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Perri Meldon, M.A. Candidate, UMass Amherst

The Department of the Interior (DOI) is a monolithic building located in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington DC. Its neighbors include the World Bank, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and just down the road the White House and the Washington Monument. The building, constructed in the 1930s, is adorned with paintings from Native American artists and prints from Ansel Adams. It is home to, among other divisions, the Bureau of Land Reclamation, Bureau of American Indian Affairs, and the National Park Service (NPS). Tucked into a wing of the seventh floor is the NPS Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education (CROIE), where I had the honor of completing my Hyde Scholarship-sponsored internship in the summer of 2017.

View from the Rooftop of the Department of the Interior Building

The cafeteria of the Department of the Interior features paintings rendered by Native American artists in the 1930s

 

My supervisors were Barbara Little, an archaeologist and program manager of CROIE, and Paloma Bolasny, youth program coordinator and historian. I worked with a team of inspiring colleagues; they are the innovative minds behind the NPS Teaching with Historic Places program and the NPS LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered Queer) Heritage Theme Study. My assigned tasks with CROIE were two-fold. I was to assist Paloma with DC-area events for other National Council for Preservation Education (NCPE) interns. My internship, though with NPS CROIE, was through the National Council for Preservation Education. My second task was to develop the content for a disability history series on the Telling All Americans’ Stories website.

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Alex Asal, History M.A. Candidate, UMass Amherst

The summer before I started my career at UMass, I finally got around to reading a book that had been recommended to me a half-dozen times: Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II, by Allan Bérubé. I’ve also been interested in the history of LGBT people pre-Stonewall, and this book was particularly fascinating to me because World War II has such a prominent role in Americans’ cultural memory. Immediately I wanted to find more—more stories, more analysis, more intersections, more everything. Unfortunately, scholarly work that looks at LGBT people during the war is relatively thin on the ground, and much of what I found drew almost entirely on Bérubé’s work rather than bringing in new sources.

Therein lies the problem. How can one find “new sources” for this topic and this time period? Bérubé was lucky enough to collect oral histories from gay and lesbian veterans, but in 2017, few WWII vets are left to tell their stories. The federal government may preserve documents about anti-homosexual policies and trials, but those often fail to capture the details of an individual’s lived experience. And in a time when “queer” and “homosexual” were dirty words and related terms were not widely known (or not yet invented), few LGBT people put their identities on paper in clear, readable terms. If historians want to draw any conclusions, they have to dig through mountains of documents, dozens of archives, and a near-impenetrable wall of careful innuendo. It’s almost impossible for someone who doesn’t already know where to look.

So I set the topic aside until the summer of 2017, when it popped up again in an unexpected place.

This summer, I was an intern with the Archives Center of the National Museum of American History. Like many archives, the Archives Center frequently fields requests from offsite researchers and provides them with scans of relevant materials. The Archives Center, however, is ahead of the curve when it comes to digitizing their materials. Every scan that is requested is carefully catalogued in the Archives Center database, with the goal of ultimately making it digitally accessible to the public. My job was to process these scans so that they could be uploaded to the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archive (SOVA), which hosts the finding aids for all Smithsonian-related archives.

The first step was to open a collection in Adobe Bridge and add or correct metadata for each image. One collection that fell under my purview was the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Collection, an artificial subject-based collection that aims to collect materials “related to all aspects of the LGBT community and the civil rights issues pertaining thereto.” Not everyone represented in the collection is LGBT, but the accessioning archivists do their best to find as much material as possible to represent the lives of both acknowledged LGBT people, and those who lived in same-sex environments regardless of sexual orientation. By studying these environments, historians can start to theorize what was considered “normal,” slightly suspicious, or definitely “queer” according to the time period in question.

I was going through the collection in Bridge when I first came upon this photo:

A photograph of Billy and Howard, last names unknown, in suits and Navy caps. LGBT Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

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Nolan Cool, Public History M.A. Candidate, UMass Amherst

When I first walked into the Belchertown Stone House Museum, its potential hit me from all sides. This unique community fixture proudly houses the material and archival history of its community. After an eventful first year in the Public History Program studying museums, asking questions, and seeking answers about the value of historic house museums to the communities they serve, I viewed the Stone House as a canvass for testing, experimenting, and tinkering with potential ideas. Using the house’s spaces, I wanted to explore how the site could better serve its neighbors and visitors alike. Through several weeks of testing the ideological boundaries with Belchertown Historical Association (BHA) board members and the museum committee, my hope remains that I left a positive institutional impact toward the goal of building and sustaining a greater level of visitor and community engagement.

 

Although the site is only open one day out of the week, core tasks that I undertook included using PastPerfect software to catalogue documents, photos, and objects in the site’s extensive archives, as well as giving tours to visitors. Alongside developing a more simplified, flexible, and institutionally accessible tour script, I catalogued several historical photographs and some new collection accessions. Working only one day on-site proved challenging, but also provided time to study, and later digest, the ebbs and flows of the BHA’s institutional culture. As a very small organization of roughly twenty engaged representatives, all of whom volunteer, management limitations created some difficulty in figuring out my role as an intern. I opted to work on developing and presenting a core institutional message geared toward reevaluating the site’s relevance to its surrounding community, as well as its visitors. For example, I replaced basic “Do Not Touch” signs with wittier, more light-hearted text. Although only a small step, I believe that these minor actions present a more human side of the organization.

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Rebekkah Rubin, Public History M.A. Candidate, UMass History

Normally, I study history beyond living memory. I feel most comfortable when I am situated firmly in the 19th century. However, this summer, as an intern at Belt Magazine, I have ventured into writing 20th-century history. Belt is an online magazine that publishes long form journalism about the Rust Belt, the region from New York State to eastern Wisconsin that has suffered from economic decline due to the loss of industry, particularly steel. During my internship, my main task is to write a series of popular history pieces about the history of Cleveland.

Although I am originally from a city about sixty miles south of Cleveland, and I did my undergraduate work forty miles west of Cleveland, I am not a Clevelander.

On the first day of my internship, I met the publisher and founder of Belt Magazine at a bar and hot dog joint on the east side of Cleveland to attend a panel discussion about the Hough Riots, an uprising in a Cleveland neighborhood in 1966. I hadn’t even heard of Hough until I learned about the panel. At the event, I quickly realized that I was surrounded by native Clevelanders who lived through the riots.

My assignment was to write a history of Hough for Belt Magazine. How was I to tell the history of something I hadn’t heard about until that week? Something that was so fresh in the minds of Clevelanders that they stood in a stuffy bar for two hours listening to other people’s memories? It was intimidating for me, as an outsider, to assume that I can tell the story of so many people who are still alive to tell it for themselves.

I had stumbled into new territory.

The crowd at The Happy Dog engrossed in a panel discussion about the history of the Hough Riots. Courtesy of the The Happy Dog.

The crowd at The Happy Dog engrossed in a panel discussion about the history of the Hough Riots. Courtesy of the The Happy Dog.

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Katherine Fecteau, Public History M.A. Candidate, UMass History

To someone laying eyes on Historic Deerfield’s newly acquired table-desk for the first time, this artifact appears nothing special.  It’s just over three feet tall and runs three and a half feet in length. Its boards are plain, though the table apron’s detailed edge suggests that its unknown maker took some care in its construction.  The writing surface is well-worn, bearing the marks of centuries of use.  When placed next to some of Historic Deerfield’s more ornate case pieces, the table-desk is an ugly duckling to say the least.  Despite its ungainly appearance, however, I’ve developed a soft spot for this desk in the time I’ve spent as an intern in Historic Deerfield’s curatorial department.  On my first day, I was entrusted with the task of tracing the table-desk through three centuries, filling the gaps in its history. The table-desk’s first known owner was Puritan Minister Nehemiah Bull (1701-1740) of Westfield, Massachusetts, but its very first owner and subsequent holders after Bull were a mystery.  My search through thousands of probate inventory[1] pages and additional secondary sources has been a saga of patience and stubborn determination, punctuated by the occasional heartbreak and exhilarating moments of success.

Table-Desk. Probably Springfield, Massachusetts ca. 1690, hard maple, white pine, yellow pine, iron Museum Purchase with partial funds given in memory of Lawrence K. Wagenseil. Photograph courtesy of Historic Deerfield.  The upper portion of this piece was made with writing in mind.  By designing the middle drawers to open sideways, the unknown craftsman made sure that anyone writing at the table-desk would not have to move his or her papers in order to access the drawers.  Similarly, the upper drawers are high enough above the writing surface to prevent paper-shuffling.  Additionally, the two long, side drawers span the width of the table-desk, offering ample room for storing books and materials.

Table-Desk. Probably Springfield, Massachusetts ca. 1690, hard maple, white pine, yellow pine, iron. Museum Purchase with partial funds given in memory of Lawrence K. Wagenseil. Photograph courtesy of Historic Deerfield.
The upper portion of this piece was made with writing in mind. By designing the middle drawers to open sideways, the unknown craftsman made sure that anyone writing at the table-desk would not have to move his or her papers in order to access the drawers. Similarly, the upper drawers are high enough above the writing surface to prevent paper-shuffling. Additionally, the two long, side drawers span the width of the table-desk, offering ample room for storing books and materials.

Although I am still searching for definitive information concerning the table-desk’s commission and early years, its construction holds several clues.  The style of its turned legs, for example, is highly suggestive. These ball-and-ring turnings stylistically resemble others from the William and Mary period built between 1680 and 1700, narrowing the initial search window.  Additionally, the upper right drawer bears the handwritten inscription “Nehemiah Bull,” which provides a helpful starting point.  Nehemiah Bull was born in 1701 and graduated from Yale College in 1723.  He was ordained in Westfield in 1726 to assist the then-ailing Reverend Edward Taylor with his ministerial duties.  Taylor died in 1729, and Bull succeeded him as full-time minister.  When Bull subsequently died in 1740, his probate inventory indicates that he owned a “scrutoire,” or writing desk, worth five pounds.

These few facts raise a number of critical questions.  Since Bull was born in 1701 and the table-desk was likely made around the turn of the eighteenth century, it follows that he was not the first owner.  Who, then, commissioned and first owned the table-desk?  Furthermore, who inherited it after Bull’s death? Read More

Sara Patton, Public History M.A. Candidate, UMass History

This summer, I am interning with Historic New England, an organization dedicated to preserving and presenting the long and rich history of the region. As the oldest regional preservation organization in the country, their properties also illustrate the history of historic preservation, and, as I quickly learned, preserving something is often much more complicated than you might think. Preservation can be shorthand for many different approaches, including conservation, restoration, reuse, and public programming. My task this summer is to write an interpretive plan that will guide the kinds of events, tours and programs that will take place at the Swett-Ilsley House, located in Newbury, Massachusetts, in the future. At the heart of this task is considering what we should interpret at the site; that is, what are the time periods or big ideas, and who are the historical figures that will feature in programming? What will people learn or experience at the home? As it turns out, a closer study of Swett-Ilsley reveals that it not only has important stories to tell about Newbury in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but also about the history of preservation. As I begin to think about how to present this history of preservation, I am struck by how the Swett-Ilsley house offers many windows into different preservation philosophies, and, since, 1911, how the concept of preservation has changed.

Swett-Ilsley House, photo courtesy of Historic New England

Swett-Ilsley House, photo courtesy of Historic New England

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Rose Gallenberger, Public History MA Candidate, UMass History

Stuff. We all have it. Some accumulate more than others. Some of us may be called “pack rats.” We are a consumer society. But our Anglo-American ancestors were just as concerned with material possessions. Enter the probate inventory, specifically those of Maryland’s first capital, St. Mary’s City. Probate inventories are records taken after the death of an individual to determine the value of his or her estate. During the summer of 2015, I spent hours examining these lists of stuff, a surprisingly fascinating undertaking. While it was interesting reading about five balls of chocolate worth the equivalent of sixty pounds of tobacco (John Deery’s 1678 probate inventory) and spying on William Calvert’s property, I had a greater reason for exploring these records. As a graduate intern at Historic St. Mary’s City, a seventeenth-century living history museum, it was my duty to begin sifting through hundreds of probate inventories to create a master list of the stuff seventeenth-century southern Marylanders owned. The museum staff will use this list to improve the interpretive collections, which consists of historical reproductions that interpreters use while bringing the seventeenth century to life.

Ceramics at the Godiah Spray Plantation at Historic St. Mary’s City

Ceramics at the Godiah Spray Plantation at Historic St. Mary’s City

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Julie Peterson, Public History M.A., UMass History

On July 16, 2015, President Obama became the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison.  While at the El Reno medium-security facility in Oklahoma, Obama remarked on the unprecedented boom in the US prison population, and called for major sentencing reform.  This event is a defining moment of our times.  Amid police violence primarily perpetrated against people of color, and increasing rates of incarceration despite overall reduction of crime rates, the time for a frank national conversation about mass incarceration and its impacts has definitely come.  While Obama’s prison visit indicates that politicians are willing and ready to approach this conversation, museums and other cultural institutions are also making strides toward addressing these critical issues.

One such site with a growing commitment to interpreting contemporary criminal justice issues is Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The institution has embarked on a multi-year journey to incorporate the story of mass incarceration into its interpretive plan.  Originally built in the 1820s as the first penitentiary in the world to inspire true penitence in the individuals incarcerated there, Eastern State Penitentiary functioned as a prison until 1971, when it was abandoned for a number of years.  The former penitentiary began operating as an historic site with guided tours in 1994.  Since those early days of interpretation, the site has grown increasingly popular; today, Eastern State receives over 180,000 visitors per year.

This May, Eastern State Penitentiary will open a new exhibit called “Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration.”  The exhibit builds on information reflected in the Big Graph, a dramatic sculptural feature installed in the prison’s courtyard in 2014.  This graph depicts on a huge scale the rise of incarceration rates in the U.S., how this country compares to others throughout the world, and how race is reflected in rates of incarceration.  The exhibit expands on this data, seeking to place the contemporary phenomenon of mass incarceration in historical context, exploring criminal justice policy over the past forty years and encouraging visitors to consider their own relationship to the criminal justice system.

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The Big Graph at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site. Photo courtesy of Sean Kelley.

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Emily Esten, Class of 2016, UMass History

I interned at the John Brown House Museum (JBH) in Providence, RI this summer. Interning in a small historic house museum allowed me to be a jack-of-all-trades. I opened and closed the museum, followed and guided tours, attended meetings, met with docents, assisted at events, create education packets…essentially, a little bit of everything.

The John Brown House Museum in Providence, RI

The John Brown House Museum in Providence, RI

But the most important task I dealt with on a day-to-day basis was manning the front desk. As the first person patrons would see prior to entering the museum, I handled all their questions. Over the course of the summer, I had a running FAQ list of statements I had heard far too often, such as:

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By Debbie Kallman, M.A. Student, Department of History

Little did I know that the UMass Public History Program trip to the Berskshires last autumn would lead to a rewarding internship this summer at The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts. The Mount, designed and built in 1902, is the onetime home of Edith Wharton (1862-1937), the celebrated novelist and the first woman awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This Gilded Age mansion now operates as a historic house museum. In addition to tours of the house and gardens, the site offers a wide range of public programming. The Mount’s on-site school programs were particularly attractive to me. These programs, designed for grades 7-12, in the fields of social studies, language arts, and art and design, provided an opportunity to link the public historian’s important role as an educator with my personal love of literature.

Debbie Kallman in Mrs. Wharton's Library

Debbie Kallman in Mrs. Wharton’s Library

The Mount’s on-site school programs explore Wharton’s life and work, the significance of her Berkshire writer’s retreat, and Gilded Age America.   These programs attract approximately 600 students per year, and while most are drawn from Massachusetts schools, The Mount also attracts students from New York school districts. Sixty to seventy percent of students attend private schools while the remaining thirty to forty percent are drawn from public schools. My supervisor, Kelsey Mullen, was quick to explain that attending a private school is not necessarily an indicator that a student comes from a privileged background. It became essential for me to link Edith Wharton and her world to students from diverse economic and cultural backgrounds and who may have different academic interests other than literature.

Three projects comprised my internship. The first two involved writing educational units for two of The Mount’s current on-site offerings. I selected two social studies programs. For each program, I wrote three pre-visit lesson plans, a step-by-step program for the on-site visit, and two post-visit lesson plans. Each lesson plan included source documents, key vocabulary terms, and activities. I adapted learning objectives and activities for each age group. It was essential that the field experience be integral to the learning outcomes of the unit and tie to the Common Core standards. As many of these students may not know who Edith Wharton was or may not be familiar with her work, these units offer an opportunity to introduce students to Wharton, to the time and place in which she lived, and to draw connections from Wharton and her world to the present day. The issues of wealth disparity, labor relations, working conditions, and class and cultural differences explored in both of these educational units still exist in the present day. Finally, what local connections could I make for the students?

In the first unit, entitled “My Dear Governess: A Portrait of Anna Bahlmann, ” I introduce students to the art of biography but also to issues of class and gender during the period beginning with the Gilded Age and ending midway through World War I when Bahlmann died. Anna Bahlmann worked with Wharton for over forty years–first as her governess and later as her secretary. Irene Goldman-Price recently published the edited letters from Wharton to Bahlmann. These letters offer students a glimpse into the world these two women shared. The primary learning objective for students is to closely read excerpts of these published letters and other sources, visit The Mount to learn more about the day-to-day life of each woman, and then to extract key pieces of information from these sources and their site visit in order to write a biographical sketch of Bahlmann.

A second unit, “Making the Picture Prettier: Edith Wharton and the Fictional Lens,” explores Wharton’s 1907 novel The Fruit of the Tree, juxtaposed against the child labor photographs of Lewis Hine (1874-1940). Wharton’s novel and Hine’s photographs critically depict early twentieth-century mill life in New England. Hine traveled throughout the country photographing child laborers at work in an effort to influence state and federal child labor legislative reform. Wharton’s complex novel addressed early twentieth-century social issues including labor and working conditions at a fictional New England Mill. The purpose of this unit is to explore how these artists framed their work. What did they omit? What did they include? Who were their intended audiences? What may have been the purpose of their work? Were they attempting to influence political action or were these artists simply drawing attention to important social issues of their time? Finally, students are asked to consider how these social issues resonate in the twenty-first century.

The third project is still in progress. As summer ends, I am adapting the current physical exhibit Edith Wharton and World War I to an online format. The exhibit focuses on Edith Wharton’s humanitarian work during World War I. Wharton founded a number of charities and relief organizations during the war and made numerous trips to the front to deliver medical supplies. The current exhibit has been on display for several years and will be taken down in the coming year. Adapting this exhibit to an online format provides future patrons with an opportunity to learn more about Wharton’s often overlooked activities during the war and how the war impacted Wharton both personally and professionally. Mullen helped me to understand that patrons typically visit an online exhibit for less than five minutes. Therefore it is critical that the exhibit capture and hold the audience’s interest so that they experience most if not all of the exhibit. My task will be to edit the images and text in the current exhibit, write a script for the online exhibit, conduct additional research, potentially incorporate new materials, and determine navigation for the exhibit. This promises to be a challenging project for this future public historian, but more importantly it will insure that the scholarship manifested in the current exhibit lives on to be enjoyed by others in future years.

Debbie Kallman with Andrew Hitzhusen portraying Wharton's butler Alfred White and Anne Schuyler portraying Wharton's secretary Anna Bahlmann

Debbie Kallman with Andrew Hitzhusen portraying Wharton’s butler Alfred White and Anne Schuyler portraying Wharton’s secretary Anna Bahlmann

This internship introduced me to the complexities of educational program delivery in a museum setting. While developing school programs that conform to educational standards is indeed important, the public historian grapples with larger issues in terms of how best to tailor programs to the interests of the intended audience yet also fit into the museum’s overall mission and values. How can we link past and present through educational programs? How do we navigate sensitive issues including class, ethnicity, and gender? What activities would be relevant to the learning objectives but also interesting and engaging to students? Similarly, when adapting a physical exhibit to an online format, it is not simply a matter or replicating material on the museum’s internet pages, but rather it is vital to consider the viewer’s needs and perspectives. What would our “typical” patron want to learn? How do we best structure the exhibit and navigation for ease of use? What should be the ratio of images to text? Should there be audio bites? Does the material better lend itself to a chronological or thematic format? These are a few of the many larger issues that the public historian must consider when developing programs–yet contemplating these and other issues are also what lends appeal to the work of the public historian.

I would encourage any public history student pondering a career in museum and site interpretation to consider the program and educational aspects of the field as these roles are rewarding and truly make a difference and a summer internship is a great way to learn and experiment with program delivery.