Academic Interns

  •  

    Dinosaurs, Dead Fish, and a Paleontologist Named Pop

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

    Millions of years have passed since the age of the dinosaur, but their reputation as some of the world’s fiercest and most awesome creatures lives on. Preserving and uncovering the legacy of these and other extinct life forms is the primary job of paleontologists as they pull back the shroud of time on these extraordinary species and the long-lost worlds they inhabited. In the Section of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, I was granted a hands-on opportunity to help preserve spectacular fossils and to further illuminate the history of scientific discovery.

    This semester, I worked under the supervision of Dr. Matthew Lamanna, Associate Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, and Linsly Church, Curatorial Assistant in Vertebrate Paleontology, with my work allocated into two main projects. The first involved scanning and transcribing decades-old curatorial documents, whereas the second entailed conducting conservation work on fossils. Although both tasks seemed straightforward at first, little did I know that, in the process of conducting them, I would delve into a captivating and sometimes bizarre world that included socks full of invertebrate fossils lost on a German mountainside and a 1940s scientist’s wife’s threat to cut off the cookie supply for the entirety of an expedition into the Montana badlands. These stories and many more come from my time spent in Vertebrate Paleontology.

    My first assignment was to scan, transcribe, and preserve archived correspondence dating from the 1930s to the early 1960s, a time when Vertebrate Paleontology at the Carnegie Museum was spearheaded by curator J. LeRoy (aka “Pop”) Kay. I would come to learn the significance of this period as I gradually read and transcribed hundreds of documents. Amazing stories would come from these documents, including the ones about “rocks” in socks and a cut in the cookie supply as mentioned before. Most importantly during the Pop Kay era, however, would be the renovation of the museum’s exhibition halls, making way for important expeditions and collections, such as the acquisition (in early 1941) of the original skeleton of the infamous dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered. 

    My second assignment taught me the valuable lesson of being able to adapt to constantly changing conditions. It began with the conservation of middle Eocene-aged (~50 million-year-old) fossil fishes from a paleontological site known as Monte Bolca in Italy. Under Church’s guidance, I learned how to clean, repair, and build storage mounts for fossils. What made the work interesting was that, although these fishes are tens of millions of years old, the job was never at a standstill. Over the course of my internship, I also learned about the materials used to make molds and casts of fossils, the difference between a genus and a species, and how to analyze bones recovered from the field in a laboratory environment. 

    As the semester came to a close, I began reflecting on my own connections to the legacy of dinosaurs. To paleontologists, evolutionary relationships, fascinating anatomy, and the geological history of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures are what makes the study of these ancient beasts worthwhile. The endless stories from the Pop Kay era, the current Vertebrate Paleontology staff’s reminiscences of their equally tasking and rewarding expeditions, and a future career path are what dinosaurs have come to mean to me.

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

    A photo from Kuntu’s performance of Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery

     

    Representing History with Pitt Archives and Special Collections

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Library System – Spring 2019

    Kuntu Repertory Theatre (KRT) was a Pittsburgh-based theatre company dedicated to highlighting the voices and abilities of black theatre professionals. The company was founded by Dr. Vernell Lillie in 1974 and was associated with Pitt (though not directly part of the university’s theatre department). Throughout their 39 year run, KRT put on over 300 productions-- many of which were new works. Dr. Lillie worked with writers like Rob Penny and August Wilson in order to see theatre in a more diverse light.

    During my internship with Pitt’s Archives and Special Collections department, I worked with the Kuntu Repertory Theatre Collection. Under the guidance of the Kuntu Repertory Theatre Project Archivist, Megan Massanelli, I helped organize different aspects of Kuntu’s archives. When my internship began, I focused on video recordings. In preparation for the possible digitization of Kuntu’s video archives, I watched a number of videos taking note of their content, quality, and run-time. This was a highly engaging process—especially because of the films visual qualities. I also had the opportunity to watch full performances of shows and rehearsals. One of the most interesting performances I watched was the creation of a psychodrama within a classroom. Psychodramas were events that Dr. Lillie specialized in creating. They were smaller performances where people act out distressing events from their lives. I had never previously experienced a psychodrama, and while it deeply personal, it was also incredibly fascinating.

    After working with VHS tapes, I moved on to Kuntu’s archival photographs, organizing and identifying them. As part of this process I learn a great amount about the different productions Kuntu produced throughout almost four decades. I have been going through unidentified photos, and cross-referencing them in order to identify, label, and file the photos into a box. This process included using Documenting Pitt, an online repository for historical documents from the University of Pittsburgh to view old articles, look at scenic design renderings, and researching various things about different productions (plot, character descriptions, setting, etc). Using these methods has, on many occasions, allowed me to identify a photo (and also feel a bit like a detective). Most recently, I discovered a play title by cross-referencing programs and scenic design renderings.

    Looking at these photos has been eye opening in a different manner than the videos. While I did see many interesting photos of productions, there are also many photos of people just enjoying each other’s company. It was very special to see theatre representative of Pittsburgh’s black performance community captured on camera (often with a polaroid). While I have spent the entirety of my college career in performance, this experience has taught me the most about black theatre.

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

    Learning of the Local and the Global in the Art Gallery

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery - Spring 2019

    My semester-long internship with the University Art Gallery promised from the start to be an exciting opportunity to expand my passion for audio-visual exhibition. The task was to assist with technological arrangements for an exhibition of Chinese video works being curated by Graduate Student Assistant Ellen Larson and set to open in the fall of 2019. The video technology aspect was mostly familiar territory for me, as I frequently organize pop-up microcinema events, which have afforded me with substantial experience in planning the logistics of presenting moving images in various formats. It was the geographic focus of the exhibition that mostly piqued my interest, as my knowledge of contemporary Chinese cinema was limited. As a cinephile who constantly endeavors to push my understanding of the medium and to foster a diverse knowledge base, this was one particular knowledge gap that I was eager to narrow.

    The perspective shift from understanding the world through the art of residents of a country foreign to my own was a welcome aspect of the internship. What I did not anticipate that my work with the UAG would encourage, however, was a different understanding of the gallery settings that were already so familiar and close to home. As the semester progressed, I was delighted to find that, in addition to a steady diet of contemporary Chinese film and video works, I was also offered opportunites to consider gallery exhibition practice beyond my familiar territory of audio-visual needs. It was often precisely in the areas where expectations were not met that I encountered the most enlightening learning experiences.

    Early in the semester, I had devised lists of equipment necessary to display each work selected for the exhibition. Moreover, I learned to use SketchUp software to create visualizations of each installation. The setups were generally straightforward -- display and playback devices, speakers, and various connecting cables -- though it was not until Ellen and I had the equipment in hand and completed a dry-run of the first setup that I began to understand some of the minutiae of exhibition planning for the gallery setting. With the installation assembled, I considered aesthetic details as precise as color and positioning of extension cords and other wires. 

    Although such elements seemed inconsequential at the SketchUp stage, seeing the installations progress from visualization to realization allowed me to understand the importance of such diminutive details to the overall aesthetic of each piece.  It also allowed me to more fully appreciate the labor that takes place within exhibition spaces. In this way, my internship with the University Art Gallery has provided a new way of seeing not just at the global level through a newfound appreciation for contemporary Chinese audio-visual culture, but also right here in Pittsburgh, since no gallery visit will ever be quite the same for me again.

    Categories: 
    • Environment
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Spaces
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Looking at Icons in Visible Storage

     

    Finding Stories at the Heinz History Center

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

    Through the course of my internship at the Senator John Heinz History Center I had many experiences which helped me understand museum work better. I was an intern in the curatorial department under Senior Curator Leslie Przybylek and conducted research to help expand the museum’s body of knowledge. I had two great experiences which really shaped and changed my expectations and goals of working in a museum setting. Under the guidance of Ms. Przybylek, I found that what I really wanted to do was tell stories. And what better way to do that than to go and find them yourself?

    My two areas of research throughout the internship were Skiing and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. I focused on the Pittsburgh area and mainly focused on the 1900s. I learned so much about Eastern Orthodox Christianity that I hadn’t known before doing this internship. I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a service at St. Nicholas Church in McKees Rocks. It was when I went here and listened to the service and talked with congregation members afterwards, that I wanted to do something more than simply interacting with icons in the collections. Objects are awesome and I love learning about them, but to me the story behind them and the people who interacted with them are the real gems of the collections at the Heinz History Center.

    The research that went in to skiing was a little different. Unfortunately, I could not go on any big downhill skiing adventures, though I was invited on an outing. No hills? No problem! Nordic Skiing, or Cross-Country Skiing, is a great alternative when there aren’t any convenient mountains. I received a great lesson about Nordic Skiing from Rick Garstka, the former president of the Pennsylvania Association of Cross-Country Skiing. I learned from Mr. Garstka that the wax on the middle part of the skis actually grips the snow so that you can propel yourself forward. It’s great for all ages and a wonderful way to stay in shape during the winter months!

    During my research I also came across a lovely article in the Pittsburgh Press from 1935. Aleen Westein had some advice on what to do with unused ski equipment including using it to ward of intruders in the night! Some other good tidbits include wearing ski pants to make unwanted guests leave early and transforming ski poles into a lamp.

    Throughout my internship I loved meeting new people and learning about their experiences. The ability of curators to not only collect objects but tell a story that might otherwise remain unshared is something I greatly admire and hope that I can one day do myself.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • William Mayer in the Anthropocene Living Room.

     

    Changing the Museum Experience Through the Anthropocene

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

    You probably have a certain expectation of what a natural history museum looks like. You would expect to see cases with filled with old dinosaur bones, taxidermic animals and dioramas. Perusing through museum exhibits of this nature, you might be surprised to come across a space full of couches and chairs, with books or news articles, in which to sit down and read. Not only that, but also a space dedicated to humans and nature in a largely modern context.

    The Anthropocene Living Room at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History is such a space. A new addition to CMNH, the Living Room was designed to continue to communicate and engage visitors in information about the Anthropocene and reinterpret humanity as a working part of nature following the museum’s prior special exhibition on the topic, We Are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is the current geological age in which we live, defined by the impact which humans have had on nature and the global environment, dealing with issues from climate change to nuclear fallout. This certainly feels like a new topic in a natural history museum, in addition to its non-traditional design. Over the course of my internship at CMNH under the advisement of Dr. Nicole Heller, Curator of the Anthropocene, I have been working to evaluate visitor interaction with and reception to this experimental new type of museum space.

    I have done a combination of survey work and observational data collection over the course of several weeks, and in my analysis, I have found positive results. Overwhelmingly, museum goers are interested in the Anthropocene. Around 70-80% of survey takers judged the Anthropocene as being relevant, both to natural history and to themselves personally, and they indicated that they are interested in learning more about it. Furthermore, visitors who have been in The Anthropocene Living Room or went to We Are Nature agreed even more so that the Anthropocene as a topic was personally relevant to them than the general populace of museumgoers. Not only that, but a sizable proportion of museum visitors is willing to, and even want to, spend time sitting down and reading books at the museum. Over half of those observed sat down in the couches or chairs in the space, and a third of all visitors engaged with reading material available to them.

    My experience working at the CMNH has been particularly enlightening for me. The Anthropocene Living Room and the Anthropocene at large provide a new perspective into the museum-visitor relationship and moving forward I hope that the work that I have done helps in developing an understanding of efficacy in the design of museum spaces.

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

    Ethics and Policy in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

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

    When first learning about the Ethics Intern position, I was under the impression that I was going to spend a lot of time at my desk taking notes and observing in office meetings.  Instead, I was tasked with researching and compiling information from several sources for the new Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH) Code of Ethics. My research consisted of reviewing other museums Ethics Codes, cross-referencing different international and national ethics guides, meeting with the CMNH Ethics committee, and meeting with other CMNH heads of departments that would be affected by the newly updated rules. By the end of the internship, I was to make several suggestions for updates and additions to the Ethics Code to the Director of the CMNH and the Ethics committee to take into consideration for the new CMNH Code of Ethics.

    In my meetings with several department heads, I learned a lot about how different rules and policies affect different departments. Before becoming an intern at the CMNH my experience with museums ethics and policy it was limited with a focus on art. In my meetings with other departments, I gained additional knowledge of policy and regulations and their impact on various studies. However, because of my role in this project, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the overarching policies governing each. My understanding of “Ethical” correctly shifted beyond the decision of displaying an object to include other aspects. Such as the logistics of receiving an object, conservation, public engagement, inclusivity, and professional conduct. The best part of my learning experience was my meetings with other museum professionals and hearing their take on different aspects of the Ethics policy, and I was able to learn from their different field affected their views.

    I did learn a lot about the policy aspect of the museum, during my time as an intern. I also learned more about professionalism in museums and the inner workings of departments in a Natural History museum. As I move forward in my career, I will be looking back on this experience as something that allowed me to learn and grow as a worker and have a more complete understanding of policies and the inner workings of museums as a whole.

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

    Lisa Canavan and the "Men's Work/Women's Work" exhibition

     

    Digitization and Exhibition of the PPL Archive

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Spring 2019

    I saw myself in a photograph from 67 years ago. Not literally of course, but I felt a kinship with a homemaker I never knew because I identified with her life. Thankfully, I never had to hand wash clothes in a shared hallway bathroom tub as the only source of hot water in an apartment building, or wash dishes in a clogged sink that had to be drained with buckets. But, as a wife and mother who stayed home to raise a family before going back to school to earn a third degree, I understand how hard women work and how often our contributions go unrecognized.

    This photograph of Mrs. Pagone and several more like it in the Pittsburgh Photographic Library at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh inspired me to create Men’s Work/Women’s Work, an exhibition highlighting how gender defined labor in the mid-twentieth century. As the Digitization and Special Projects intern, I wanted to create an exhibition that would acknowledge the hard-working women who often lived in the shadow of men, especially in an industrial city like Pittsburgh, where male labor and blue-collar workers were synonymous with the city itself.

    The Pittsburgh Photographic Library was created by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development to document Pittsburgh’s urban renaissance after WWII. It is an amazing archive of over 11,000 photographs documenting life in the city during the early 1950s. But since it exists in the form of negatives and proofs, the public only has access to the few that have been published. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh holds this collection and my supervisor, Brooke Sansosti, Digitization and Special Projects Lead, is in charge of making the collection accessible to the public. Working under her direction in the REcollection Studio, I scanned, edited, reviewed, and cataloged photos into the Historic Pittsburgh website [https://historicpittsburgh.org/]. I was also very fortunate to be given total creative freedom over an exhibition to be shown in the library’s Gallery@Main, giving the public a taste of the PPL.

    Through this internship, I learned many useful things. I received hands-on experience in exhibition production. I gained skills in digitizing photographic negatives and became more comfortable with PhotoShop software. As an artist, these skills are useful for creating as well as documenting art. I also came to appreciate the value of preserving archives. This archive taught me a lot about Pittsburgh in the 1950s and how far women have come toward equality since then, even as I recognize that there is still a journey ahead. It is productive to look into the past because it gives you perspective on the progress you may not be able to see from day to day, and allows you to move forward with a positive attitude.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
    • Image of Meghan Lees with Exhibit Case
    • Ground Floor Cases of Exhibit
    Image of Meghan Lees with Exhibit Case

    Meghan Lees accompanied by the introductory case of the Travelers Along the Silk Roads: 10th Century to Present exhibit.

     

    Digitizing the Silk Roads

    Museum Studies Intern at Archives & Special Collections, Hillman Library – Spring 2019

    It has been a fast-paced four years here in the University of the Pittsburgh and, with graduation a mere few weeks away, my time at Pitt is coming to an end. I have been able to explore an assortment of coursework, some of which I never expected to, and have found myself in both digital design and the arts. As luck would have it, I have had the pleasure melding those two aspects of myself together in my work as an intern at Archives & Special Collections (A&SC) in the Hillman Library. 

    As part of my primary task, I was given the objective of taking the currently displayed exhibit, Travelers Along the Silk Road: 10th Century to Present, and digitally recording it in a guide. Working with Slavic, European, and Global Studies curator, Daniel Pennell, I was allowed further insight in the wide range of research and media that went into the creation and running of the multi-case exhibit.  He gave me access to the files compiled by him and his colleagues and I was able to really see the narrative behind the exhibit.  It not only had the expected labels and images that you see in the exhibit, but also documents telling of the exhibit’s original conception and presentation, research not included in the final exhibit, and so on. Additionally, the Archives & Special Collections also had two book trucks of both primary and secondary sources on the Silk Roads that they used for the exhibit and I was given freedom of paging through the majority of them. 

    Most liberating for me was the actual aesthetic designing of the guide.  Of course, I had strict limitations in areas – what topics the curators of the exhibit wanted to highlight, which information goes on what page and the pictures that should accompany them, and then there’s the system as a whole that I used, LibGuide, which has its own set of limitations that comes along with it. But outside of that, I had free reign over what the layout of the guide looks like as a whole. They allowed me to share my insight on what would be most aesthetically pleasing and accessible for the viewer. I was given the chance to take skills I have acquired in my time here at Pitt and see how I can apply them in a professional setting. 

    After this semester, I feel I have a better understanding of how I can move forward.

     

    You can check Meghan's LibGuide here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Conor Short inside the Joseph A. Dugan Jr. Hall of Valor

     

    Honoring Local Veterans

    Museum Studies Intern at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum – Spring 2019

    Pittsburgh’s Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum was built in 1910 as a monument to the Civil War veterans of Allegheny County. However, as American history progressed, the institution expanded its scope to honor veterans from all American wars and all branches of the United States Armed Forces. The mission of this museum surpasses education or the preservation of history. The primary objective of Soldiers & Sailors is to honor those veterans whose donations compose the museum’s collection.

    I was fortunate enough to complete my internship at this institution. My work was largely confined to Wednesdays and Fridays—during which I was involved in the cataloging and organization of the collection. However, the most important and exciting of my experiences came on Sunday March 31. Soldiers & Sailors hosted its 2019 Joseph A. Dugan Jr. Hall of Valor Induction Ceremony and the museum staff was generous enough to invite me.

    In 1963 the Hall of Valor was dedicated in order to honor veterans whose valor went above and beyond the call of duty. From the date of its conception to March 31st 2019, the Hall of Valor has inducted over seven-hundred veterans from every American conflict and from every branch of the Armed Forces. This year’s nine inductees included veterans of the Civil War, Vietnam, and the Second World War. Medals awarded during their service included the Medal of Honor, the Silver Star, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. The ceremony was held inside the central auditorium and allowed the veteran or the representative of the veteran to accept the induction and have his/her photo taken onstage. We were also honored to have one of the recipients attend the ceremony in person. Also in attendance was the Vietnam Veterans Inc. as the honor guard, as well as several local VFW posts. I was not seriously involved in the production of the ceremony, but I was content to simply sit in the auditorium and watch. The solemnity and dignity of the ceremony provoked feelings of sadness for those veterans who did not return from combat, respect for those who did, and the unrivaled admiration of all who served.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Soldiers & Sailors. I was able to engage hands-on with what I believe are some of the most exciting and most important artifacts in the world. I realize that is not a chance that everyone receives and I fully appreciate the privilege. However, witnessing the Hall of Valor Induction ceremony was by far the most memorable experience of my internship. Not only did it provide me with a fond memory, but it also brought to the surface the core of the institution’s goals and values which I happen to share.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Dinosaurs in Their Time - The exhibit that I worked on during my first several days as conservation intern

     

    Conservation: Preserving the Past for Future Generations

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Fall 2018

    For the last four months I have worked as a Conservation Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. During this time, I have been exposed to a wide range of practices common among natural history conservators that I can apply to my future career. While before the internship I maintained a keen interest in the field of conservation, working under head conservator Gretchen Anderson has given me a newfound appreciation of conservation work. I have learned that conservation encompasses a wide range of responsibilities and expects that the conservation team work closely with many other departments, including exhibits, collections, and curatorial.

    Over the course of the semester I had the opportunity to clean and preserve taxidermied specimens, package and send out loans, assist with scientific imaging, and create a housekeeping plan for the entirety of the museum of natural history. Interspersed between these hands-on activities were cross-departmental meetings, instructional readings, and even classes to further teach me about the science of conservation.

    The housekeeping plan was the most urgent and important task of the semester, requiring that I met with staff from each section of collections, maintenance, and facilities. All of these departments worked together to set a standard that would keep the museum clean and all collections safe. Without the dedicated work of a conservator, museum collections would not last nearly as long as is now allowed.

    I appreciate the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s willingness to teach and willingness to give true responsibility to their interns. I have learned more than I would have ever expected, and I am excited to one day establish myself in the conservation field.

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

Pages