The semester is winding down and the fall internships are wrapping up. However, this is not the end of my time with the Preservation Society! I will be returning in the spring semester to carry out a couple of oral history projects, including the one I began this semester. Since the completion of the online exhibit, I have been preparing for these oral history projects by conducting preliminary interviews, creating questions, and researching technological equipment. Below is a reflection of my projects and experiences this semester. I look forward to my new projects beginning in January!
Over the course of this semester’s internship at the Preservation Society, I have acquired a few more skills and continued to learn about the history of Chapel Hill and about the field of public history. I continued my summer project, in a way, by using the images I digitized over the summer to create an online exhibit. I was able to help conceptualize the exhibit based on knowledge of the photos that were available for use. The exhibit became part of the Preservation Society’s 40th Anniversary Celebration and detailed the adaptive reuse of the Horace Williams House by showcasing examples of the different ways the house has been used by the Preservation Society in its 40 year history. The pages were divided into categories of Art Exhibits and the Music Program, Historic Exhibits, Educational Programming, and Community Events. Each category presented a few examples of that type of use. (In case you missed it in earlier posts, you can check out the exhibit here: preservation40.com.)
I thoroughly enjoyed doing the research for and designing the exhibit and feel that it was a confirmation of my career goals. I am planning on attending graduate school for public history and then pursuing a career in museums or historic site interpretation. This project was a great chance to gain experience with the skills needed to curate exhibits, including research and translating large amounts of information into a more digestible size.
There were few challenges in the exhibit designing other than a few small technical issues at first. We originally attempted to house the exhibit on a different website, but soon realized that the layout was not conducive to what we were aiming for. However, once we settled on the site and layout, the exhibit designing progressed smoothly.
Once the exhibit was finished, I began to transition into a new project. I will be conducting oral history interviews in the spring and so I began to carry out the preliminary work that would make this new project possible. I began with a preliminary interview of Derrick Jones, a former resident of the Hogan Rogers House, in order to gauge what kind of information he had to share and what time period he lived in the house. This interview was useful in preparing questions for the official, formal interview that will be carried out next semester. In preparation for all of the oral history interviews I will be doing next semester, I also researched and wrote a proposal for the equipment that will be necessary, such as an audio recorder and video camcorder. This process was challenging due to my lack of knowledge about technology and the kinds of features that would be useful for oral history interviews. Through online research and recommendations from the Southern Oral History Program at UNC, I learned a lot about the various kinds of devices that are used and wrote a proposal with several options. Hopefully, by the time I return for the spring semester the society will be ready to purchase that equipment.
In addition to my specific projects above, I did a few smaller tasks, such as design a rack card about the walking tours the Preservation Society offers and write a user survey in order to gain feedback about our annual Voices from the Grave Tour. These more isolated tasks were a reflection of the unique challenge this semester of understaffing at the Preservation Society. The former director took a new job, leaving an interim director to take over as well as continue her previous responsibilities. With so much on her plate, the interns sometimes had to handle tasks that were not originally in our work plans while also completing our individual projects with less guidance. While at times, the lack of regular supervision was challenging, I actually felt like the understaffing allowed the interns to take on more responsibility and learn new skills. I also think that the reality of working in a public history institution, especially a small non-profit such as the Preservation Society, requires the staff to be flexible and capable of carrying out multiple projects at once, as well as daily and administrative operations. Thus, I feel like I was able to get a better feel for what it would be like to be on staff at a site similar to the Preservation Society.
Overall, I am very pleased with the experience I had at the Preservation Society this semester. I feel I have expanded on the types of public history work that I have been exposed to and am proud of the final product I created this semester. I am looking forward to learning even more skills next semester as I carry out my first oral history interviews.