2015 Doctoral Student in English Literature (History of Science/Victorian Studies), Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
During my whirlwind two months at SCBI, I was able to achieve a number of critical organizational objective to gain headway on the Remount history project that the institution has been hoping to get off the ground for many years. My biggest achievement was in putting together a centralized catalogue of documents, photographs, and other Remount artifacts held both at SCBI and at various historical societies in Warren and Rappahannock counties. It seemed almost a small thing to me when I started, but turned out to be a hugely critical task, as one of the biggest impediments to making a start on this Remount project has historically been not knowing what is known about the depot, and where to find that information in the first place! I was also able to get a head start on reaching out to Remount-related community contacts in the Front Royal area, and conduct preliminary interviews with them to get a sense of their relationship to the military history of this site. In addition to my work on the Remount era, I was also able to put together a catalogue for a really huge store of some really fascinating correspondences and documents from the early years of the CRC (Conservation Research Center, the former name for the current Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute), which had been sitting dormant in a box for years. Now that I have taken stock of what’s there, the folks at SCBI will be able to start connecting their conservation past to the theoretical work of the present.
I was working as a paid employee of the Smithsonian Institution, which in itself is something that I’d be hard-pressed to experience otherwise– though as a doctoral student interested in alt-ac careers, this was a huge “+” in the professionalization column for someone like me. It was also extremely unique in that it gave me a window into the type of frenzied, multifarious work that goes on at a many-armed institution geared towards “the increase and diffusion of knowledge”– I was working historical project in the middle of an office occupied by biologists, historians, educators, corresponding with people as varied as local farmers, and the former director of the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums– who was very nice, by the way!). Because SCBI is primarily a conservation organization geared towards reproductive biological research, it is closed to the public– and so in a way, all of my experience here could not have been gotten anywhere else, or in any other way. Everything I did and saw was a privilege of my insider status through this internship, and is likely something– unless I end up working for the National Zoo–I won’t be otherwise able to experience again.