Oops, I did it again

Some things – and people – look really good on paper. Or a computer screen. They seem like a perfect fit for you, just what will make your dreams for your life come true. But those things oftentimes don’t turn out to be what you thought. They might still have a purpose in your life, teaching you things or helping you grow, but they might not bring you the happiness you thought. Whereas other things or people your friends were skeptical about or that you never anticipated would be part of your life end up being bigger blessings than you ever could have imagined.


Havre de Grace, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I guess it’s an irony of life. And a reminder not to discount things or people. And, for me as an anxious person who likes to map things out, it’s a reminder to have faith that things will work out apart from my own power or wisdom. I need to let go and trust that I will end up where I am supposed to be.


Havre de Grace, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be proactive about applying for jobs or meeting people or trying to figure out potential next steps, but I think it is wise to be open to possibilities and to be aware that sometimes doors to opportunities or relationships open or close for a reason. Sometimes you just have to listen to circumstances and walk through a door that opens that might not have been your first choice…or walk away from something that isn’t panning out.


Havre de Grace, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I think it’s comforting to know when that when you find yourself on a path and feel like “what on earth have I gotten myself into,” there might be a reason that you’ve ended up there. Currently, I’m partway through a road trip to my next stop in life: another museum internship at a living history museum in New England. Part of me is excited for a new opportunity – even driving myself on my first road trip is an exhilarating feeling – but part of me has been plagued by doubts about whether or not I made the right choice in taking this particular path.

I’m not sure I should have moved so far away from home. I’m not sure I’ll like the work I will be doing. I wonder if I should have waited for another internship that involved writing but started later. I wonder if I should have tried harder to get a job instead of an internship. I wonder if I shouldn’t have let a desire to be close to a certain person have influenced my decision so much…Plus the more bad experiences I have where something I thought would be really cool ends up just being stressful and disappointing, the more hesitant I feel starting new things. And it doesn’t help that everyone I talk to has their own opinion about what I should be doing now that I’ve graduated.


Havre de Grace, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

But the reality of life is that sometimes the cards just fall a certain way and because of time constraints or money issues or relationships or other situations that arise, we get pushed onto certain paths. When we’re making decisions, we can only see and know so much information to help us make our choice. And even when we make seemingly well-thought-out, logical, wise decisions, there are so many factors that can end up influencing our experience that it ends up not being what’s best for us. So we can’t put too much pressure on ourselves to figure out what the right place or person for us is, and at a certain point we just have to trust that life will take its course.


Havre de Grace, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

This may sound like a downer, and it is an extremely frustrating reality, but I think there’s a comforting flip side to it. If you currently are afraid that maybe you should have gone to a more prestigious school or chosen a different job or moved to a city closer to home, have faith that maybe you are supposed to be here. If people are rolling their eyes when you tell them what’s next, don’t let it get you down. People like to make their own judgments about everyone else’s life, but ultimately it’s your call. And there isn’t a right or wrong choice. And the responsibility isn’t all on your shoulders. If you’re stressed out about figuring out where you’re “supposed” to be, trust that things will work themselves out.


Havre de Grace, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Case in point, I chose a college for my undergraduate experience that, on paper, looked like pretty much the perfect match for me. I ended up disliking most of my time there and transferred after my junior year, after chickening out twice on transferring or doing a semester study program at a different school. Looking back, I think in some ways it was the right school for me to be at, even if I wasn’t happy there and even if I wasn’t able to take classes in what really interested me, museum studies. I felt safe there and I was far enough from home that I was able to build more self-sufficiency because I couldn’t just go home when I was miserable.

But in the end, I’m glad I transferred, even if I never, ever anticipated that I wouldn’t finish my degree at what I once believed was my dream school. At the time, it seemed like my life had gone totally awry, but I ended up at another school that built my self-sufficiency through living at home instead of a “campus bubble” and commuting. Not to mention I had two wonderful professors who really mentored me and introduced me to public history, social history, and material culture studies, which I now love. I finally felt like a valued student who was part of a community, but I never would have guessed that the place where I finally felt that way would be a state school.


Havre de Grace, Maryland…with yours truly making an appearance by accident (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Life takes you through a lot of difficult terrain, but you also sometimes end up in the place that’s right for you even when you didn’t even try to get there. And I guess even the places that don’t feel right still are. I’m not sure if this post is really saying anything worthwhile, but maybe it’ll be encouraging for anyone else out there who is afraid they screwed up their life with a bad or hasty choice or took the wrong path or whatever. I like to think everything in life has purpose, any situation can be redeemed, and somehow we end up where we’re meant to be.


one last shot from Havre de Grace…a spontaneous stop on my road trip because I’ve always liked the name of the town and wanted to go there (plus any Chesapeake Bay town with museums = drooool.) Or maybe I was just meant to be there this afternoon 😉


Final Farewells: Historic Deerfield Fellowship Pt. 5

It’s hard to believe, but on Monday I finished up my nine-week fellowship with Historic Deerfield, a museum in Massachusetts. The last weeks of the fellowship were particularly intense as the six of us fellows were completing our 25-page research papers. We did have some brief breaks from research with fun workshops learning how to dance in 18th century America, harvest flax, and polish pewter spoons, which we used to eat ice cream!


Using metal files to smooth out the rough edges of recently-cast pewter spoons…Who said internships were all about making copies and getting coffee! (Photo by Penny Leveritt)

Researching my paper was both fulfilling and exasperating. The late nights made me wonder whether I had graduated, but ultimately I love having the chance to uncover the incredible story of a woman who has gone unrecognized for her prolific career in social work. It was inspiring to see how full of a life Elizabeth Greene, the subject of my paper, led, especially as I start off on my own career. She never stopped working, traveling, or getting involved in her community. And as a fun twist to my research, I found out that Greene was essentially a cat lady!

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The extremely powerful and poignant entrance to Mount Vernon’s exhibit on slavery. The doors list the names of some of the enslaved people owned by George Washington and Washington’s statue can be seen beyond them. (Photo by author)

Once we had finished our papers, we gave each gave a 10-minute presentation about our research findings to the museum staff. I remember sitting down from giving my presentation, breathing a sigh of relief, and suddenly realizing the enormity of what I had accomplished this summer! We heard an incredible talk from an alum of the program, Jessie MacLeod, who curated an exhibition dedicated to talking about the experience of enslaved people at Mount Vernon. She shared some words of wisdom about representing a wider constellation of people when we tell history.

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Celebrating finishing our fellowship and giving incredible presentations! (Photo from Historic Deerfield)

After our presentations, we got to head out on a 9-day trip touring historic sites in Connecticut, New York, Delaware, DC, and Virginia as a reward for finishing our papers and a continued learning experience about how different museums are run.

We started off in Connecticut with a tour of three historic houses in the small town of Weathersfield. This stop was especially memorable because the creative executive director of these houses, the Webb Dean Stevens Museum, likes to use real food coated in hairspray to liven up the houses. Next, we visited the Yale University Art Galleries in New Haven, CT, which have incredible pieces from all different times and continents.


Getting a behind-the-scenes look at historic photographs in the conservation lab of the art museums at Colonial Williamsburg.

We trekked down to familiar territory for yours truly – Washington, DC – where we toured the Smithsonian Castle, the monuments, the National Museum of American History, and the White House. Even though I’ve lived in the DC area my entire life, I often forget about the museums and monuments right in our backyard. It was interesting to get a behind-the-scenes tour of some of these places and see how the Smithsonian is making an effort to incorporate the stories of more Americans into the museum. It was also extremely powerful to see the lunch counter from Greensboro, NC where student protesters staged sit-ins against segregation during the Civil Rights Movement.


Learning about Southern furniture, a previously overlooked area of decorative arts, in Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Art Museum.

Our next stops were Alexandria, VA and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. We toured the powerful exhibit on slavery at Mount Vernon, which I highly recommend visiting before it goes off exhibit later this year. We also toured Colonial Williamsburg, learning about how they are changing their historic spaces to be more interactive and engaging, and Winterthur Museum in Delaware, learning about their graduate program in American material culture studies. Our last stop was at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, New York to learn about early Dutch American culture, agricultural practices, and slavery.


Panoramic of Mount Vernon (photo by author)

Overall, this summer has been full of learning opportunities and an enormous chance for personal growth for me. Stressful situations are difficult but also can change you as you overcome obstacles. I’m indebted to everyone who allowed me to have this opportunity, in particular Historic Deerfield and my professors at the Universities at Shady Grove‘s history program with UMBC. This is also sadly my last post here on Around the Grove, so I want to thank everyone who allowed me the chance to be a student blogger because I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Best of luck to everyone as you start a new school year!

Trekking Along: Summer Fellowship Pt. 4

This was originally written for the Universities at Shady Grove’s student blog “Around the Grove on July 25, 2017 as an installment of a three-part series about my participation in Historic Deerfield’s Summer Fellowship Program in material culture studies.

If there’s one thing I’ve accomplished this summer during my fellowship at Historic Deerfield, it’s a lot of walking! Between trekking up and down the mile-long Main Street of town and going on trips to local museums and historic sites, I’ve really broken in every pair of shoes I own and toned my calves. But I’ve also been learning a lot about both myself and New England history.


Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA is a fun, interactive historic site recreating where the first Pilgrims who immigrated to the U.S. lived. You can sit on chairs and talk to real-life “Pilgrims.” (Photo by author)

Some of the highlights of the past three weeks since my last post have been visiting the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Plimoth Plantation (a recreation of the village where the pilgrims settled), and the island of Newport, Rhode Island. These trips have allowed us fellows to see different ways of running a museum and designing exhibits, and have given us the chance to interact with staff members and learn about their jobs.


The interior of Marble House, one of the mansions owned by the Vanderbilt family in Newport. It was jaw-dropping to see the wealth of families who summered on the island. (Photo by author)

I’ve also given tours of two historic houses owned by Historic Deerfield, which was quite a challenge! We only had three days of shadowing current tour guides and then had to give tours to the public. This was a great lesson in the idea that “you know more than you think.” I was not very confident about my ability to give a tour so soon, but I was surprised by how well things went. Even when you’re not confident in your abilities, it’s always worth giving something a try.


Looking at an eighteenth-century silk gown with one of the museum’s curators during a seminar on historic clothing.

Currently, our last major project of the summer before we go on our week-and-a-half long road trip is finishing writing our research papers. Each of us have chosen a topic related to New England history and are using the museum’s library and archives to do research. I have been looking at a scrapbook created by a woman from Greenfield, Massachusetts, in which she documents her life story as an older woman. I was very excited to find a topic that had a Maryland connection; the woman, Elizabeth Greene, got a Master’s Degree from Johns Hopkins in 1917 and lived and worked in the Baltimore area for parts of her life. She had a pretty incredible two-decade career in social work, amazing for a woman living in the early 1900s!


One of the pages of the scrapbook I’m basing my paper off of. Greene, who created the scrapbook, is the woman sitting one seat from the left in the large photograph, and she is surrounded by people connected with Johns Hopkins. Sadly, she was a supporter of the eugenics movement, and the paper above the photo describes a class she took in the subject. The other photos on the right page document a vacation she took. My favorite is the one at the bottom of someone trying to stand on their head on the beach! (Photo by author, scrapbook is property of Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association)

Next week we will turn in and present on our papers for the museum staff, so the pressure is on to write! Of course, I’m also starting on the job hunt, so there is a lot to do right now, but I’ve also learned so much…the summer has flown by.

Read my previous posts about my fellowship here and here.

People Need other People

Yesterday I was on my way home when I walked past an older man who often sits on a bench on Main Street, taking in the ambiance, I guess. I’ve talked to him a couple times before, so I slowed down and said him, asking how he was. He inquired about my own life and I told him I was writing a research paper which was taking up most of my time at the moment.

He spoke some encouraging words about being able to finish and asked me what my plans for after the summer were. I hemmed and hawed, explaining I was in the middle of trying to figure something out; the subject has been weighing on my mind lately. He abruptly interjected, “You know, you’ve got personality. And that means you’re going to go far.”

I scrambled for words to thank him for such an unexpected compliment. Being a shy person, usually personality is the last term people use to describe me. People who have only met me a few times tend to assume I’m a placid doormat with a kind soul and a quiet voice, which may be true, but I always get frustrated that people don’t get to see the witty side of me, the side that loves dancing and singing along to the radio, making off-color jokes and doing impersonations and complaining about people I don’t like. Here was this man I had talked to for maybe five minutes of my entire life saying I had personality.


Oxford, England…Different bench, different place, different people, but same idea, y’know. (Photo by author)

He went on to explain that hardly any other young people stopped and talked to him or even say hi. And then he told me about his own years of running the hockey rink at the local school, how he would keep an eye on people and notice when they were upset. How he knew one boy had diabetic seizures and called an ambulance because the kid didn’t look well and ended up saving his life.

How another time he saw a student sitting in the bleachers looking pensive and went up and asked what was wrong. The boy said his parents were getting divorced and he didn’t know who to stay with. This man drove the boy that weekend to talk to both of his parents and figure out what to do. I bet plenty of people assumed the kids at this place had so much money they didn’t need any other help, but those kids were just as needy as anyone else.

The school is going to name a room in the new hockey rink after this man. His hands shake and he has chronic migraines now. He can’t fly anymore because of an aneurysm in his neck. He told me he was afraid soon he’d have to stop driving on his own. We’re all frail and limited in what we can do. I’m sure at a ritzy prep school nobody thought much of the hockey rink manager, but as I stood there listening to his stories, I was struck by what a legacy he had left, beyond just a name above a door. He has left an imprint on a constellation of lives. I swear during the ten minutes I stood there, at least three people must have driven past and waved to him.


Oxford England. I appreciate people who sit and enjoy the ambiance of a place. (Photo by author)

At the very least, this man brightened my day. Most of my summer here, I’ve felt inferior. I’ve felt bad for being the person who doesn’t have the next ten years mapped out. I’ve hated how quietly I talk and how awkward I am. How much I suck at networking because I get socially anxious and overwhelmed. Someone telling me I’m gonna go far and have personality? Thank you. I needed that.

I don’t know if I’ll do anything great in life or work at Sotheby’s like one of this guy’s former students, but I hope I can do what he has done – keep an eye out for people who are hurting and go out of my way to help them through whatever is going on. I don’t know if that will actually help me in my career the way this man suggested, but either way, people matter more than my LinkedIn profile. I’d rather leave this world knowing I helped people feel listened to than knowing that they knew what my name is. People need other people, and people need to know that someone is in their corner.

Around Town: Summer Fellowship, Pt. 3

This was originally written for the Universities at Shady Grove’s student blog “Around the Grove on July 3, 2017 as an installment of a three-part series about my participation in Historic Deerfield’s Summer Fellowship Program in material culture studies.

The past three weeks here in Historic Deerfield‘s summer fellowship program have been unbelievably busy, but full of incredible learning opportunities. Every day has been packed full of tours of historic buildings, seminars with museum curators, and talks on the town’s history. We’ve studied ceramics, silver, textiles, architecture, and more. I’ve also had fun taking in the sights periodically as we’ve gone on mini road trips, a trip to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and some of my fellow fellows and I even went swimming in the local creek!

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Handling a drawer from a dining room sideboard once owned by President James Monroe. (#SixDegreesofJamesMonroe, anyone??)

One of the coolest parts of being here has been having the chance to handle historic objects and think about how they would have been used, what they can tell us about the people who owned them, and how they were made. My knowledge of antiques and decorative arts isn’t too extensive, so it’s been tough to put myself out there and guess about what things are, etc. (and be wrong sometimes), but it’s a good lesson in taking chances and being humble about learning.

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Examining a ceramic pitcher from the 1700s with an incredible drawing printed on the sides. It’s amazing to handle objects and think of all the history they’ve seen and the people whose lives they’ve been a part of.

We’ve also each chosen an object from the museum collections to research and write a paper about. Each object is a recent acquisition that has very little information about it. I chose an album of photographs taken by a woman visiting Deerfield in the 1920s. It’s interesting to think about how now, almost a hundred years later, we do the exact same thing: take photos of new places we visit and put them into albums to share with friends, though today they might be digital albums on social media.

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A scene from one of our seminars about clothing with one of the museum curators. I’m getting pumped about examining a pair of women’s stays (basically the predecessor to the corset) from the 1700s! On the table are also a pair of women’s shoes and a stays for children.

In addition, we fellows have also chosen our research paper topics. This was a tough task for me; since sixty years worth of fellows have already written papers, I found a lot of topics I was interested in had already been written on. Also, it turns out that people had sucky handwriting even in the 18th and 19th century, which makes some sources, like diaries and letters, hard to read and write about in a limited time frame.

After exploring a lot of options, I ended up deciding to look at a young woman’s scrapbook, made while she was attending high school nearby in the early 1900s. Since I examined scrapbooks made by young women in the same time period for my senior thesis, I think it will be interesting to continue my research, especially since scrapbooks are a fun source of self-expression that often get overlooked by historians.


We had an awesome workshop where we did open hearth cooking like in the 18th century. Here I am hard at work shoveling hot coals onto a pot to create an oven to cook an apple pie I made…The fire was pretty stifling, I can’t imagine cooking over it every day (#respect to colonial housewives.)

Today was also my first day giving tours in one of the historic houses here, which is designed to have each room look like a different historic era. I had only gotten to shadow other tour guides for three days, so I was pretty nervous about giving my own, but pleasantly surprised at how well my tours went (though doing four in a row was pretty exhausting.)


Learning about stoneware pottery from a woman who makes and studies ceramics. We each got to try throwing pottery…another humbling but fascinating experience. (It was also my birthday!)

Overall, this experience has been a great lesson in how much we’re all capable of doing when we put our mind to it! If you’re feeling overwhelmed by whatever you’re up to this summer, have faith in your abilities, but also remember to take breaks, be open with your struggles with friends and family, and to go easy on yourself – we all make mistakes and get overwhelmed, but we’re also capable of much more than we think.


The apple pie I decorated and baked, a true work of art.

And, of course, now I can say I’ve baked an apple pie in a ginormous fire, which is a great skill for my resume!



Just around the bend

I have to admit, I feel pretty lost sometimes now that the prospect of forging my own career is on the horizon. Whenever people find out I’ve graduated and ask the inevitable question of, “So what’s next for you?”, I feel like I’m under a microscope.I had a plan myself going into this summer, but the more I think about my future, the more I question it. I keep erasing and rewriting my plan, scribbling arrows and bullet pointing all over it.

There are some fellow recent graduates who I’m working with this summer who have precise career goals in mind, grad schools picked out, and networking opportunities zeroed in on. Listening to them give their impressive answers for the “what’s next” question, I feel even more lost. I even subtly scooted out of a conversation last week because I realized that two very impressive people I’m working with were telling a third party about their next steps and career goals, and I did not want to be the one to hem and haw about if’s and maybe’s after their impressive answers.


Basically how I feel when people ask me about the future.

I guess I don’t have much faith in the idea of planning my life out any more. I’ve tried doing that quite a bit in the last few years, and my life turned out completely, completely different from how I anticipated. I went into my freshman year of college thinking that I would absolutely love my school, become really popular there, get involved in lots of activities, graduate summa cum laude, get married the summer after (in Christian college tradition), work as a teacher for a couple years, and then settle down and pop out some babies. If I really wanted to be wild, maybe I’d homeschool them.

I could almost laugh at how differently my life has turned out. After three years of trying to make things work and failing to make friends or find my place on campus, I transferred schools, graduated late, still haven’t gone on a date, and talk about careers and grad school and networking while acquaintances from my original school register at Buy Buy Baby. There are so many other little parts of my life that have been completely unexpected, but ultimately, I’m really happy with how things turned out. Even the really shitty parts ended up having purpose, as trite as it sounds to say. But it’s hard to say I know what I want to do for the future because life has hammered it pretty well into my head that things never turn out the way you think they will.


A room with a view

Early this morning these thoughts were still on my mind when I woke up way too early for work. I closed the curtains against the newly risen sun and tried to get back to sleep, but I felt restless, especially after having caught a glimpse of the magnificent view outside: a misty field of wheat backed by green rolling hills and crowned with the warmth of the fresh sunlight. I decided it was too good of a photo opp for my artsy soul to pass up, threw on a flannel shirt and some flip flops and tried to open the door as quietly as possible to go outside.


The cool dewy morning air greeted me as I wandered across the street to take in the view from my window. There were overgrown weeds obscuring the view, so I wandered a little further to see if I could get a better shot. Each few yards, I would get a completely different view of things, and soon I bumped into two pastoral little country roads lined with rows of crops. The stillness, the peace, the beauty of things so far beyond me and the stupid little problems I complain about every day…I finally felt truly grateful for where I was and when I was, if you will.


A couple weeks ago, a lady on staff here where I’m working at told us about how she once went to Mexico to see the Monarch butterfly migration, and while she was there, she had an epiphany that she wanted to go to grad school and become an entomologist. Some people made fun of the story later, but I kind of envy her experience.

I wish that when I went on my early morning amble today, I had had a moment of realization where everything clicked into place and I suddenly knew what to say when people ask me what the hell I’m doing next. But the only realization I came away with was that I am supposed to be here right now. And in a couple months, I’ll be somewhere else. And I’ll supposed to be there too. Every few feet you walk in life, there’s a different view. It’s hard to strike a balance between remembering to savor and take in the sights right around you while still staying fixed on your destination. I tend to either zero in on where I’m going and forget to appreciate what I’m passing by on the way there.


So maybe it’s for the best that I don’t have a destination mapped out right now. It forces you to just keep exploring, looking for the next opportunity, and enjoying the sights each one affords. When we get caught up in the end goal, we tend to get tunnel vision, turning everything into a countdown to some aspiration that may not even be as fulfilling as we think. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have plans, goals, and focus – I envy people who do and wish I had a better idea myself – but I think it is good to take time every once in a while to remember to savor the journey, giving thanks for the opportunities instead of just crossing off the days.


And if you’re like me and you’re not exactly sure where you’re headed, it’s okay. We can both give wishy-washy answers to annoying questions and the excuse ourselves to go to the bathroom and not feel shame. When people give us a condescending smirk because we’re simpletons who don’t know what’s next, we can remind ourselves that the joke’s on them because life rarely ever goes according to plan.

I guess in a way that means I’m prepared.


You never know what might crop up around the bend.

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.

Day One: Historic Deerfield Fellowship, Pt. 2

This was originally posted on Around the Grove, the blog of the Universities at Shady Grove.

Today, I started my fellowship at Historic Deerfield in Massachusetts at full speed with a series of tours and talks orientating myself and the five other undergraduate fellows to the museum. I’ve never been to Historic Deerfield before or even this part of Massachusetts, but it’s a huge change of pace from the D.C. suburbs. Things are very quiet and scenic, and we fellows are living in historic houses on the main street that comprises the museum. It’s lined with houses from the 1700s and 1800s and surrounded by small towns and green landscapes.


For lunch today, we climbed to the top of a local mountain (ironically named Sugarloaf, just like one of our mountains in Maryland) to look out on the landscape below, the Connecticut River Valley. We learned that in Native American folklore, the mountain was made by a beaver deity whose head was decapitated and fell in the middle of a lake. Apparently, from above, the mountain looks like a beaver’s head and body, bordered by the Connecticut River!


We also had a tour of the museum’s exhibition center and a look behind the scenes at the collection, where we will be doing the bulk of our work during the fellowship, learning how to handle historic objects and learn about the past from them. Then we ended the day with a tour of a tavern from the 1700s, learning about how taverns were one of the important centers of town life and socialization in colonial America.


We also went on a brief walking tour of the town. As you can imagine, it was pretty hot out, but we learned about the history of the raid of Deerfield in 1704, where French and Native Americans invaded the town and killed and captured people as part of an ongoing war between the French and English settlers and various Native American tribes. This raid is one of the town’s claims to fame, but has been told in a very skewed manner over the years, so we discussed the importance of examining how history is told and representing a variety of points of view.

DSC01111.JPGThe start of a new job in a new place, with new people is admittedly very overwhelming, especially with such a packed schedule, but my motto has become “one hour at a time.” Just take things as they come, don’t look too far ahead and stress too much about the future, because you never know what is coming up ahead, and you’ll get too overwhelmed.


A few more things I’ve been learning in these overwhelming beginning days: Trust your skills and capabilities. Be willing to admit when you don’t know something, and approach your work and learning humbly. Don’t stress about trying to impress people or be the one who knows everything. And push yourself out of your comfort zone, but also have compassion on yourself; you’re only human and we each have our own things that are tougher to do.

DSC01104.JPGPat yourself on the back for the things you accomplish, big and little, and don’t get hung up over little mistakes, mix-ups and places where you don’t seem as accomplished as others. Be patient with yourself; learning and developing professional skills is a process!

One foot in front of the other

The entire car ride up here, I felt my stomach churning with anxiety, my chest tightening with every thought of the unknown that lay ahead. By the time the car turned onto Main Street, I had tears in my eyes from the stress and I thought I was going to blow chunks.

Once we pulled into the small gravel lot though, it was time for action. The next few minutes were a blur of new faces and signing papers and trying to think of something clever to say but drawing a complete blank. I took the keys and said thank you and hopped back into my parents’ car to drive to my new summer lodgings, a weathered, wood-paneled addition onto the back of a brick Federalist house, bookending the finish of a tree-lined street.

My excitement picked up as I ran up and down the stairs, exploring the nooks and crannies of my new home and deciding which room to pick. We hauled my obscene amount of newly purchased professional clothes and bags of tattered “I guess these are still nice enough” shoes into the spacious, if a bit run-down, room. Then my parents suggested we go for a walk through the historic district before they said good-bye for the night.

As we headed back down the road, underneath the shade of the trees, I turned to my mom and said I missed her and dad already. My stomach squeezed at the thought of going back to have a proper conversation with my new co-workers. I’m not famous for talking well in groups, and while I’ve made vast improvements in my social anxiety, the pressure of making a good impression on people I need to get along well with for nine weeks was a bit overwhelming.

But somehow, I hugged my parents, and went to have an awkward but interesting conversation with my newfound colleagues. Little did I know I would be laughing until I cried with some of them, swapping stories about crushes, and staying up way too late for recent college students who now have to wake up at 7:30am.

First weeks are always incredibly stressful, especially if you’re an already anxious person; meeting people whose names you can’t remember, navigating new relationships, figuring out how to answer all the “nice to meet you” questions. Even worse is hearing the laundry list of assignments, rules, and protocol and wondering how on earth you’re going to accomplish this all without crying yourself to sleep every night. This week was no different, but I was incredibly blessed to be able to connect with the people around me like I’ve never been able to do before. This meant that, while my chest still felt like caving in at times, I was able to stretch myself rather than just feeling completely overwhelmed and defeated. I guess the following is a stream-of-consciousness collection of lessons I’ve been learning over the start of this journey:

Other people are stressed too. I tend to assume that because I struggle with anxiety, I’m the only one who’s having a tough time, but that’s not true. People might only give you little glimpses of it, but if you pay attention, or maybe just even put yourself in their shoes, you might realize that other people are overwhelmed too. It can be helpful to be understanding and cut people a break, and to feel less alone, like you’re the only one struggling. Similarly, I think sometimes you need to open up and let people know you’re overwhelmed – nothing major, but just a bit of honesty with someone who you think might understand. You might receive an obnoxious pat reply, you might get some encouragement, you might find you’re not alone. But it’s good to be genuine. In my opinion, people can’t hate genuine. And it does more good than pretending you’re superior to others.

Stretching yourself to your limits is terrifying, but it really does help you to grow.

Don’t approach life trying to prove yourself to other people, but be humble and willing to ask about what you don’t know and remember how much we all have left to learn. Classmate and colleagues can sometimes, admittedly, feel like competition, but we’re all here to learn from one another. We all bring unique experiences and backgrounds to the table, so it’s worth learning from each other rather than, a) beating ourselves up for not knowing enough, or b) dropping names and dates to prove we’re hot stuff.

It’s not about being the best, but doing the best you can.

At the end of the day, whatever work you do isn’t about furthering your career, but rather contributing to your field, and ultimately to the world. Approaching work with this kind of attitude is humbling, and can help take the pressure of impressing people off of projects and let us reconnect with the joy of doing what we’re passionate about.

It’s okay to be a quiet person. Some times this week, I’ve felt guilty for not talking enough or not volunteering an answer because I was too nervous or not being able to think of something to ask a person I found myself standing next to. I’ve felt bad for having a quiet voice that gets talked over instead of commanding attention, for being tentative instead of self-assured. But then I contrast my experience with the self-assured people who seem to have it all together with the down-to-earth, vulnerable, relatable people who connect with you without pretenses, and I realize that, while it’s always good to continue pushing myself to be less tentative and fearful, I don’t need to be ashamed of being someone who listens more than she talks. We need people like that in the world to create safe havens where we can be ourselves, not be judged, and feel understood and comfortable.

And I have to cut myself some slack some times…we can’t do everything perfectly. If I don’t say much at a meal, that’s okay. I’m not one for small talk; I’d rather have a one-on-one or small group conversation where we really get to know each other or come up with inside jokes or really, genuinely laugh until I cry…the kind of laugh where you look ridiculous but are in such good company you don’t even care because you know they won’t judge you.

Even when I make “mistakes,” what matters is that I’m trying. I’m stretching myself a little further every day to overcome fear, push through anxiety, and dismiss hesitancy. While other people, myself included, may only see my shortcomings compared to an ideal of gregariousness and forthrightness, I know how far I’ve come. They don’t know that I used to never speak in class. They don’t know that two years ago, I considered quitting college. It’s easy to let shame darken our hearts because of societal stigma or bad reactions we’ve gotten in the past. Celebrate the obstacles you have overcome; let them remind you of the strength you have built and the mileage you have traveled to get to this place. The things that have cut you up inside (or perhaps even out) and left you broken have given your a story, made you wiser, stronger, more loving. The world needs broken people to pour love out into lives of others. I supposed there’s a time and place for a confident facade, but more and more I wish we made more room for an honest conversation.

More importantly, I firmly believe that, as cheesy as it sounds, empathy and humility can make a big difference in communities, relationships, group dynamics, and our lives if we let them. If we’re vulnerable, we can have deeper, more satisfying relationships, but we have to open up if we want others to see who we are so they can love us. We have to be present if we want to make connections that make an experience rich and fulfilling.

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…)

dwight house

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.


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!