It’s mid-August and my internship at the Swedish American Museum has finally drawn to a close. I can’t help but wonder where the summer went! Even though I learned and accomplished so much, I still feel like there’s so much more to learn, somehow. I set out this summer hoping to advance my research skills, get practical experience that will help me become a historian in the future and to hopefully connect with my past by learning what it was like for my Swedish ancestors. To an extent, I accomplished all of this. I researched for a practical purpose – every now and then, a guest will come through the museum and recognize someone in the old photos on display; usually, the only information we have in regards to the photo is whatever the donor supplied, which isn’t always enlightening. On several occasions, I helped to dig to see if anything more could be found. There was also a lot of research involved with several projects for the children’s museum such as a self-guided tour. This last was probably the most beneficial for my career goals. In the beginning, I had hoped that observing guests in the museum, taking note of the most common questions, would help me better direct and focus any writing I would do for my audience; this was something I really had to work on when creating the tour guide. As for my personal goal involving my own Swedish heritage, while I gained knowledge on Swedish culture, I can’t say it was the right time frame to relate to my immigrant grandparents.
While a curator’s job and a historian’s job are quite different, I can say that I now have a different view on the final product of a historian’s work, as both rely heavily on the presentation of the facts learned- historians via writing and curators via the display of artifacts.
If you ever find yourself interning at any small to medium sized museum, take into account that it’s not likely to be adequately funded or staffed, so everyone shares the work. Chances are, you’ll end up helping out in the store for a day or preparing crafts for the education department (or doing something like this: http://www.swedishamericanmuseum.org/museuminfo/news/event/pioneer-the-world-day-camp-%E2%80%93-session-i/) instead of working directly with the material and the artifacts. It may not be what you expected, but being shuffled around like that, you learn a lot; it’s up to you how you decide to apply that knowledge.
I’m rather proud of this project: my supervisor, had received an email from a real estate agent, asking if we could tell her anything about the history of a certain building in another neighborhood. All she provided was an address. Not even knowing what connection this building had to the museum, my supervisor asked me to look into it. Naturally, the building wasn’t in our records, so I turned to Google; I dug and dug, flipping through real estate sites, census records, building codes, anything that came to mind. It wasn’t a particularly famous building, a small music venue, so there wasn’t a whole lot to be said, but after following dozens of links and Google searches, I found out that the architects of the building were a relatively famous Swedish duo (http://rpwrhs.org/w/index.php?title=Michaelsen_%26_Rognstad), known for their work in Chinatown. After finding that connection, researching was a lot easier and I was able to provide a fair bit of information. I guess the reason that moment sticks out for me is because it’s closer to what I was expecting/hoping to do this summer and I enjoyed using and proving my research skills for a practical purpose, outside of school.