I loved being at the museum over the past 10 weeks; I had so much fun and met great people. More importantly, I learned so much about public history and working in a small museum. I was impressed by the amount and variety of programs the VBSRM offered over the summer, which resulted in me getting a variety of experiences and new skills throughout my internship.
My number one goal for the internship was to get more experience in the “public” part of public history. At the beginning of the summer, I felt like this was my biggest challenge because I had the least experience in it. I’ve worked at museums, libraries, and historical sites in the past, but I did most of my work separate from visitors, in an office with a small group of staff. I can happily say that this was not the case during my summer internship and I got a ton of experience interacting with museum visitors.
Throughout the summer, I greeted visitors, worked at the front desk, and gave tours. Lots and lots of tours. I was most worried about the tours—both gallery and Ghost Walk—because it required me to talk about history in a completely new way. I am very used to and comfortable presenting historical knowledge in a certain way and to a certain audience. But it was a great learning experience because it required me to think about history in a different way; I had to think about the overall story I was trying to tell, and how to get that across in a clear and engaging way. Giving tours was actually one of the best methods of learning to put the public in public history, because each tour or interaction was a new chance to improve, to experiment, and to try again. At the beginning, sometimes it felt awkward, sometimes I stumbled over my words, and sometimes I remembered something I should’ve said after the fact, but the good tours and the bad taught me a huge amount about engaging with visitors in a museum setting and providing them with a rewarding and enjoyable experience.
What I found especially rewarding throughout the summer was working on educational programs for the museum. I was particularly excited to work on programs that expanded the museum’s audience beyond people visiting to look at exhibits. In particular, I had the opportunity to develop a series based on local history and our exhibits for adults living with memory-loss. Not only did I get the experience of designing a program from top to bottom—including the advertisement and development—I gained significant insight into the ways museums can reach people who face challenges in typical museum programs. In my work developing the memory-loss program, and contributing to other adult and student-oriented programs, I learned so much about how museums can adapt history and make historical institutions useful in new and effective ways.
Overall, my biggest takeaway was learning how museums can engage with and serve the community. In this, I’ve been inspired by William and Kasey’s creativity in thinking of new programs and willingness to go outside the box of typical museum events. Whether happy hours or yoga, my time at VBSRM showed me museum’s needn’t only be places for out-of-towners or people who like to quietly look at objects and read exhibit texts. They can and should be a place for locals to gather and have fun, to enjoy a new experience, and to become more enmeshed and invested in their communities. I am wrapping up my internship with more skills and experience that I expected. Not only did I gain skills in implementing museum programs and giving tours, I also achieved my goal of learning how to reacher wider audiences through history.