here on the web.

For more information on the creation of this website, please read "Harrisburg's Old Eighth Ward: Constructing a Website for Student Research," which also appears in the Autumn 2005 issue of the Pennsylvania History Journal. And, for guidance on how to use this website, please read Exploring the Old 8th Ward Website.

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