By Karen | June 24, 2013
As a college student I have been very under educated about the world that is internships. These unique semesters of work experience are not required for graduation, yet still seem to be incredibly useful. This summer I decided it was time for me to enter this unknown world and use my history major knowledge to get some experience in museum work.
Internships come in all shapes and sizes and it’s worth researching each position before applying. Some internships are paid and some are not, yet still worth the work experience. I want to spend my future working to interpret the past for the public, but I can’t really experience this work in my History classes. Getting some on the job experience helps me be sure this is what I really want. Often internships can be part time positions, but some are full time and can’t be handled during a semester you are taking classes.
Also worthwhile is applying to more than one internship. I did face rejection, which was tough. Applications take a lot of work and need to be started early. I had my first college experience with seeking a recommendation letter and wrote a few essays and did a phone interview. Really the process is just like getting a job.
The internship I have this summer is at Hale Farm and Village. Any fellow Clevelanders will likely recognize Hale Farm from school trips. This museum is a village made of nineteenth century structures that have been transferred to the same property and restored to full function. Hale Farm is a living history museum because as visitors travel from building to building employees in full 19th century costume explain or often act out the intricacies of antebellum life.
In week one, we spent a lot of time getting to know all of the buildings that Hale has taken over and spending time with employees to learn the skills needed to interpret history in such a unique way. I spent a few days in the school house, a building interpreted in what would be called first person. The schoolmaster acts as if he really is a schoolmaster in June of 1860, running a short class every time a school group comes in and teaching without recognizing that it is indeed the twenty first century.
Being in the school, I spent a lot of time seeing kids come in and out. By my second day I was able to take over when our schoolmaster was out for lunch or went to find water. I was not in costume, so I did not take over presentations to large school groups, but I was able to handle smaller groups of families. I interpreted the school house in third person, attempting to be interesting to both children and their parents. I took all of the information I had learned about the school and 19th century education (you actually pick up a lot) to educate and answer questions.
I both struggled and triumphed in this first week. I learned that not everyone is as interested in history as I am, a truth hard to grasp. Many children were more interested in 19th century styles of punishment and the fact that children 150 years ago had no homework than they were in my explanation for why school was often held in a log cabin (if you’re interested, it’s because as more sophisticated building styles triumphed in the 1800s these cabins were abandoned and became easy buildings for the community to take over as a school building).
By the end of my day trying to educate in the school house I was a little frustrated and doubting my abilities in public history. But then a special visitor of only six years inspired me to continue. As he and his brothers left our building, the school master jokingly told the child to return after dinner (the 19th century word for lunch) like school children would have. About 30 minutes later this boy dragged his mother back (without the older brothers that just weren’t quite as interested) and sat in the school house asking questions.
He wanted to know who the first president was and seemed thrilled that the school master thought Abraham Lincoln was only just now running for office. His eyes lit up every time we answered a question and when I showed him a copy of the McGuffey Reader we had on hand (the earliest American textbook) he and his mother discussed finding him a copy in the gift shop so that he could learn even more at home. This kid was me at six years old and I was thrilled. I had helped make a difference, teach someone a little history, and inspire an interest in history in a very real way that most students don’t get from a traditional classroom. This is what living history is for and I could not have seen this without a summer internship.
The internship I am a part of is also incredibly unique because all of the interns attend a class on public history together every Monday. We have readings and discussions just like any other college class, yet are relaxed knowing we are not being tested. Everyone there is interested in history and the teachers are excellent. This class is really allowing me to see every facet of the career path I want to follow so that I can pick which part of public history I like the best. Something like this is definitely an aspect to keep a look out for in possible future internships.
I have also very quickly come to love everything about Hale Farm and would like to encourage everyone to visit if you are in the area. The people here are amazing. They all have a wealth of historical information and can answer almost any question you ask with a detailed answer coming from personal research and often primary sources. They have all been so kind to us interns and treat us like equals as students of history. I have learned as much from them as I have from class. Hale Farm is a self sufficient village. Employees in one of the houses spent a day baking bread and churning butter this week and I ate the product- it was fantastic. We make our own brooms and pottery and weaving and glass works.
If you are interested in visiting you can find some information here. Hopefully readers of this blog will be getting a continued backstage look all summer as I trek through the world of the internship!
School House Picture:http://en.wikigogo.org/en/118
McGuffey Reader Picture: http://www.ameshistoricalsociety.org/mg_reader1.htm
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