Public History Internships and Summer Opportunities
One of the best ways to engage with history, outside of your Mount Holyoke classes, is through summer internships. Internships give you first-hand experience in interpreting, presenting, and preserving the past. Run through organizations such as museums and historical societies, these internships allow you to immerse yourself in particular sites, stories, and subjects, which may extend beyond those offered through the College's regular curriculum.
Below is information on a number of places that regularly host summer interns. Massachusetts and New England offer ample opportunities not far from Mount Holyoke's campus, while many national and international programs are also available. Larger programs may be very competitive to secure a position--but don't forget that a smaller venue can be equally worthwhile.
Why Should I do an Internship?
Internships offer a hands-on way to apply knowledge you have gained in the classroom to a real-world setting, and to participate directly in the work of "doing history." They allow you to work with professionals in the field--for example, curators, educators, exhibit designers, or historical archaeologists--and develop a sense of what these career paths and "public history" look like. They also provide access to specialized mentoring and professional networks that can be crucial when you make post-college plans, whether for graduate school or employment. Successfully completing an internship can strengthen your resumé, and help you stand out as you explore post-college prospects. Many sites host groups of interns in the summertime, and the social experience, in a new setting, can be both intellectually rewarding and fun.
How Do I Get an Internship?
Generally, you will need to apply for an internship. Application deadlines vary, but often fall in late winter or early spring. Check individual program links for details on required materials. Some programs require a letter or two of reference from a faculty member. If you need a letter, it is best to approach a faculty member who can write knowledgeably about your class performance. Give him/her sufficient time to compose the letter. It is also helpful to provide the faculty member with a copy of your resumé, a brief description of the internship, and your reasons for applying. A few programs may also request a writing sample. Think carefully about selecting a piece of your coursework that best represents your analytic and communication skills. If the application requires a copy of your academic transcript, be sure to leave enough time for processing. Ask around, too: other Mount Holyoke History majors you know may have participated in an internship program, and can suggest strategies for locating a position. It may also be possible to approach an organization that does not have a formal internship program (for example, a local historical society in your hometown), and propose an internship to them that would allow you to work on a project of mutual interest.
What are the Costs and Benefits of an Internship?
Some internships pay a stipend and/or provide nearby housing for you. Others are unpaid and will require you to provide your own financial support for the duration of the program. Having personal transportation (a car or bicycle) may be crucial for some internships, while for others public transportation will be sufficient. College course credit is available through many programs, though you will need to check with the Mount Holyoke Registrar's office to confirm details.
Internship Programs - New England
Frances Perkins Center
Following President Lynn Pasquerella's visit to Newcastle, Maine to receive the 2013 Open Door Award, the Frances Perkins Center announced the launch of an endowed fund to offer a Mount Holyoke College student a paid internship working on a priority project for the Center each summer. The internship will further strengthen ties between the College and the Center, a longstanding goal of both institutions. Read more
The Summer Fellowship Program at Historic Deerfield--located relatively near Mount Holyoke, in the Connecticut River Valley--is a well-established, intensive experience that trains college students (juniors and seniors) in museum work, material culture, and interpretation. The program provides housing in one of the historic homes, as well as meals, and culminates in an independent research project based on Historic Deerfield's library holdings and object collections. It is especially suitable for students interested in early New England studies.
Plimoth Plantation is a museum and living history site that interprets the lives and settlements of Native Americans (Wampanoags) and 17th century English colonists. Located on the eastern coast of Massachusetts, Plimoth hosts internships on a wide range of topics, from Native history, to colonial crafts and clothing, to agriculture.
Peabody Essex Museum
Located in Salem on the North Shore of Massachusetts, the Peabody Essex Museum houses a world-class collection of material objects, artwork, and documents. It has a special emphasis on maritime history, and on Salem's connections to all corners of the globe, including the Pacific Northwest coast of America, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and India. History student Lily Corman-Penzel has written about her experience as an intern for PEM, which can be viewed on the "Majors in the Field" page.
New Bedford Whaling Museum
Situated in the historic port of New Bedford, on the South Coast of Massachusetts, the Whaling Museum uses documents and material culture to interpret the city's involvement in the global whaling fishery.(The American novelist Herman Melville set Moby-Dick partly in New Bedford.) Whaling connected New Bedford to communities across the Americas, the Pacific, and the Arctic, so the Museum offers a wide-ranging perspective on this commercial enterprise.
(Go to the "Learn" tab on the Seaport's homepage to access Internships information.)
For students interested in maritime history, there are few better venues than Mystic Seaport, on the southern coast of Connecticut. Interns learn about museum theory and practice, work as exhibit interpreters, contribute to specific projects, and widen their horizons through off-site field trips. Additionally, the Frank C. Munson Institute offers summer courses in maritime history. Advanced undergraduates are eligible to apply, and financial aid and college course credit are available.
A collection of historic structures and grounds in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, this seacoast historic site has a range of interpretation and collections projects for interns. Besides on-site work, interns participate in excursions to other places of historical interest, and a series of Interpreter Enrichment seminars.
American History Textile Museum
Lowell, Massachusetts--a city along the Merrimack River--became home to significant mills and textile production facilities, and played a key role in America's Industrial Revolution. Museum interns work on projects ranging from education to library services.
Museums of Old York
Located along the coast of southern Maine, this complex of historic museum buildings hosts summer interns who work on public tours and interpretation of the sites. Old York was a vital area for Algonquian Indians and 17th century Euro-American settlers, and its structures and grounds present many centuries of human interactions.
Maria Mitchell Association
Deadline: 1 March 2015
The Historic House Museum Internship gives an intern experience in a public tours, education, conservation, and research within a house museum, located on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts. The Maria Mitchell Association was founded to recognize the achievements of a pioneering female astronomer.
For more information, click here.
U.S. National Park Service (NPS) Programs
Cultural Resources Diversity Internship Program
The Cultural Resources Diversity Internship Program through the NPS offers an exceptional opportunity to work on projects of historical preservation or cultural resources, with NPS, federal agencies, or other partners. The Program accepts applications from college students of diverse backgrounds (which may be broadly defined). Interns are paid, and receive some housing, travel, and other benefits. Students apply to specific projects, which are typically updated on the website in the spring.
Heritage Documentation Programs
Interns work on specific projects to document historic sites and structures, helping to create reports and architectural drawings. Specialized technical skills may be required for some positions.
Each summer, the NPS hires many employees, including college students, to work in the nation's park system. Many positions involve interpretation of historical sites: teaching visitors about their natural and human pasts. There are few better ways to hone your public speaking skills! Parks range from "wilderness" areas in the U.S. West to urban parks in city centers. Searching for the terms "interpretation" and/or "cultural resources" on the USAJobs website will bring up relevant listings, which are updated regularly.
Interpretation Ambassador Position at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site:
Through research and under the guidance of interpretation park rangers, the candidate presents thematic house and grounds tours of Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline. In addition, the candidate orients visitors to the site, makes them feel welcome, and provides informal background on the history and significance of this National Park Service site. The Interpretation Ambassador answers incoming phone calls, responds to general inquiries, provides information and/or directs calls appropriately (a phone directory and a list of who’s who at the site is in your orientation folder.) Throughout the day, the intern ensures the visitor center looks neat and professional and keeps the site bulletins well-stocked at the desk, and in the outside brochure dispenser. In addition to welcoming and informing visitors, answering phones, and the door, the intern records and tracks visitor statistics, and does other administrative tasks as assigned. There might be opportunities for cross-training with other divisions and developing off-site walks of regional Olmsted-design landscapes, depending on the candidate’s skills and interest.
Skills: Public speaking skills, good communication skills, ability to research and disseminate information to the public, interest and/or background in history, American studies, art history, architecture, and/or other related discipline.
Time Commitment: Ideally, the candidate would work 30 hours a week, including at least one weekend day.
Application Procedure: Please submit a current resume, cover letter, and names and contact information for three references (preferably one work, one academic, and one peer reference) to:
Mark Swartz, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, 99 Warren Street, Brookline, MA 02445; Mark_Swartz@nps.gov.
Our telephone number is 617-566-1689.
Many other internships exist across the United States and internationally. Online searching will help you locate some. Be aware that some sites have restrictions based on citizenship. Below is a sampling of well-established programs.
Maryland State Archives' Summer Internship Program Information made available through a Mount Holyoke College alumna! Please note there are position openings in history, information technology/computer science, women's studies, and records management. The deadline for student application is TUESDAY, MARCH 31st.
The Smithsonian Institution, located in the U.S. capital of Washington, D.C., offers a large number of internships across its many museums: Natural History, American History, Air and Space, Portrait Gallery, and more. As the "nation's attic," the Smithsonian houses nationally significant collections of objects, artwork, and documents, which are visited by millions each year. Check individual museum listings for details. See also the Minority Awards Program, which aims to increase the involvement of participants from groups underrepresented in the museum field.
Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
Based in New York City, the Institute--which promotes the study and teaching of American history--hosts six-week summer internships. They expose participants to departments such as curatorial, photo and video editing, education, and publications.
NASA History Program Office
NASA History interns work on topics of aeronautics history, science, and technology, and are involved in substantive research, writing, and editing work. Internships are based in Washington, D.C.
Lower East Side Tenement Museum
The Tenement Museum, located in New York City, tells the stories of immigrants, working class lives, and urban experiences. Interns work on projects ranging from tours and programming to archives and media.
Historic St. Mary's City
St. Mary's City, located in Maryland, was the site of one of the earliest British colonial settlements in North America. With a past grounded in a tobacco economy and principles of religious tolerance (among others), St. Mary's City interprets these aspects of its past through museums and archaeology, and interns participate in a variety of projects.
Buffalo Bill Center of the West
Located in Cody, Wyoming, the Buffalo Bill Center offers internships on a variety of museum and public history topics, ranging from the U.S. West and frontier, to land conservation issues, to Native American histories.
Other Opportunities - Archaeology Field Schools
Physical objects and historical landscapes contain a great deal of information about the past, and their interpretation is done by archaeologists. Archaeology "field schools" instruct participants in techniques for excavating historical sites, processing artifacts in a laboratory, and analyzing them. Typically they accept students with diverse academic backgrounds (you don't need to be an anthropology major), and often permit students from institutions other than the host one to enroll. Field school details and applications are typically updated in the spring. For several field schools, participants live together during the program.
For a focus on Native American archaeology in southern New England, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation Museum and Research Center co-hosts a field school with the University of Connecticut. Past years have included study of 17th century battlefields archaeology, and pre-contact archaeology.
The Mohegan Tribe (located in central-eastern Connecticut) also hosts a field school in collaboration with archaeologists.
The University of Massachusetts Boston runs a field school on the Eastern Pequot Reservation in North Stonington, Connecticut.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst runs a field school that alternates between Native and non-Native archaeology. It has worked at Historic Deerfield, and the W.E.B. Du Bois Boyhood Homesite in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a site with important African-American connections.
Beyond New England, numerous field schools take place across the United States and abroad. Extensive listings can be found through the following sites, with details on costs, gear, and academic prerequisites (if any):