Humble pie

Working and studying in the field of history, I’ve slowly realized how important it is to approach the process of creating history with a healthy dose of humility. I guess that’s true of any area of study, actually, but I’ll stick with history for now. It’s a field where it can be very easy to fall into the mindset of trying to impress people with your knowledge, put forward a confident face, and emphasize what you do know, glossing over what you don’t. People may think this will get them a job – and maybe it will – but ultimately the ability to be a historian comes in the moments where you know that you don’t know…instead you have to find out.

Beyond that, you need to have a gratefulness for the people around you who make it possible for you to do your work – the business people in your museum, the custodians, the people whose history you capitalize on. You have to be willing to sometimes say, “I don’t know…Can you tell me more?” As I’ve been working on this fellowship, it’s been tough to step outside of my comfort bubble and share half-formed thoughts or guess at the use of bits of ceramics sitting on a table in front of me. I’ve felt stupid. Then I’ve realized that this is not about knowing everything, it’s about being willing to learn. And to learn, you have to take risks and sometimes end up humbled.

You have to listen as much as you talk. You have to be willing to sit and listen to long stories and source the public for their knowledge, because ultimately you’re telling this story for them and from their past. You can’t have the attitude that you’re above people because at the end of the day you depend on them. Historians only exist because there are people to write history about, and we need to have a sense of gratefulness to and appreciation for those people who we use to create our academic and professional careers. Writing my senior thesis was humbling in that I realized that the paper was not about me impressing my peers or a grad school program – it was about bringing to light and giving a voice to people who previously didn’t have one, letting them be as much a part of the historical narrative as the famous people who have dominated it for so long.

I guess I wish we approached history the way I wish we approached parties: instead of showing off and getting wrapped up in peacocking and telling our own stories, we would better serve the world by seeking out those not included in the conversation and asking them to share their own experiences. We should realize it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to do what we do – there are so many factors that have enabled us to be doing whatever we are doing. Not everyone gets the chance to pursue their passion as a career. Lots of amateur historians and history lovers who by some turn of fate or another didn’t get to pursue a career in history would love to be where we are, delving into archives and seeing behind the scenes.

I was humbled the other day to see a comment from a community member on a photo of my fellowship class asking whether the program accepts people 55 and older. It made me realize that while I’ve been whining about my schedule, other people would be more than happy to take my place. Since then, it’s reminded me to be grateful for the chance to be here. When working in and studying history are exasperating, I wish we would remember how privileged we are. And I wish we would remember how many people have stories we still need to tell.

Summer Kick-Off

This was originally posted on the Universities at Shady Grove’s student blog Around the Grove on May 22, 2017. You can read my other posts here. You can also browse my Public History and Museum internships blog for design, marketing, education, library science, archival, curatorial internship and fellowship opportunities at historic sites and museums. 

It’s a bit weird to write this post because my summer hasn’t officially started yet (us UMBC retrievers are still working away at finals!) But I am very excited to kick off our Around the Grove summer posts by giving you a brief introduction to the fellowship program I’m going to be participating in this June, July, and August!

Starting in mid-June, I will be one of a group of six undergraduate students working in Historic Deerfield’s 61st Summer Fellowship Program in early American material culture studies. During my time as a history major at Shady Grove, I was introduced to the concept of material culture studies, which is basically the process of looking at historic objects to learn about the past that documents might not tell us.

Historic Deerfield is a small town in Massachusetts filled with houses built in the 1700s and 1800s. Some of the houses are now privately owned homes while others are historic house museums open to the public to visit…basically it’s a history nerd’s paradise! I’ve never been to Historic Deerfield, so I’m excited to experience living in a different place for nine weeks. Thankfully, the fellowship program provides me with housing. In fact, I’ll get to live in one of the historic houses with the other fellows, right in the historic district! (Don’t worry – there are bathrooms and A/C units…)

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Dwight House in Historic Deerfield, framed by New England’s famous fall foliage! Courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism Flickr 

Taking summer internships and fellowships away from home can be an awesome way to explore a different region to see if it would be a good fit for you to live there after graduating. It’s also nice to just get a change of scenery for a while (especially for those of us commuters living at home…#realtalk.) An awesome thing about museum internships is that they sometimes offer housing for interns because they own multiple properties, which can be a big help for us poor college students who can’t afford to relocate.

And here’s a pro-tip: Museum internships aren’t just for history majors! Museums need graphic design, marketing, business, administration, visitor services, management, retail, writing, social media, gardening, and education interns…and sometimes more! They welcome people with different skill sets from the traditional history major, so if history or art interest you, consider that as another potential area to look for internships (or even careers) in.

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Wells-Thorn House at Historic Deerfield…Aren’t you excited?! No? Okay, maybe it’s just me… Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons – Penny Leveritt for Historic Deerfield

Anyways, I’m psyched for the chance to push myself in terms of building skills and growing as a person, but also to meet new people, explore a new place, and continue to pursue my passion of studying unique historic topics using unorthodox source material. My main tasks this summer will be writing a 25-page paper (ahhh!) about items in the museum’s archives as well as giving tours to visitors. I’ll also get the chance to participate in seminars, workshops, and field trips (whoo-hoo!) with my fellow fellows as we learn more about museum work and material culture.

Ultimately, I’m so grateful that my time at the Universities at Shady Grove allowed me to learn about new developments in my field of study and connect with my passion – material culture. Since then, school has been so much more interesting and I’ve taken ownership of my education.

Stay tuned throughout this summer to hear every Monday from myself and two of our other incredible Around the Grove bloggers – Joel and Christine – as we keep you updated on our summer adventures…Good luck and safe travels on all of your own endeavors!

Making History: UMBC @ USG’s Public History Minor

This was originally posted on the Universities at Shady Grove’s student blog Around the Grove on April 28, 2017. You can read my other posts here. You can also browse my Public History and Museum internships blog for design, marketing, education, library science, archival, curatorial internships and more at historic sites and museums. 

The highlight of my time attending the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s undergraduate program at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) has been completing a minor in Public History. Many people have never heard of public history before, but it essentially means any work people or organizations do to make historical information more available to ordinary people instead of just academic historians. This could be anything from designing a museum exhibit to creating interactive websites about history to leading history-themed summer camps for kids.

The neat thing about public history is that it allows you to combine other interests or skill sets you might have – theater, writing, designing, programming, working with kids, music, cooking, etc. – with history. There are so many creative avenues to use to study and share history with other people. Public history is also great in that it aims to bring more diversity and depth to the study of history, and a big focus of our program is trying to represent more people in the history we tell.

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Students investigating a house dating back to 1797 on a field trip in Baltimore. (Photo: Rebecca Gale)

The public history minor is open to anyone who is enrolled in UMBC’s program at USG. It’s only 18 credits, so it’s really easy to complete in addition to your major. The professor in charge of the public history minor, Dr. Melissa Blair, is not only a great teacher who is extremely knowledgeable, but also so helpful and approachable when it comes to getting advice about your future career. The classes I’ve taken for public history have been my favorite – really interesting, thought-provoking, and helpful in planning what I want to do after I leave Shady Grove.

Something I often hear when I tell people I’m a history major is, “You’re going to have a hard time getting a job with that!” The Public History minor allows you to explore the different career options available to people who are interested in doing work related to history. A major element of the Introduction to Public History course is learning about the huge variety of careers related to history, which can intersect with other areas of interest too. I like to think of public history as a chance to get your hands dirty and think about how you would use the things you read in your textbooks in other classes in the real world. If you’re a person like me who likes to get out and do projects, not just study things, this is a great program.

One really exciting opportunity the public history minor provides in this regard is the Service Learning in Public History course, which is offered every spring to people who have taken Intro to Public History. Each year, the class works with a local African American historic site, Pleasant View, about ten minutes from campus, which has a church, school, and cemetery that was crucial to the African American community in the Gaithersburg area after the Civil War and into the Civil Rights era. Each class has a central project they work on to help preserve the site and educate the public about its history.

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Pleasant View Methodist Church, part of the historic site public history students help work to preserve. One exciting part of public history is taking field trips, and we visit this fascinating site many times! (Photo: Rebecca Gale)

This semester, we have been working on researching more about Pleasant View’s history and nominating it to be on the National Register of historic places. We also created designs for signs telling about the site that will hopefully be put up in the future to raise awareness about the site. With schoolwork, we don’t often get to make an impact on the community around us, so it’s been exciting to do work that is so meaningful.

One last major element of the public history minor is doing an internshipI completed mine last summer and fall and learned so much from it. It also gave me inspiration for my senior thesis paper topic, a requirement for all of us history majors. You can read about the internships UMBC public history students have done on our blog Retrieving the Past.

IMG_20160731_003311The historic Japanese pagoda at National Park Seminary historic district, where I completed my internship. (Photo: Rebecca Gale)

If you’re interested in the public history minor, consider signing up for Intro to Public History (History 300) this fall and seeing what this is all about! It’s a fun class (and includes field trips!) and is open to any major.

Endings and Beginnings

This was originally posted on the Universities at Shady Grove‘s student blog Around the Grove on May 12, 2017.

It’s mind-blowing to think about, but this will, sadly, be my last blog of the 2016-17 school year here on Around the Grove. Ending the school year is always bittersweet – there’s the relief that you can finally relax, the sense of accomplishment, but also the overwhelming realization that you might not get to see people again. As classes wrap up, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my time at the Universities at Shady Grove and how honestly grateful I am that I was able to come here.

I never expected to go to school at Shady Grove. I spent three years at another school out-of-state and I thought it would be the perfect place for me. But circumstances led my to a crossroads in life where I realized I needed to move back home and change schools. It was really tough to make such a huge change, especially when I just had a year left at my old school, but as I wrap up here at USG, I realize I would have missed out on so many important experiences if I hadn’t ever ended up here.

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Looking ahead and behind (Photo by author)

For anyone considering Shady Grove, here are some of the greatest parts of the USG campus and community:

  • Small campus. USG is a tight-knit community. You usually know everyone in your program and it’s much easier to get to know your professors.
  • Opportunities for leadership. Because the campus is so small, it’s easier to get involved in campus activities and have the opportunity to take leadership roles. I’ve had the chance to build my resume, self-confidence, and skill set through these opportunities that I didn’t have had the chance to participate in elsewhere.
  • Great staff. From the first time I set foot on USG’s campus, I was so impressed with how helpful the staff members were in making sure I had a smooth transition to a new school. When I had issues with credits transferring, a UMBC staff member here at USG spent hours calling other administrators to get help for me.
  • Student services. USG has so many great services for students – the Counseling Center, Career Services, Academic and Student services, summer GRE prep classes – and the staff are always very attentive and friendly.

USG is such a great concept, allowing people who are working or who need to live at home to have the chance to get an education in a way that fits their needs. This is so important in a society where changing careers is becoming more common and people need more and more higher education to get a job.

USG provides the individualized support you need to succeed and fills an important niche that has been overlooked. It can be very lonely being a commuter at a traditional university, so it’s refreshing to attend school where everyone is in the same boat as you.

I’ve learned so much from my fellow students and professors, and been so encouraged by the support of USG’s staff as well as the opportunities I’ve had here to grow and be involved. So I’d like to extend a thank you to the entire USG community. You guys are great and will always have a special place in my heart!

This summer, I am excited to have the chance to continue writing here on Around the Grove about a fellowship I will be completing at Historic Deerfield in Massachusetts. Stay tuned and best of luck with finals!

Glimpses into life in the past at National Park Seminary historic district

This was originally posted on “Retrieving the Past”, the internship blog of the history department of University of Maryland Baltimore County, the third installment of a series of posts about my work with Save Our Seminary historic preservation advocacy nonprofit.

Possibly my favorite part of my collections internship with historic preservation nonprofit Save Our Seminary (SOS) was taking inventory of new acquisitions to the organization’s archives. One of SOS’s board members monitors sites like eBay for paraphernalia related to the school. I was surprised that there would be things sold online related to the school, but that speaks to the wide spread of the girls that attended the school. One yearbook I looked at listed girls from a huge variety of states, some even from overseas. It was rare for a student to actually be from the DC area. And like any college, the attendees had a lot of pride in their alma mater; National Park Seminary had an active alumni network even after the school closed in the 1940s.

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A 1920s school yearbook. The girls all sport stylish 1920s bobs and each girl
has a fun, congenial description of her personality written by the yearbook staff.
Another interesting note: The Yearbook was called “The Acorn” and you may be
able to see the squirrels drawn in on the blocks behind the women’s pictures.

Unfortunately, many of these alumna are passing away and their estates are being sold. The majority of the acquisitions I went through were from the collection of one particular woman who attended NPS in the early 1920s. Interestingly enough, my supervisor and I discovered through some archival detective work that this woman and her sister both went to National Park Seminary…and must have married two men who were brothers!

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A note from one student to another asking to meet at one of the sorority clubhouses.

It was amazing how much stuff these women kept: playbills, ticket stubs, notes from friends and faculty, postcards, letters. One thing I found particularly amusing were these short notes that I dubbed “early twentieth-century text messages.” Sometimes these were warning notes from school faculty regarding money owed or dorm rooms that needed to be cleaned. Other times they were notes from sorority sisters asking the girl to meet them at a certain place later that day. It was interesting to see how people communicated before email and text.

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A student scrapbook with playbills and other paper ephemera.

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I came across a few of these decorative name plates with colorful character. The triangle folds on the sides of the base make me wonder if they were used to assign seating at dinner events, perhaps for sorority events. See two more of these decorations below.

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I also had a chance to look at yearbooks, school catalogs sent out to advertise the college to potential students, and scrapbooks made by students of their time at the school. It was fascinating to see fashions and hairstyles change over the years but also to get a sense of what it was like to be a student at NPS. Since I scrapbooked my own college experience, it was interesting to see the change and continuity between scrapbooks (and college life) in the early twentieth century and today. In fact, I decided to use the scrapbook collection as the source base for my senior thesis. All in all, after spending so much of my internship focusing on the buildings of the school, it was enlightening to get a glimpse on the lives that were lived within those buildings.

 

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Life lived in buildings: This field hockey team took this photo in front of the stone arches above, which I passed by every day I worked at my internship. I found this photo interesting because school sports teams still take photos like this. 

Preserving the Past: My Public History Internship with Save Our Seminary (Part 2)

This was originally posted on Retrieving the Pastthe internship blog of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) history department on November 18, 2016. You can read my other post about this same internship here.

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The newly renovated Greek Revival gymnasium, which now houses condominium units, greets visitors when they enter the National Park Seminary historic district. Not too long ago, the magnificent building was decaying from neglect. (Rebecca Gale)

 

As I relayed in my last post, I have been completing an internship with the historic preservation nonprofit Save Our Seminary (SOS), based in Forest Glen, MD, which is responsible for the rescue and restoration of the historic National Park Seminary campus. SOS maintains an archive of objects important to the seminary’s history, and I’ve had the chance to aid with organizing parts of the collection to make it more accessible.

While my first task was filing slides in archivally safe sleeves, my second project was sorting and filing an extensive set of photos depicting the gradual decay and long-awaited restoration of the historic buildings over the course of two decades. The bulk of the photos were taken by my internship supervisor, a historic preservationist and the executive director of SOS, who has been documenting the state of the campus since before most of us undergraduates were even in existence.

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The end result of my project, two and a half feet of binders featuring hundreds of photos. Each binder focuses on a different building or sculpture, with photos placed in chronological order to show change over time.

This collection has amounted to hundreds of photos and dates back to 1990. My job has been to sort photos into categories based on what building or object is pictured and place them into archival sleeves in chronological order so that it will be easy to trace the development of each building over time. Going through the photos has been fascinating, and their existence is a testament to the dedication of people who care about the stories that historic spaces tell, even when they no longer showcase their beauty as originally intended. I remember driving past the seminary campus when it was a tangle of weeds; it’s easy to forget the horrific state of the place looking at its pristine, glowing stucco today.

Here is a series of three photos from the collection, depicting the restoration of part of what was a dorm building when National Park Seminary was a school:

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Decay like this was common in almost all the buildings on campus in the 1990s while the US Army still owned the property but was no longer using or maintaining the buildings. (Photo by Bonnie Rosenthal, courtesy of Save Our Seminary)

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This photo from June 2007 shows the demolition phase of reconstruction. Some of the floors of this particular building had collapsed on each other and had to be torn out and rebuilt. Note the fireplace pictured above is still standing in the middle of the building. (Bonnie Rosenthal, Save Our Seminary)

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A year later in 2008, you can see the progress that has been made reconstructing the floors and walls while maintaining the fireplace and historic stonework, on its way to becoming a unique historic condominium building. (Bonnie Rosenthal, Save Our Seminary)

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The exterior of the restored building today. (Rebecca Gale)

This photo collection is a reminder of the victory that has been won in saving one American treasure and restoring it to life. Whenever I set foot on the seminary campus now, I think back to the mind-boggling images of decay – floors falling down, entire walls sagging, stones buckling, roofs caving in, fires being put out – and my heart warms to see a dream realized in front of me, the dream of a group of people committed to a place that spoke to them. The seminary is a reminder to keep fighting for the preservation of historic places because their story deserves to be told and they are meant to be a site of life once again.

 

Preserving History, Big and Small

I wrote this piece for my school’s history internship blog, Retrieving the Past, about an internship I am completing with a historic preservation organization. You can read the original piece here, which includes photos. You can also visit my website about museum and public history internship opportunities here.

This summer, I volunteered with Save Our Seminary, which is a nonprofit organization in Forest Glen, MD that was formed to fight for the preservation and restoration of the historic National Park Seminary campus. National Park Seminary was a women’s secondary school that was known for its whimsical architecture. The school was a popular choice for the daughters of prominent Americans until the U.S. Army took over the campus to serve as a medical rehabilitation center for returning soldiers in World War II. By the 1990s, the buildings had fallen into disuse and disrepair.

Shocked by incidents of theft, water damage, dilapidation, and even arson, preservationists and local community members formed Save Our Seminary (SOS) to pressure the army to take better care of the property. After a long, hard-fought battle, they were able to arrange for a developer to restore the historic campus buildings and convert them into condominiums, apartments, and single-family homes. Today, SOS continues their preservation work by archiving the site’s history, providing educational programming, and preserving the site and its sculpture.

My internship has involved working in the SOS archive to help organize its collections so that they are easily accessible to researchers. My first project was sorting through an extensive collection of slides featuring pictures from the seminary’s extensive history. Some of the photos dated back to the 1890s and it was fascinating to see images of the campus in its glory days, with smiling young women in Gibson Girl shirtwaists with bouffants piled high posing for the camera with friends.

While the work of archiving – housing, dating, categorizing, and sorting into chronological order – can get tedious at times, I always treasure the intriguing glimpses into the past that often serve as a reminder that history was lived by people not so different from us. And even though the tasks we perform as interns can seem insignificant, each small task contributes to a larger cause: preserving the stories of the past to inspire the people of the future.

For more information on Save Our Seminary and the National Park Seminary, visit the organization’s website at http://www.saveourseminary.org/. 

To Teach the Future about the Past: Museum Education Internship

I wrote the following piece about an internship I completed in the summer of 2014 for the Grove City College History department webpage. You can read the original piece here and you can learn more about the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum here. And if you’re interested in pursuing an internship in the museum field, you can check out my blog where I share information about museum internships.

This summer, I had the opportunity to serve as the Museum Education Intern at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Md. For nine weeks, I had the chance to experience the behind-the-scenes work of museums while completing several projects for the museum’s education department. The summer held a wealth of learning opportunities and unexpected surprises, such as shopping for muskrat pelts, holding snails and drawing sharks for 7-year-old boys.
The Maritime Museum is located on the waterfront of the Miles River, a tributary to the Chesapeake Bay, America’s largest estuary, on the eastern shore of Maryland. The Maritime Museum is dedicated to sharing the unique culture of the Chesapeake Bay region, which has been shaped by the shipbuilding and seafood industries that have dominated the region. It is a unique museum in that it is made up of 12 historic buildings scattered across an 18-acre waterfront campus that includes docks lined with historic wooden boats, a 19th-century lighthouse and a working boat yard.
My foremost responsibility throughout the summer was helping to run a half-day children’s camp at the museum. Camp was held out and about the grounds of the museum campus, playing games, doing crafts and visiting exhibits related to different themes from Chesapeake Bay history and ecology. This provided me with great experience in learning how to interact with young children and coming up with interesting ways to engage kids in learning.
In addition to working with this camp, I worked on several independent projects designed to make the museum more appealing to the children who visit. My biggest project was developing a Family Activity Backpack for families with preschool-age children to use around the museum. I also put together touch baskets containing objects to engage the attention of children in school tour groups that visit the museum. My favorite project, however, was creating online newsletters to send to teachers featuring information about different history or science topics relating to the Chesapeake Bay. I gained experience in writing, research, and graphic design, as well as delving into topics I never before would have researched, such as the evolution of boats used by watermen throughout America’s history.
Overall, the internship program was a wonderful experience to do independent work in a supportive environment with colleagues who desire to give interns the best experience possible. In addition to the education internship, the museum offers a curatorial internship and a public relations/events internship every summer.