Earlier this summer, History major Katherine DeFonzo reached out to faculty member Christopher Dietrich about the work she was doing at her internship at the Archives Center at the American Museum of National History (a part of the Smithsonian Institution). Katherine wrote:
I just wanted to share with you a project that I’ve gotten to work on during this first week of my internship at the Smithsonian. I remember watching a scene from All in the Family during your class, and the museum recently received many boxes from the collection of Jean Stapleton, who played Edith Bunker on the show. My fellow interns and I have spent much of this week organizing and cataloging them! It has been very exciting: in the collection we found her programs from the Emmy Awards, many newspaper clippings about her performances, and some letters written between her and other famous individuals, including Bill Clinton! It has been interesting to see how her roles reflected the changes that took place in the US during her lifetime.
As a History major, I am considering pursuing a career working in a museum or archive. Hoping to gain experience in this area, I applied to several internships at various Smithsonian organizations through the Smithsonian Internship online Portal, including the Museum of American History Internship Pool. Mr. Joe Hursey, a reference archivist in the Archives Center at the Museum, reached out to me. I was offered a position as a reference intern.
I work 9-4 each day from Monday through Friday. During the hour before the Archives reading room opens, it is part of my job to tidy up the reading room for the day and re-shelve document boxes that were used the previous day. Each day, I have a two or three hour shift helping to staff the reference desk. When researchers come into the reading room, it is my responsibility and that of my fellow interns to pull and bring out the boxes that they have requested. I have also occasionally been tasked with responding to phone or e-mail questions from researchers. When not working on the desk, I work on processing and assisting with the upkeep of various collections. This has involved alphabetizing and sorting by date collection materials; copying newspaper articles from those collections; and sometimes rehousing photographs and slides from the collections. My fellow interns and I were also tasked with helping to come up with the series and subseries titles that would be used to organize some new collection materials. As part of my internship, my fellow interns and I also got to hear some curators in the museum share their experiences with us, and we were able to visit other historical institutions throughout Washington D.C. such as the Library of Congress Manuscript Division and the Archives of American Art.
As a student in the Honors Program who almost always has at least one book checked out of the Fordham Library, I am glad that this internship gave me the opportunity to better understand the extensive knowledge that librarians and reference archivists must have in order to serve the students and researchers who come to them for assistance. I have always believed that preserving and making accessible primary source documents is essential to the preservation of history, and I am grateful that this internship allowed me to see some of the ways in which that is done. While none of my Fordham classes have involved a hands-on component that could have prepared me for the actual processing work that this internship has required, the extensive amount of writing that I have done as an Honors Program student has prepared me to write the blog post that I have about the Jean Stapleton Papers, which I hope will be published. I hope that I will be able to utilize some of the research skills that I have improved over the course of this summer as I begin to complete research for my Honors Thesis.