In the fall of 2013 I interned at the Rock County Historical Society in Janesville, Wisconsin. During my time there, I worked as an intern under the guidance of the collections manger. In this position I was able to experience not only working among the collections, but several other different jobs that are also important in the museum.
The historical society is a small institution with a focus on promoting the history of the Janesville area to local residents and visitors. In assisting with its mission to educate the community on its local history, the society also runs the Lincoln-Tallman House located next door. This historic house, built in 1857, was a stopping point for Abraham Lincoln when he visited Janesville before he became president. After his initial visit, he became friends with the Tallman family. The house left the possession of the family in the mid-twentieth century and was from then on owned by the city of Janesville. Tours of the house aim to show the public how a mid-nineteenth century wealthy family lived. From the construction of the building to the heating to the ways in which food was prepared, the house is set up to replicate the state it would have been in 150 years ago.
I chose to apply as an intern at the Rock County Historical society not only for the aspect of the subject matter they wanted the public to learn, but because as it is a small institution I felt that I would have a better chance at experiencing different aspects of working in a museum, including-and beyond working in collections. And this is the experience that I received. In the very beginning of my time there I was given the task of learning about the history of the Lincoln-Tallman house to become more acquainted with the place I was working in and in the event I was to lead a tour. Also, the historical society was in the process of preparing an exhibit on the Irish in Janesville in conjunction with events happening around the city. The exhibit was meant to explain the history and hardships of Irish immigrants in Janesville. I was given the task of helping set up this exhibit. All of the design work had been completed by this point, so I was helping with the final cosmetic details. I helped apply pictures to door panels that were being used to display the stories that were being told. After that, the exhibit was set up in the hall of a convention center and I continued to assist in installing labels and organizing objects on mounts. The exhibit was soon moved into the lobby of the historical society after the event at the convention center was over.
I then worked on two different projects until the end of the semester. The first project I was assigned was to redesign four wall mounted cases with Parker Pen objects in the hallway of the historical society. The historical society had been preparing to install an exhibit in the Old Towne mall in Janesville-which I also assisted in setting up-to commemorate the famous Parker Pen Company which has deep roots in Janesville. It had also been decided to install a Parker Pen exhibit in the historical society as well. I was allowed access to all of the Parker Pen objects that the museum owned to create a layout for these cases. In doing this I used the information that I had been learning throughout the semester in my exhibit design class. I decided to approach each case with this newly acquired knowledge instead of just randomly putting objects in. From constructing objectives to themes, I took the time to create the design for these cases. I had to work around the obstacle of not always finding the objects that fit the picture I had created in my head, but, with persistence I made it work. In this project I got the chance to work with the collections and the Past Perfect database.
The second project was the creation of an event for the historical society next year. The historical society had received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create events surrounding the showing of several films that it hoped would start a discussion about the history of race relations. I was given the task of researching the subject matter, finding candidates to lead the discussions, and creating a format in which the historical society would show these films.
I’m glad to say that I enjoy the experience working at the historical society. I am not only able to use the knowledge I have learned in the areas of collections and exhibit design, but- I am involved in other aspects of the museum as well. This, for me, provided a worthwhile experience that I will be continuing into the next semester as I continue to help with the NEH events and the design of a new exhibit.