One of our class assignments for these internships was to write a short paper comparing our internships to each other. I had not started mine yet, but comparing my classmate's internships can show the similarities and differences inherent in various types of public history work.
One major similarity for all of the internships is also shared across the entire history discipline—performing historical research, in one form or another. However, the type of research varies from internship to internship. Derek, Ted, and Cynthia are all doing some traditional archives-based research. Ted is busy researching the accounts of Elizabeth Willing Powel and organizing Chamounix’s archives. While he is looking at many records, Cynthia is focused entirely on one object, a “Post Office Account Book.” She will get a deep understanding of that while Ted will have a broader understanding of at least the archive he’s organizing. Unlike Ted and Cynthia, who have pre-defined records to work with, Derek needs to find research material to support his nominations of historic buildings. He will probably face more difficulty in finding relevant material and may get stuck in going down rabbit holes and into dead ends (I know I would). Also, he will also have to do site research by physically visiting the buildings he might nominate.
Charlie will undoubtedly do research too, and it will probably be the most varied of the group, as it could take any form that supports the tasks the AAMP gives him. Meanwhile, John’s research will include oral histories, which are quite different with their own set problems. While I have not yet started my internship, I know I will have to do research to create an exhibit for Valley Forge. This will probably involve in-depth research on specific firearms in the Neumann collection.
Some of my peers have encountered communication and logistical problems. However, they stem from slightly different sources. Ted simply has been busy with work and life, impeding his ability to communicate effectively. Derek initially had problems getting responses from the NPS, and now will have to navigate communicating with various stakeholders from the NPS to other government offices and to various members of the community. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia airport is a massive organization, so John is already experiencing the communication headaches that brings. He has to coordinate with different departments at the airport (such as the IT department). However, Cynthia and Charlie have reported no issues with communicating, which is not very surprising at this stage since they are both working within smaller institutions where they can probably communicate face-to-face most of the time, and so far have not needed to communicate much beyond their institution.
Of my peers, Derek seems to have the most direct contact with the public so far. He discussed his involvement with the William Way community center, going to public meetings, and reaching out to various other organizations and individuals. John will of course have substantial contact with the public once he begins his oral histories, and indeed has already coordinated with members of the public to convince them to be interviewed. In the end, all my peers will complete projects that are directly accessible to the public, whether that’s a database or an exhibit or a preserved building or an interpretive plan.
My peers fit into their host institution in different ways. Cynthia’s situation seems the simplest to describe: she has a clear task, with a fairly straightforward and obvious approach to doing it, and probably needs very little supervision. Charlie seems to have many different tasks ahead of him. Ted has different tasks to complete simultaneously. Derek has many many subtasks to complete all on different timetables that all support each other and his end goal. It will take a lot of project management and prioritization skills for him to complete them and hit his goal. John is in a similar, but perhaps less complex situation.
Finally, some of my peers are in familiar territory while others are not. Charlie has experience in museums, but does not specialize in African American history. Cynthia likewise has experience with conservation, digitization, and archives, but is not a specialist in Franklin or colonial America. John is very familiar with digital tools and online exhibits, but not with 1900s art. Conversely, Derek is very keen on LGBTQ+ history, and has been studying it alongside preservation for some time now. He wrote about it for last semester. Meanwhile, Ted has studied and written about Chamounix already, but is also engaged in a new area with Powel and her Citron cake. Even with such a small sample, it’s clear that public history work can vary quite a lot and require the public historian to be adaptable and have varied skills.