2015 4th Year Undergraduate, History Major, Institute for Public History
During this past summer I had the privilege of working for the University of Virginia’s Institute for Public History, spending half of my time operating directly under Director Goff and half working for the Corcoran Department of History. Both of these appointments focused primarily on research – and to some degree, archiving – so that by the end of summer I produced two separate projects covering some history of each program. For the Corcoran Department, this final project included an updated list of PhD alumni placement data since 1996 – where the grads worked in the past and their current job assignment – as well as a detailed list of every book published by these same alumni; this 62 page document contains more than 150 publications, their summaries, their covers, and a link for their purchase. In a similar vein, my final project for the Institute for Public History also focused on gathering information about the program’s alumni and compiling it. Here I was able to create a large Microsoft Excel spreadsheet listing information about every intern and his or her assignment since 1997, including details on the internship foci and participating departments. While these lists comprised the bulk of my work for the Institute, I also produced documents with analysis of this data and conducted an interview with previous director Dr. Phyllis Leffler.
In this internship I had the opportunity to conduct independent work and enhance my project management skills to an incredible degree. I became familiar with new forms of research and databasing as well, which will be a wonderful asset to any future academic or non-academic projects. Also new was the opportunity to conduct an oral interview which, while nerve-wracking, provided me with an amazing opportunity to practice my verbal communication skills. This was also my first experience working in an office environment, and I absolutely loved it! Air conditioning during the summer is an underappreciated blessing.
Being a history major I found that much of my internship experience was relatively similar to my classroom experience in college, as both environments require a level of independent work and thinking. While in both scenarios there is always someone I can go to for questions and help – a professor or a supervisor – the work that I do in the classroom and the office is essentially my own; there isn’t an incredible amount of teamwork involved. (Note: I wouldn’t expect this to be true at a museum or public history site, as team work is absolutely essential there). In thinking about how the internship amplified my classroom experience – beyond the increased skill in historical research – I think the most striking connection comes from my recent time in Dr. Leffler’s History, Museums, and Interpretation course. In this class I had the opportunity to read about public history sites around the county and juggle with some of the biggest problems in museum culture, but the internship this summer allowed me to deal with these problems up close – and to think about them in terms of the Institute for Public History itself.
By far my favorite thing I got to do over the summer was read and research all of the different people who graduated from the Corcoran Department of History with their PhDs. Seeing the wide array of interests, publications, and jobs held by these alumni was incredibly interesting – and also reassuring for a history major like myself. I think the most entertaining alumni book I recorded was Every Home a Distillery: Alcohol, Gender, and Technology in the Colonial Chesapeake by Sarah H. Meacham (PhD 2003); not only did this book tackle the interweavings of gender and technology, but it also included historic recipes and instructions on how to make alcoholic beverages.