July was a busy month and so I made few updates; however, today is the last day of the summer internship program! It’s hard to believe that the summer is winding down. I am happy to announce that I have finished scanning the photos and have moved on to curating the online exhibit which will be about the Horace Williams House and its role in preservation over the years. I am also excited to say that I will be continuing to intern at the Preservation Society in the fall!
Below is a reflective summary of my time at the Preservation Society this summer. It was a rewarding experience and I look forward to continuing in the fall!
In my time at the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill over the summer of 2012, I have completed a photo digitization project in which I scanned, labeled, and organized the photos kept at the Horace Williams House into a more accessible and useful format. I began by organizing the photos that had been digitized previously in order to gain an understanding of the types of photos in the collection and to begin to create meaningful categories based on the subjects of the photos. I then began to digitize the remaining slides, negatives, and prints. As I scanned them I labeled them and placed them into categories based on the available information about the photo. This process sometimes entailed some research of the subject in order to know into which category the photo would best fit. If a photo was labeled, I was usually able to do some quick research that helped me to know which category I should put the photo in. After all of the photos were digitized, I moved them from folders on my computer onto CD-RW discs that will allow edits to be made if more photos are discovered or identified. Slides, negatives, and prints are now all located on CDs organized by subject category for fast and easy access to a variety of images.
Through this project I learned some valuable skills. The first was simply the technical skill of scanning slides and negatives, something I had never done; however, the scanner was fairly easy to use. Another skill was how to make sense of images, a type of information I had never worked much with before. I am accustomed to organizing information in the form of words and then researching topics; however, I quickly learned that researching images was a bit more difficult, especially if an image was not labeled. However, I learned to look for certain identifying information to help narrow down the subject of a photo. Since my internship will be continuing into the fall, I am still in the process of learning. I am continuing to work on my current project of curating an exhibit using the digitized photographs. I have just begun to curate the online exhibit, but already I have realized the complexity of selecting a small amount of information to represent a larger collection. I also learned more about the importance of photographs as a form of preserving the past, allowing someone to see how a landscape or a building looked in the past. Pictures can sometimes be the only form of preservation of a building that has been demolished.
As I learned and developed skills I also faced a few challenges in the course of my project. The biggest challenge was my inability to identify everything on my own. Even with the help of others, I was unable to identify some of the photos and a few of them may never be identified. This fact means that some of the photos may not be useful for future users. On the other hand, a future researcher may be able to identify the photos. One of the other challenges was the monotony of scanning the images. Many of the photos were interesting, but a greater number were of more mundane subjects or of the same subject matter repeatedly. Some days this made my project seem daunting and repetitive, but the occasional find of a true glimpse into history really made the project worthwhile.
This internship helped me to learn more about the preservation sector of the public history field. My previous public history experience has been in museums and historical sites, but not in preservation. The internship has broadened my idea of public history and the kinds of jobs I might be interested in. I feel like the experience of curating this exhibit will also be a major contributor to my career goals. Overall, this internship experience was a very positive experience for me and my career goals. The environment was one of constant learning and I enjoyed the multi-faceted approach which included hands-on learning experiences, field trips, and professional development.
Many projects can be bettered or expanded upon. As far as this photo digitization project, future interns could organize the physical collection of photos which is in separate locations within the house. The physical photos are not in the same subject category organization as the digital photos nor are they always in chronological order. The slides in particular are not organized in any cohesive manner. The prints and negatives are not stored in the best way for long-term preservation and could be reorganized into neater, more protective folders. Additionally, future interns could work to identify the remaining unidentified images or do further research into the images and their context.