Behind-the-scenes at the National Museum of American History

Editor’s Note: One of our returning graduate student employees here at SCPC, Katharine Klein, interned at the Smithsonian this summer. She is a 2nd year museums student in the Public History program. I asked her to write about her summer and this is what she had to say…
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While thinking about the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, people usually imagine Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, Inaugural Gowns, and Abraham Lincoln’s Hat.  Two months ago, I would have done the same.  Today, I think of winding corridors, complex databases and smiling faces.

My internship with the Division of Work and Industry at NMAH started the day after Memorial Day and was a fast-paced challenging experience from start to finish.  I was introduced and worked among the nation’s brightest in planning and facilitating American Enterprise, an exhibit opening in 2014 that will examine the business and consumer history of the United States from 1700s to 2010s.

Working from left to right, visitors will walk through the four main marketplaces of American Enterprise to learn about the changes in business and consumer history

Focusing on themes of competition, innovation, opportunity, and the common good, I assembled a database made of objects and images to occupy the four main marketplaces- Merchant, Corporate, Consumer and Global.

Upon entering the exhibit, visitors will be greeted by a touchable wall which will illustrate the four themes of competition, innovation, opportunity, and common good.

The panel for the Indiana State Fair.

I also researched the American textile industry and what it means to be “Made in America.”  Besides my blog post and duties as a collection manager, I co-curated an exhibit for the Indiana State Fair.  The exhibit highlighted the concepts of American Enterprise, the history of the soybean, and demonstrated the Smithsonian’s desire to incorporate the public in the exhibition development process.  Since South Carolina is heavily involved in the textile industry, my internship didn’t stop when I left D.C.  This fall, along with my assistantship at SCPC, I will be examining the collections of Hollings and similar lawmakers who encouraged protective legislation in the textile industry.

While some think summer vacation is better spent sitting on a beach relaxing, I truly think my internship at NMAH trumps it all.  I did get lost-multiple times-in the staff corridors and I did have frustrating moments with crashing databases and tricky scanners but that doesn’t matter.  I worked alongside the talented curators, collection managers, and researchers who create the fascinating exhibits that draw in over 4 million visitors a year.

With the Smithsonian badge, I was able to research at GW, the National Archives and the Library of Congress regularly with little restrictions.  Moreover, I could ride any simulator at any of the museums, watch IMAX movies and even take a spin on the carousel completely free of charge.  Plus, all the behind-the-scenes opportunities have left me with some amazing memories-my favorite being when I watched as they unloaded two cars from offsite storage and moved them through the museum.  It was unbelievable!

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