History department offers extensive internship opportunities

Students planning to break into history or museum studies will be able to immerse themselves in history this summer as the Truman State University history department is offering internships once again.

What the Program Offers

Professor Jason McDonald heads the internship program for the history department. He says students can expect a rewarding experience that will not only pad their résumé, but also show them how to use knowledge learned in the classroom in the field.

“This is hands-on experience, not just theory,” McDonald says. “It’s applying knowledge and gaining experience and working next to experts in their fields.”

The history department has cultivated relationships with museums and other historical locations across the state of Missouri, including the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri, where they’ve sent students to intern for more than ten years. Newer locations include the Judicial Archives Project in Kirksville, the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, the St. Louis Mercantile Library, the National World War I Museum in Kansas City and the Duane G. Meyer Library in Springfield, Missouri.

McDonald says about ten students every year can embark on one of these internships every summer, earning credit that counts toward the history major and seeing all the possible ways they could break into the field.

Archival work is a main task involved in every one of these locations, McDonald says. Students will be able to sift through various primary sources while cataloging, preserving and digitizing them for their respective employers. In some cases, McDonald points out, they will be the first ones to lay their eyes on documents the public hasn’t seen yet.

McDonald says archiving is the central purpose of the Judicial Archives Project in Kirksville. About three or four students every summer stay in town to archive court records from the late 19th century. These records are eventually digitized at the Missouri State Archives in Jefferson City, Missouri, and are posted on the secretary of state’s website for anyone to see.

Asides from archival work, students can gain experience in the public relations and marketing realm of history, McDonald says. Political science students can learn about the workings of government and students interested in becoming teachers can absorb all the knowledge offered by one of these internships.

McDonald says the program isn’t exclusively limited to history or museum studies students, or to these specific locations. Students from other majors who have an interest in history can work scholarship hours or solely volunteer. Any student can approach the department if they desire to work at another place.

Senior Sadie Williams is living proof of the success an internship offers. This fall, Williams is a full-time intern for the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York. According to the history department’s Facebook page, she has attended staff meetings, participated in researche and drafted reports in her time at the UN. Williams works on the team to support Ambassador Isobel Coleman, the Permanent Representative for Management and Reform.

McDonald says the Truman students who work at these internships act as ambassadors for the University, benefiting the whole student population along with themselves. McDonald tries to visit the site of the internships at least once to see how the students are progressing. He has heard numerous positive reviews about the students including, Williams.

Williams’ supervisor says she thinks more Truman students should apply because they are the kind of students they want for their internships.

“[The supervisors] are always very complimentary about how self-reliant, adult and professional the Truman students are,” McDonald says.

How Students Can Benefit

Another student who took advantage of the time away from the classroom was senior Rebecca Ohmer. She worked this past summer at the Missouri History Museum after failing to get it the previous summer.

Ohmer says she wants to be a teacher in the future, but feels she still gained valuable experience outside of her usual realm.

“If you’re interested in museum studies or just history at all, I would definitely recommend this internship,” Ohmer says.

Ohmer says her ability to research improved drastically as she learned how to find and use sources more effectively. Her researching ability was put to the test when she was assigned to help research for a future exhibit at the museum, “Panoramas of the City,” that is scheduled to open Sept. 2, 2017.

Ohmer says the exhibit will include 5-8 huge panorama photographs, as well as 50 normal-sized images, with descriptions of St. Louis and the surrounding area from the first half of the 20th century. Visitors will be able to walk through the exhibit learning about St. Louis’ past both visually and factually.

Ohmer says her job was to use the vast resources at the museum to conduct extensive research to write informative descriptions for the images. She says she was intrigued by what she found.

She says she was able to uncover images depicting the grounds of the 1904 World’s Fair a couple years after it happened, an old 7UP factory in the city where the beverage originated and the first unofficial show at the spot where the Muny is located before it came into existence.

Ohmer says she is glad she was open to other types of work in the history field as she now has precious memories and experience that will help her in the future.

“I feel like I gained so much out of this even from a historian’s perspective,” Ohmer says.

Internships for Museum Studies

Sara Orel teaches an alternating museum studies course in the spring. She collaborated with Amanda Langendoerfer, associate dean of libraries for special collections and museums, to create the course at Truman that emphasizes hands-on work with artifacts rather than just the theoretical study of museums.

Orel says students from across multiple majors — including biology, agriculture, physics, English and business — have and can still benefit from taking the course. Students in her class have learned about a variety of aspects in the field besides just curating, including how to prepare exhibits, present objects in a dramatic way and how business plays a role.

“Taking [the course] is really good experience because you never know where that kind of experience is going to come in handy,” Orel says.

Orel says she thinks the internship program offered by the history department can be beneficial to students interested in museum studies.

However, Orel says she also believes any kind of internship can benefit any student. She points out internships can show students what they want to do as well as what they don’t want to do if the experience wasn’t as positive. In her estimation, it is much better for students to discover this before they earn their degrees.

“If you have an internship, it helps you get an idea of what is involved in doing whatever program you go into,” Orel says.