So I finally started! Here's how it has gone down so far....
Unsurprisingly, I spend my first day getting to know the park and some of the staff. Right away, I got a behind the scenes tour of the Visitor Center and the displays there. My supervisor was very involved in creating the exhibit, and was able to tell me all the stories of how it was planned and how the plan was changed as the exhibit was developed. It highlighted the difficulty of doing public history, where many different people want to assert their influence on the exhibit, and how many different voices can insert chaos into even the most perfectly designed exhibit. However, from the visitor's perspective seeing the exhibit today, it would be impossible to know how many compromises were made and to realize the full extend of the struggle that went on over word choice, fonts, colors, layout, etc.
After hearing the story of exhibit development, I got to see the vault and take a look at Valley Forge's collections. Of the collections spaces I have been in, this was the most professional, organized, and secure. Most of my experience has been with small museums with few resources, so it was nice to finally see what a collections space can be when properly funded. I also got introduced to the Neumann collection of weapons that I will be working with for my exhibit.
To finish my day, I took the park's audio tour to get familiar with the scope of the park and experience the park the way most visitors do. I found that the tour did a very good job helping visitors visualize what was on the landscape in 1777-78. However it would have been better if I wasn't also busy driving at the time. I also took training to learn proper care for historic objects. I did 8 hours this day.
On day 2, I helped set up a vault tour, which involved moving collections objects from storage onto a table for a makeshift display. This helped me practice correct moving and care of fragile objects. We also went out to Varnum's quarters and Washington's headquarters to clean, which is done weekly. Even though the majority of the objects in those houses are replicas, we still treat them as originals for good practice and to help preserve them. After this, I took a tour of Valley Forge's library, and looked for books that might help with my exhibit. The library is a multiple use building: the NPS allows a wedding company to use the rest of the building for weddings in exchange for restoring the building to NPS specifications. It raises the ever-present public history questions of: what uses are appropriate for a historic site? Are commercial uses ok if they result in improving the resource?
The final task of the day was to place objects into the officer's hut at Muhlenberg's division. The officer and soldier's huts have been furnished according to items listed in letters, expense reports, etc. from officers and soldiers at Valley Forge. However, those aren't the only considerations we had to make when placing objects. The huts have glass walls to keep visitors from stealing the replica objects, but they don't go all the way to the ceiling. Which means we have to be careful not to put objects too close to the glass and within visitor reach. I did 8 hours this day.