An internship is an ideal way to gain practical experience while still a student. It is something that allows us to learn outside of the classroom and put their existing skills to use while expanding their horizons. This summer, we were able to create exhibits that went on display and practice essential archival skills. However, our projects were not the only things that kept us occupied on Tuesday and Thursdays. As the end of our summer in Morristown creeps closer, we have complied a list of our most memorable experiences while learning about museum maintenance, exhibit creation, and day to day activities. It’s the most Indiana Jones the majority of us will ever be, but humor and adventure can be found even in the most mundane sounding tasks.
1. Paper Rangers
In looking for ways to engage children across the country, the National Park Service created a “Flat Ranger” activity and lesson plan. Through this program, students design their own park ranger and send it to different National Parks across the country and each ranger has their own passport to collect the stamp of each park they visit. In addition to the stamp, some include pictures of the “Flat Ranger” at various locations throughout their park. This allows students to learn about different parks and see new places outside of the immediate area that they live. So, when a new ranger arrived at Morristown this summer, the three of us went on a mini photoshoot and brought the pictures (and a stamp in their book!) back to Dr. Sarah Minegar, who sent our paper friends out on their next adventures.
2. HVAC System Maintenance
Much like any other building, the air conditioning goes out at the most inopportune times (in this case as balmy July day.) When this happened we three interns followed our fearless leader Dr. Jude Pfister to see how industrial air conditioners in historical setting are restarted. The process consisted on turning a lever, unlocking a door similar to a fuse box, pressing a button to reset, turning the handle again and waiting for a series of beeps. After demonstrating this, Dr. Pfister turned the handle, and remarked, “You now have two minutes.” “Two minutes to what? Two minutes to run?” Not nearly so dramatic. The machine turns on each cooling unit in sections, staggered in two minute intervals.
3. General Contracting
Even museum exhibits and cases show wear and tear of daily use and over-enthusiastic visitors. One example of this was an exhibit case who had a piece of decorative molding pulled off the leg of the case. Gallery maintenance and repair was required in a way that would not detract from visitor experience and also was budget conscious. Joni Rowe can always be relied upon to have the necessary tools. One tube of Gorilla Glue and three spring clamps later, the wood molding was reattached.
4. Pest Control Special Detail
A year round duty of museum staff is to make sure their work environment, and the museum space, is clean and ready for visitors. One thing goes to the top of the list: keeping our spaces as bug free as possible. Now, of course, we aren’t exterminators or any kind of insect specialists, but we can do what we can! One morning was “trap control”- we went around the building and collected the existing bug traps and replaced them with new ones, dating and initialing each one. This way, anyone would know when the traps had last been switched and who exactly changed it (a temporary mark we have left on Morristown).
5. Exhibit and Gallery Maintenance
While bug traps are important, something even more so is making sure the galleries and museum displays stay as clean as possible, especially during the popular summer months. During our time in Morristown, we had a crash course in museum cleaning. With so many documents and artifacts that are hundreds of years old, what cloths and cleaners used are critical to their well-being.
6. Construction Oversight
Museums are constantly trying to expand and grow their exhibits, and Morristown is no exception. Over this summer, we have watched (from a distance) construction teams come in and lay the ground work for the new Discover History Center- an interactive, immersive exhibit to help visitors learn more about the American Revolution. Though it sometimes felt like the walls of our neighboring library were going to cave in, we have seen a formerly empty space become the blank walls and pathways that will soon be filled with artifacts, information panels, and visitors. The Discover History Center is scheduled for a soft opening in December, and we cannot wait to come back and see the finished product.
7. Amateur Scientists
This topic is closely tied with #10 on the list because the science we do is important to the day to day functions of the Cultural Resources staff. Our most recent experiment was comparing similar Airheads candy (same flavor, different shapes) to see which was preferred, in case anyone needs a little pick me up in the beginning middle or end of the day. We remain still divided on this issue, not coming to a unanimous decision.
But seriously, one thing we have learned along the way is that the study of history does come with an element of science. Everything, from the folders used to house documents to the methods used to conserve them requires a specific makeup and steps in order to leave everything as close to its original state as possible. Most conservators often have backgrounds in history and chemistry in order to under the scientific makeup and cultural relevance of everything they come in contact with.
Sometimes, our internship days would begin in unexpected ways. One morning, when we were walking up from the parking lot to the museum, we met a woman who was traveling from Alaska from various national parks. Unfortunately, she had come on a Tuesday in May, when the museum was only open Wednesday through Sunday. Instead of just forgetting about the interaction, we went inside and shared the story with Sarah and Dr. Jude Pfister. When we told them what happened, they brought us the park stamp and we raced down to the parking lot to see if we could still find this visitor before she left. Luckily, we caught her just in time and were able to give her the stamp she needed for her book. Overall, it was a win-win situation for all, the woman receiving her stamp and us learning a little lesson in visitor interaction and park service.
9. Beginner Anthropologists
From the very beginning of our internships, we have been involved in helping MNHP’s Instagram account (@morristownnps). Our first task was helping tackle #musuemweek, where each day required a new photo series that fit a different theme, from travel to books to food! One day, while conversing and exploring different photos and portraits of the museums and the Ford Mansion, we came up with our idea that would soon be named the “Then and Now” series. We took copies of the pictures we found and went on another photoshoot, this time lining up our pictures in the current park. We had to make sure that the angles and views lined up (which included standing on a couple benches or barriers that were not there when the pictures were take). In addition, making sure we picked recognizable locations, like the Ford Mansion and museum exteriors, was also essential. Some of these photos have made their way to Instagram already, with more rolling out throughout the year. Stay tuned!
10. Increasing Staff Morale
While our projects were our main focus during the summer, some of the best moments have been talking and especially laughing with the museum staff. The work we are doing is always important, but it is just as important to have an open environment in which to do it. Some days were full of research and planning, others included taking pictures, making flat rangers of museum staff, or field trips to see more history that Morristown has to offer.
This is just a brief overview of a couple of the projects we have been able to tackle during our time at Morristown NHP. As September creeps closer, each of us will return to our universities after a summer of practical experience. We will trade our MNHP nametags and museum practices for textbooks and lecture attendance. However, we enter this coming school year with more information and knowledge of history and its place in the “real world”.
Thank you, Morristown, we cannot wait to come back soon.
Meghan, Phoebe, and Claire