Interning for History
August 9, 2016

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Summer internships are a bit like summer movie blockbusters. They’re either going to be a smash hit, memorable throughout your lifetime, kick-starting future career and financial success for all those involved — or they’re going to be regrettable, forgettable mistakes. Since the goal of an internship, since monetary gains are either completely out of the question or barely noticeable, is to acquire as much of an education as possible. There is truly nothing like on-hand work experience to prepare you for the challenges and expectations of a real work environment.

So whether you luck out with the most amazing internship or — not so much, you’ll be certain to walk away with more knowledge of the real world than you had before. For example, I am much more familiar than I was before with just how unfriendly amateur lucha libre wrestlers can be when stranded in the middle of the Colorado plains during a hot, dusty September day.

The three summer interns at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum definitely had a more enriching and relevant internship experience. The Museum’s internship program strives not only to make sure our interns feel included in their work space, but are not just given busy work to stay preoccupied. Each were assigned specific projects relating to their fields of study and career goals.

Ledesma_Image_2Andrea Ledesma, a Masters student at Brown University, was our Research and Development Intern. She became interested in interning at the Museum when she first started studying public history.

Of the Museum, she said, “It’s such a unique model, blending a museum, historic home, and living history to make something that is altogether its own.”

Ledesma, hoping to pursue a career in exhibitions after graduation, spent her summer working on writing and editing the sourcebook for the new exhibit opening at 103 Orchard Street next summer. “This document compiles information for tours and educators,” Ledesma said. “I had a lot of fun with this project, listening to all the oral histories the museum has conducted, going through materials with the New York Public Library and the New York Historical Society.”

When asked what she found most fascinating about working for the Tenement Museum, she said, “I was struck by the level of detail with which the museum conducts its research for its exhibitions.  I mean, this is understandable given that the museum rests on honoring and continuing the legacy of a building, its residents, a neighborhood, and the community… [I]t showed not only all the narratives that come together that tie a family to a place, but also turn a place into a home.”

dennett headshotKathryn Dennett worked in the Archives Department for her internship, after graduating from her Masters program at the University of Texas in Austin in May. The Archives at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum works to keep track and take care of any and all documents pertaining to the history of the Museum.

“Basically, the archive preserves the history of the [Lower East Side Tenement Museum] as an institution by collecting the correspondence files, press clippings, old proposals, construction plans, and historic materials collected by curatorial teams over the years,” said Dennett. “Over the summer I’ve been working on processing over 50 boxes of materials that had been sitting on our shelves for a while.”

Working in the Archives was a rewarding opportunity for Dennett, who applied for the internship to get hands-on museum archival experience. “The variety of the records I’ve gotten to work with has been really fun,” she said.  “Opening each box is like solving a little mystery.”

The summer wasn’t without it’s challenges, both figurative and literal. Dennett walked in one morning to discover a leaking HVAC unit causing some minor damage, but even that taught her important, real-life preservation skills, and nothing was permanently damaged, thanks to Dennett.

“But the biggest overall challenge was just the scale of the project,” she added. “Ten weeks seems like a lot of time at the beginning, but the nature of archives is there’s always more stuff being created that need to be archived.”

Corwin PhotoHillary Corwin, a Masters student in Museum Studies at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, wanted to work for the Tenement Museum due to a personal love of immigrant history at the turn of the century.

“But what really made me want to work here is the uniqueness of the museum,” Corwin said, “and how the museum is able to make a connection between immigrant stories of the past with the present wave of immigration.”

Corwin’s internship got her up close and personal with many different areas of museum management, including analyzing online ticket trends and developing the script for a new page on the Museum’s website.

“What I found most fascinating was how focused everyone was to the Museum’s mission,” said Corwin. “…everyone I encountered believed in the longevity of the museum because she or he believed strongly in the mission.”

Over the course of the summer, Corwin was able to recognize the work she was given was not just busy work used to fulfill credits, but was given vital responsibilities integral to the running of the Developmental Department. Working at the Museum also helped her realize the importance of strong communication skills to ensure her department was constantly on the same page.

But one of her most valuable lessons learned this summer was something unique to the Tenement Museum. “What I will take away is the universality of the immigrant experience.  Even if you yourself aren’t an immigrant, someone in your family’s past may have been…[and] those experiences translate to the same experiences of immigrants today.”

If you are interested in interning with the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, make sure to check back with us on our Jobs and Internship page!