Academic Interns

    WWI Display Utilizing Rare Donated Items

     

    The Duality of War

    There are always two sides to any conflict in life. In my time studying History at Pitt, I’ve narrowed the focus of my studies on learning the untold narrative, the stories that are often left out of general history textbooks. As I began my internship at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, the complexity of historical events like war and their human dimensions began to stick out for me.  Most of my work in the museum was done in collections and archives. I accepted donations, cataloged and assessed items for display and inventory, and evaluated the condition of artifacts. As I worked on items that came directly from people’s homes and personal lives, I came to realize how important individual experience is in even the most major historical events. Though I have studied history by sitting in lectures and reading textbooks, this hands-on experience at Soldiers and Sailors brought to life how no matter the conflict or the ideology behind it, both sides have human beings involved with their own stories.

    For instance, I processed a donation by the family of a WWII veteran who served in the Pacific Ocean theater of the war. In this collection was a letter taken from the body of a deceased Japanese soldier. The US veteran had this letter which was originally written for the Japanese soldier’s home village translated from Japanese to English. In it, the soldier explained how uncertain he was about being in this war and that he was afraid how far they must go to be victorious. Nevertheless, he assured his family he was alright and that he was simply fulfilling his duty to his country. Reading this letter opened my eyes to the reality of war and how often the soldiers who risk their lives, on either side, dedicate their lives to causes they may not even fully believe or support. I was able to takeaway a fresh perspective on the reality that history is often written by the victors, and to be able to truly study the untold narrative one must be able to see how conflicts have multiple sides to them.

    Along with this personal awakening of sorts, I had the pleasure to be apart of several ceremonies where local veterans who went above and beyond the call of duty, were honored and celebrated with the Museums ever expanding Hall of Valor. The experienced I gained setting up the event and preparing speeches for inductees’ family members to read, rounded out my work at Soldiers & Sailors, to include aspects of both the education and collection side of museum operations.

    With the experience and knowledge that I gained by having my hand in a variety of efforts at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, I hope to continue my interest in exploring history in the museum setting, telling the stories of the past and speaking for those who no longer can share for themselves.

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    The Work Behind the Artifacts

    Museum Studies Intern at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Department of Anthropolgy – Spring 2020

     

    Walking into the Anthropology department of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History I was confronted with an endless array of cabinets, filled to the brim with artifacts from around the world. I was surrounded by drawers holding carved ivories from Japan, pots from the Mayan empire, and statues from New Guinea, the kind of precious objects that could be the spoils in an Indiana Jones movie. When I was a kid, I loved those kinds of movies, they filled me with a sense of wonder and excitement about the world, and ever since I have wanted to work at a museum. However, the work is far less glamourous than the movies make it out to be, if anything is. I knew that museum work would not be an adventure, but something that did surprise me was how much of my work was making up for past mistakes.

    I focused on the maintenance of the South American pottery collection. I spent much of my time documenting and building supports for pottery. Earlier supports were built using brittle materials and easily broke. The foam and other materials contained chemicals that could lead to the degradation of the pottery and instability in the supports. It is important to note that these materials were the best available at the time, but as technologies advance, so should museums. I created new supports for each pot using high quality and non-toxic materials that will last for potentially hundreds of years and keep pots from breaking.

    In addition to making new supports, I photographed and documented the pots, updating previous documentation. Of course, when the pots entered into the museum collection in the early twentieth-century modern computer technology did not exist, so I spent a lot of time transferring old documents into new digital databases. Despite this not being the action-packed work people might associate with an intrepid anthropologist, I loved every second of it. I was afforded the opportunity to work with pots that were hundreds of years old and ensure their safety for future generations. The documentation and photographs now make numerous artifacts available for study by archeologists from around the world. I learned about the innerworkings of museums and proper artifact care, giving me a whole new perspective on my potential career. Maintenance of objects and their records is big part of museum work and I am happy to know that my actions will have a tangible impact in the museum community. While I was not Indiana Jones, I helped bring long-forgotten objects to light

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  • Guests interact with museum kits on Super Science Saturday at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

     

    Museum Education and Medicine may be closer than We think

    Museum Studies Intern at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Anthropocene Living Room – Spring 2020

     

    Humans shape the world in more ways than you think. Spraying your hairspray every morning can have a direct impact on the quality of the air for generations to come. I learned about the effect that humans have on air quality through my internship position this semester. In my position at the Anthropocene Living Room exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, I made museum education kits under direction of Dr. Nicole Heller and Asia Ward. Museum education kits are simply designed informative material that the public can interact with and learn from while inside the museum.

     

    The Anthropocene Living Room is a designated space made for visitors to relax and interact with the idea of the Anthropocene. The term “Anthropocene” describes our current era, a time period in which humans have had a direct influence on the climate and environment of Earth. The Anthropocene concept, coined by Eugene Stoermer in the 1970s, is a novel concept to many visitors, but it should be understood that the era is here to stay. The Anthropocene Living Room includes selected pieces from the CMNH’s prior exhibition, We are Nature, which helped the public to understand the effect that humans are having on the environment. The pieces in the living room include remains of land pollution, birds that are stained from air pollution, and artwork showing the ways that humans have interacted with their surroundings for centuries.

     

    My assignment was to design informative kits that could aid visitors engage with issues around air quality. We were able to design three kits that were put to the test during one of Carnegie’s Super Science Saturdays. The public successfully interacted with the education material that displayed the impact of air quality over time, measure of air quality, and impact of air quality on the body. The visitors learned about these concepts by reading and influencing a Speck air monitor, pumping “dirt” into a simulated “lung” made of a plastic container and a bicycle tire pump. This may seem simple, but it is a useful simulation to show pollutive effects, and cleaning off dirty objects that had been affected by air pollution. Visitors were interested in the material and even shocked by how much air pollution could affect us.

     

    My particular situation with the museum studies internship is unique when considering my future plans. Many people that pursue a minor in Museum Studies will be working in a similar realm, but I hope to become a Physician Assistant. My internship, linked medicine and museum studies with my focus on the impact of air quality on the human body. I examined how air quality has affected and will continue to affect the population with a closer look at the respiratory system and the problems that can develop such as bronchitis, asthma, and certain cancers. I am grateful for my internship because it showed me that there is a strong link between medicine and museum studies. Also, it showed me that scientific and medical information isn’t always as assessable to the public as it should be, even in the museum setting.

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  • Anna Schanne standing next to the Anthropocene Living Room sign displayed in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History exhibition

     

    Visitor engagement and curating the Anthropocene

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Fall 2019

     

    Natural History museums provide a space of learning and inspiration for visitors to better understand the natural world around them -- past and present. This Fall semester, I interned with Dr. Nicole Heller at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History with their Anthropocene Living Room exhibition. The Anthropocene is a proposed new epoch in our planet’s history, defined by humans’ rapid transformation of the biology, land, water and air everywhere on Earth. The opportunity to assist in curation of the anthropocene themed gallery truly changed my view of natural history, focusing my attention on the modern relevance Natural History museums have on visitors. 

    My favorite part of the Anthropocene Living Room is its approach at including contemporary research and showcasing visitors that nature is dynamic, not something we can simply put in a display case. Science Today is the portion of the exhibit that artfully exhibits seven fresh articles about nature in the present and human involvement, however connected. Part of the curation process is to find new articles and prepare them for display. This is where I come in. During this internship, I curated 9 articles over the course of two Science Today rotations.

    It is not surprising that a Geology major like myself would greatly enjoy nature articles, but natural history museums need to present themselves in a way that is appealing and welcoming to anyone and everyone. 

    I created a survey using Qualtrics program to understand the overall visitor sentiment towards the exhibit, as well as the idea of the “anthropocene” in general. I later compared the results of over fifty completed surveys to a different, but related survey from the previous year. My results provided insight into how visitors interact and learn from an exhibit. This also helped me to see the bigger picture of how small tasks like visitor observations and survey collection can give significant insight into what works and what does not when wanting to excite and educate visitors.

    An additional aspect of my internship was to record visitor observations and make comparisons to evaluate what features and topics draw in a visitor to engage with a space. The result of this project is a series of data that can now go towards creating a map of visitor dwell time throughout the museum. This can later be used for new exhibit placement to reach maximum efficiency and pleasure for visitors.

  • Olivia and fellow intern help Curator David Oresick frame a photo

     

    Behind the Scenes of a Photo Gallery

    Museum Studies Intern at Silver Eye Center for Photography – Fall 2019 

    When I began my internship at Silver Eye Center for Photography, I was pleasantly surprised by just how hands-on my position would be. Just a few weeks after it started, we began preparing for an upcoming exhibition with an Indonesian artist, Leonard Suryajaya. Suryajaya’s artistic vision for the gallery included hanging over 4,000 small prints each covered with 30 tiny mirrors and the application of specially designed wallpaper transformed the walls to complement the thirteen large framed color prints. This exhibition installation was very challenging, but it was so validating to be able to point to exactly where I contributed and to see just how much we could transform the space. I was very excited to be immediately learning new, practical art-handling skills that are essential to museum work. Over the semester, my internship proved more and more helpful and challenging in this aspect. 

    Installing this exhibition encompassed only a fraction of the skills we honed this semester. My very first day my fellow interns and I were tasked with taking apart the last exhibition’s framed works and wrapping them to be packaged and sent back to their respective artists.  

    The first few weeks of my internship were spent getting us familiar with the Silver Eye Lab. As a Studio Arts major, I was very interested in the fact that Silver Eye has its own space for practicing artists in partnership with the gallery. With the help of Lab Manager Sean Stewart, I learned how to print photographs on different media, develop film, edit film, create and assemble mattes and frames, and package artwork for shipping. Because the staff of the center includes only three people, it was not long before the other interns and I were trusted to complete these tasks independently.  

    Now that the semester is coming to an end, I find myself thinking back on just how much I have learned. The guidance of my supervisor, Assistant Curator and Communications Coordinator Kate Kelley, has been invaluable in teaching us exhibition development, marketing strategies, and curatorial writing along with the skills we were taught by Sean Stewart in the lab. Because of the very small staff at Silver Eye, I felt very lucky to be able to foster wonderful relationships with the staff and other interns, as well as get real hands-on experience with everything that happens at a photo gallery behind the scenes. 

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  • Joanna Harlacher and Dr. Chase Mendenhall, Assistant Curator, Birds with the Guerilla Girl’s Posters Featured in the Carnegie Museum of Art

     

    Women Behaving Badly (in Science)

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Fall 2019

    This semester, I had the opportunity to intern as the Carnegie Museum of Natural History as a research assistant for an upcoming exhibition on gender in the natural world. I was charged with the task of finding novel objects that could be featured in the exhibition. Working with my mentor, Chase Mendenhall, I was able to identify several pieces that I deemed related to the exhibition theme. This opportunity was beneficial as I was able to witness the process of exhibition development. I also gained knowledge about the cultural sector and positions in the museum field. Because of this invaluable experience, In the future, I would like to pursue a career in curation.

    Many parts of the exhibit will include feminist critiques of the ways science ignored and excluded many people and ideas on the basis of their gender. When researching, I was inspired by the artist collective the Guerrilla Girl’s revolutionary approach to revealing inequalities, specifically inside the museum, including the posters on view in the Carnegie Museum of Art. Dr. Mendenhall and I wondered what might happen if the Guerilla Girls moved into natural history spaces to highlight gender biases. It occurred to me that we could highlight female scientists in this same style. Specifically, I want to highlight women who are “behaving badly” in scientific fields. Through this internship, I proposed to dedicate space in the exhibit to feature women how had faced forms of gendered backlash in the sciences which could include important scientists such as Joan Roughgarden, Lynn Margulis, and Jane Goodall. Joan Roughgarden is an American ecologist and evolutionary biologist who has critiqued Charles Darwin’s theory of sexual selection. Lynn Margulis was a biologist whose serial endosymbiotic theory (SET) of eukaryotic cell development revolutionized modern understandings of the origin of life. Jane Goodall is a primatologist and anthropologist who has made great strides towards understanding the social relationships of chimpanzees and discovered that chimpanzees can make and use tools. Naming these women and showcasing their important contributions would help correct the common histories which leave them out. 

    Aside from this initiative, I developed several other exhibition concepts and objects related to the overarching theme. This internship has helped me to grow not only academically, but personally as I gained new insight on relevant issues. I am enthusiastic about the future development of this project and I am grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Mendenhall.

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  • Myself examining a personal letter of Dr. Haas prior to translating it from German to English at the archives of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation

     

    The Search for a Missing Dialogue: The Life of Botanist Dr. Theodor Philipp Haas

    Museum Studies Intern at Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation – Fall 2019

    Botany can pertain to more than the study of plants — researching botany can provide a lesson in history and geography but also an intimate insight onto how one looks at the world. The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation houses boxes of letters written to and from Dr. Theodor Philipp Haas, personal photographs, and unpublished research. Haas was a well-respected botanist in Munich whose many accomplishments in botany were distinguished by his travels and remarkable experience as a Jewish scientist escaping the rise of the Nazi Regime. As an intern, my role was to translate and research as well as provide contextual footnotes in order to fill gaps in the personal history contained in Haas’s archives. Working with these documents required reading in both German and French. Some of the German documents are handwritten in Sütterlin, a form of traditional German handwriting that has not been traditionally taught since the second half of the nineteenth century. During my internship, I applied my knowledge of languages and my ability to read Sütterlin while also diving into botany, a topic previously foreign to me.

    Though imprisoned in the Dachau Concentration Camp, Haas was released after six weeks because of the visa he obtained before his imprisonment. Haas was placed on the List of Displaced German Scholars, a list composed of prominent scholars who were threatened by the Nazi regime in 1933. The list aimed to help scholars leave Europe and continue their work in a country not threatened by the Nazi Party. Haas left for the United States and ultimately received a position at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, becoming a well-known figure in botany.

    This was just one aspect of Haas’s life that I learned about in my internship. His notes and letters provide a raw account of his story and trips he made while fleeing Germany through Asia — specifically Kobe, Japan, which was not a common port to the United States from Western Europe — before entering through San Francisco. His documents provide an intimate glimpse into a man’s life and love for plants that often were a lifeline for Haas to find hope and meaning despite all the pain and loss he endured. Through his descriptions of the plants he studied and his travels, it became clear that botany was his way to identify with the changing world around him and remain true to his past and identity.

    Working directly with the material I am translating in the archives, and closely with the documents I have received access from the Arolsen Archives in Germany as well as multiple archives and academic institutions Haas was affiliated with in Munich, I am able to help fill in missing pieces in his life trajectory, and help the public better understand Haas not as a botanist but as a human being.

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    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
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  • In the stacks of the Detre Library and Archives at the Senator John Heinz History Center
     

    Uncovering the History of the Local Art and Music Scene

    Museum Studies Intern at the Senator John Heinz History Center – Fall 2019

    As an intern at the Detre Library and Archives at the Senator John Heinz History Center, I had the rewarding opportunity this semester to contribute to preserving the history of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. The Detre Library and Archives has an expansive number of collections from families, businesses, artists, and events from throughout Pittsburgh’s History. My job as an intern was to process a handful of collections. This included organizing and researching the materials in the collections, as well as creating finding aids and catalogue entries for them. Most of the collections I processed involved cultural spaces in Pittsburgh, such as live music venues and art galleries. I felt that my research revealed a lot to me about Pittsburgh’s history and culture, and I found a new appreciation of my community because of my work. 

    Delving into aspects of Pittsburgh’s history that I did not know much about was one of my favorite parts of this internship. Two of the collections I processed had material on the Pittsburgh music scene from the 1970s to 2000. Through one collection on a Pittsburgh-based band called The Damaged Pies, I was surprised to find how many unique opportunities there were for local musicians in Pittsburgh during that time. Through another collection, on a live music venue and bar called The Decade, I was introduced to the unique history of live music venues in Pittsburgh and the local and national acts they attracted. I found these materials really intriguing, and I had the opportunity to write a blog post about these collections for the History Center’s website. 

    The collection I am currently processing is on the Skinny Building, a 5’6 wide building in Downtown Pittsburgh that was used as an art gallery from 2001 to 2007. In organizing the collection, I was drawn into the material on local artists at the time, and their exhibitions at the Skinny Building. This collection, as well as those involving the music scene, gave me a new appreciation for the relationship between artists and the community in Pittsburgh. I’m grateful I had the opportunity study these materials this semester, and I hope that my work can allow others to understand and admire more aspects of their community as well. 

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    Artist biographies I wrote for the 107th Annual catalogue.
     

    Exhibitions and Archives: My Time Working with Associated Artists of Pittsburgh

    Museum Studies Intern at Associated Artists of Pittsburgh - Fall 2019

    In the fall of 2019, I had the opportunity to intern with the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh (AAP), an organization that has been bringing together artists of the Pittsburgh area for over 100 years. Through the years the AAP has supported and showcased the work of hundreds of distinguished artists including Andy Warhol and Mary Cassatt. As an intern with the AAP I got to research some of these artists in the organization’s archives, as well as assist in the set-up of their most recent exhibition, the 107th Annual, one of the longest running annual exhibitions in the world

    With the upcoming 107th annual happening, many of my duties had to do with exhibition planning. A lot goes into the set-up of this exhibition, which I got to see and experience firsthand. I assisted with membership and PR duties, as well as with the exhibition catalogue. Every year, the organization creates a catalogue to celebrate and record the exhibition and awards, as well as to pay tribute to past members. For this catalogue, I had the opportunity to research and memorialize members of the organization who had passed in the last year by writing brief biographies of them. These were printed in the catalogue and will be read by hundreds who will attend the show. Creating something that would be read by that many people was so exciting and rewarding.

    I had another opportunity to share my work with the public when the AAP was contacted by the Daedalus Foundation. They were asking for information about the abstract expressionist painter Robert Motherwell and his time in Pittsburgh. Motherwell juried the annual exhibition in 1950 so any information the AAP had on him was stored in the archives of the Heinz History Center or the Carnegie Museum of Art. It was my job to go and visit these places, and search through the 100+ years worth of monthly meeting notes, exhibition catalogs, and scrapbooks for anything I could find on Motherwell. I found quotes in newspaper articles from Motherwell, records of the luncheons members had before the exhibition, mail correspondence between Motherwell and other members, and more. It was great to be able to help out the Daedalus Foundation, and I got to learn about Motherwell and conducting archival research along the way.

    My internship with AAP has been so enlightening. I gained valuable experience in helping set-up an exhibit, conducting archival research, and in helping with the office duties in an artist’s organization.

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    • Academic Interns
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  • Standing in the CMOA Library with copies of the printed catalogues of past Carnegie International exhibitions (1896-present)

     

    Women and the Carnegie International

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art – Fall 2019

    Women have historically been excluded from museums and positions of power in institutions. Even today, there are countless initiatives to exhibit more women artists in museums. However, looking specifically at the early history of the Carnegie International exhibitions, women were much more included than might be expected for the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. My internship centered around digitizing catalogs of the paintings featured in past Carnegie International exhibitions. I was surprised to learn that several female artists’ paintings were accepted in the first Carnegie International in 1896The first few exhibitions featured a handful of women, but as the years went by more and more women had their paintings included in the Carnegie International.

    As a part of Pitt’s Fall 2018 class "Inside the Carnegie," my classmates and I had the opportunity to meet with some of the artists included in the 57th Carnegie International as well as the curator of the exhibition, Ingrid Schaffner. Having an inside look behind the making of the exhibition truly helped me to appreciate the amount of meticulous work that goes into curating an exhibition of that size. Not only was it insightful to meet with Schaffner, it was also so thrilling to see a woman curating an exhibition as prolific as the Carnegie International. Looking holistically from the first International to the most recent, there is a consistent pattern in female inclusion. The progression from a few women being showcased in 1896 to a woman curating the entire exhibition shows the growth of the Carnegie Museum and the promise for more women involved in the arts in Pittsburgh.

    My experience interning with Akemi May, Assistant Curator of Fine Arts and Decorative Arts, and Emily Mirales, Curatorial Assistant of Fine Arts, at the Carnegie Museum of Art, was eye-opening to say the least. I have gained many skills from my experience interning at the CMOA. I honed my communication skills by being able to effectively relay my progress in digitizing records. Additionally, I had to be independent as I was responsible for my own progress through the exhibition records. Interning in the Carnegie Museum of Art has taught me to understand the history and appreciate the efforts women have made in the art world.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

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