Academic Interns

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    Changing Roles of the Botany Hall Dioramas Video - Final Blog Post

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016

    It has been enlightening and eyeopening semester while working on the Botany Hall internship. Not only have I gain a great deal of knowledge about Botany and the hall and the workings of the museum, but it has allowed my to realize the amount of work and drive that is required for an internship that is largely independent work. My project is a short documentary about the changing context of dioramas, specifically those of Botany Hall, in museum context. Here is an exerpt from the intro to my script:

    "First constructed in the late 1920’s with its last exhibit being installed in 1973, Botany Hall depicts the astonishing diversity of plant life. The hall emphasizes four different biomes found in the continental United States: a Florida everglade, a Mt. Rainier alpine meadow, an Arizona desert, and Pennsylvania landscapes that include Presque Isle during the summer, a Warren County bog in the fall, and the Allegheny Natural Forest in the spring. Additional exhibitions in Botany Hall feature plants that have been used for food, as medicine, or in industry. Among these are a diorama depicting a western Pennsylvania herb garden and exhibitions of plant fibers, edible fruits and nuts and poisonous plants. Each diorama contains hundreds of specific species based on fieldwork research.

    Dioramas differ from art and other historical objects in museums due to their blend of unique scientific and artistic input. The early dioramas of Botany hall are the production of a specific impression that the artists, Ottmar Von Feuhrer, and Hanna Von Feuhrer wanted to create. Ottmar was primarily responsible for the backgrounds and overall design while Hanna and a large group of primarily women, made the individual specimens. Their work was based on scientific field expeditions that gathered specimens. From these collections, reproductions were made of wax and paper. Everything from the time of day, season, to exact plants is specifically and deliberately chosen to recreate a snapshot of a location in time and nature that is normally in constant fluctuation. The dioramas come together to form one entity that surrounds viewers in carefully recreated nature.

    But now museums all over the world are facing a new challenge. These dioramas seem very far removed from modern methods of display that use digital technology. Museums are a timeless entity, protectors of the past and history for future generations, but now that technology has become such a staple in people’s lives, how do dioramas compete with it? Prior to the 21st century, the dioramas were an engaging museum attraction. However in recent years the dioramas have received less attention and since the 70s no major changes have been made to the hall. Should Botany Hall’s representation of nature be adapted to fit the current context of the world? We turn to current Carnegie Museum employees to learn their thoughts"

    Getting permission and the chance to film the museum and its employees was a great opportunity that allowed me to work on my filmmaking skills and I gained a valuable insight into the world of diorama making and their current context in the Carnegie Museum. It was at times difficult to figure out what to do about the technical logistic issues such as permission to film the museum and its employees but luckily I had a great internship mentor in Colleen and she was always so helpful when it came to dealing with issues that neither of us new about. From flipping through old archives in the museum annex to constantly rewriting a script to finally filming the museum, it was a wonderful opportunity that allowed me to learn by my own mistakes as well as giving me insight into the professional realm of the museum world and the documentary filmmaking world.

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    Display and Design in Special Collections

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Library System - Fall 2016

    As a Special Collections Department exhibit design intern during the Fall 2016 semester, I was given a unique look at one of the lesser-known aspects of scholarly research. My responsibilities were primarily related to the curation of the exhibition, James Boswell, Biographer and Diarist, as well as the documentation that accompanied it, which is a critical but often overlooked aspect of curation. In addition to preparing the books for installation, I was responsible for formatting and printing the labels, compiling the exhibit catalogue, and preparing a Libguide, which will be accessible at https://pitt.libguides.com/boswell2016 upon its publication. Both the catalogue and the Libguide required research on my part, but are essential to the use of the Smith-Boswell collection by scholars in the future. Additionally, I helped out with any other odd-jobs that came up, such as re-shelving books, reading through various materials to determine their usefulness, and office tasks such as copying and organizing. Through this array of activities, I was able to gain a new respect and awareness for the level of detail that is required in a museum or archival setting, as well as an appreciation for the behind-the-scenes tasks that librarians and museum staff undertake in order to best serve the community.

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    Looking Behind the Glass: Rediscovering the Women of Botany Hall

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016 

    This semester I had a research internship with the department to work with a group of undergraduate students on the dioramas of CMNH’s Botany Hall. With graduate student Colleen O’Reilly as my mentor, I was given the opportunity to create my own independent project on the topic of my choice. My primary focus was the role women played in the creation of the dioramas from past and present. This subject interested me most because it was a point where botany, museum studies, and gender studies intersected. The section of Botany in the Natural History museum was dominated by women compared to the other departments. The broader thoughts that challenged me throughout this project were about the museum’s accessibility to women during the different stages of botanical dioramas; was Botany Hall a space which simply allowed women to flourish, one that confined them to a subject that was considered “appropriate”, or one that was passed off as “women’s work”? I wanted to take a different approach to presenting this research so I worked with an online program called Scalar. Scalar is a platform that creates a digital book that allows readers to navigate their own path through the narratives that I present. The pictures and documents found in the museum’s archives were vital in the understanding and creation of this project and I felt that I needed a platform that showcased that. Though I ran into just as many technical challenges as I did with my actual research, it was really rewarding to watch it all come together

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    Battle of Fort Ligonier Reenactment

     

    Learning Through History

    Museum Studies Intern at Fort Ligonier Museum - Fall 2016

    Over the summer I had the pleasure on interning in the Collections Department at Fort Ligonier Museum in Ligonier, PA. During my time at the museum I was able to work in many different capacities to help out their small staff of eight, full-time people. For the first two weeks of my internship I learned the background of Fort Ligonier in relation to the French and Indian War, how the museum and fort are run today, as well as getting acclimated to using PastPerfect, their museum cataloging software. However, over Memorial Day weekend the museum was hit with some strong weather conditions and after that my internship was a string of duties and tasks that varied from day to day. Some of these included taking inventory of artwork and collections, packaging and moving collections to a satellite storage facility, accessioning and photographing new collection items, assisting and leading schools tours, and facilitating large site events such as reenactments. While this is just a few of the many opportunities that I had this summer and many of them are unrelated to making one cohesive takeaway, I learned more this summer than I could have if I had stuck to my original purpose at the museum. I learned about handling and accessioning hundreds of years old artifacts and how to interpret their context within history and the museum and how to translate that message to visitors of all ages. I learned how important it is to work independently while also taking into consideration how to best help others. But above all else the most valuable thing I learned through my time at Fort Ligonier is that you never know what is going to happen at the end of the day and when working in a museum you always have to look for new and innovative ways of presenting information as hurtles come up.

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    Soldiers & Sailors Internship

    Museum Studies Intern at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum - Fall 2016

    My museum internship for the Fall of 2016 was completed at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum. Originally constructed in 1910 as a Civil War Veteran memorial, the institute is now a museum, dedicated to telling the story of the American soldier from all branches of services and eras. During my stay, I was a combined educational and curatorial intern working directly with staff member from these departments on a variety of tasks such as cataloging items donated by patrons from across the country, assisting the in preparation of educational tours, building and organizing a new shelving system, giving/brainstorming critical exhibition feedback, and my main project: initiating the reorganization of the museum’s library materials. After the museum librarian retired several years ago, all of the primary and secondary source material in the book collection was transferred from the third floor library, to a storage area on the ground floor. My task was to begin sorting through the materials where a previous volunteer had left off the in the summer of 2016. I categorized each book in the room according to subject matter: Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, General U.S. History etc., and using excel, created a record catalog of every item in the Civil War collection. This catalog tracked keywords of the book, object location, title, author, date, ISBN (international standard book number), and publisher. Items were arranged alphabetically by title, and into X sections: War of the Rebellion set, General History, Battle/Campaigns, Confederate Histories, Union Histories, Navy, Personal Memoirs/Diaries/Letters, Bibliographies, Regiment Units (by state), and a Pictorial History. For future work being done on the collection, I devised a series of documents including a task list, Reading Room Policy, design layouts, and notes for those who work on it after me. As the museum continues to work on getting museum grants, this catalog may be transferred over to PastPerfect software, where it will be more easily utilized and managed by staff. Overall the internship opportunity has helped me in developing my career based goals in archival type museum work, and the collaboration process both personally and professionally.

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    Curating Little Steel

    Museum Studies Intern at Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area - Fall 2016

    This past summer, I worked at Rivers of Steel, in Homestead curating an online exhibit called Little Steel. The exhibit documented the lesser-known steel mills in Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region. When one thinks of Pittsburgh steel, one thinks of companies like Carnegie Steel, US Steel, and Jones & Laughlin. However, there were over four hundred medium-sized and small mills that operated in Western Pennsylvania. These smaller mills competed with the bigger companies by producing high-quality specialty products. Despite the success of some of the smaller mills, US Steel bought many of them at the turn of the twentieth century. I looked through boxes of postcards, archival photographs, ephemera from the steel mills to decide what to include. Moreover, I took advantage of the numerous records digitized and freely available through Google books and Historic Pittsburgh database to find information on the small steel mills. The picture included here is one of the advertisements I found. Looking through old maps and city directories on Historic Pittsburgh, it was interesting to see all the urban redevelopment, especially in the Strip District, and the North Side, both of which were major areas of industry in the first half of the twentieth century. When one visits these parts of the city, one can sometimes see some remnants of industry. Throughout the course of my research, I discovered several previously-unknown steel mills. All in all, I wrote biographies for about fifteen steel mills and accumulated over one hundred photographs and advertisements. As more books like steel industry records become available in the public domain, researchers will be further able to discover and write about the previously-overlooked steel mills that played a vital part in Pittsburgh’s steel industry.

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  • Dennis Maher, "A Second Home", 2016

     

    Development at the Mattress Factory: Learning about the Fundraising Aspects of Museums

    Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory - Fall 2016       

    I am currently interning in development at the Mattress Factory Modern Art Museum in the North Side. For those of you who may not know, the development department is the part of the museum staff that deals with fundraising, grants, and membership. Since the Mattress Factory is a fairly small organization, there are only two development employees that run the entire department. During the internship, I learned many useful skills. I learned how to use Nonprofit CRM software, how to develop and implement a donation campaign, how to plan and implement events and programs, and how to create nonprofit materials for the development department. I was also able to tour the museum freely whenever I wanted. The museum has three buildings full of installation pieces from a plethora of artists. Many of these installations rotate regularly so there was always something new to experience. My favorite new piece at the museum is an art piece by Dennis Maher titled “A Second Home”. Dennis Maher is an artist, architect, educator and founder/director of FARGO HOUSE, Buffalo and his piece fills one of the Mattress Factory’s entire buildings. To some, the fundraising aspect of the museum may seem boring, but personally, I love knowing that I am working to make sure an organization that I love has the means to continue existing and growing. I spent my time at the Mattress Factory getting to tell people how great the museum is and why I am thankful that it exists. As someone who has a great appreciation for museums, this was not a hard task. One of the greatest perks of working for a small organization is that the founders of the Mattress Factory were at the office most days and I learned about many of the steps and decisions that go into owning and running a museum. I was able to experience and assist in many events at the Mattress Factory and I got to watch the creation of exhibitions within the museum. These are experiences that I would most likely not get to experience at a large museum. Overall, I would definitely recommend that any University of Pittsburgh student intern with the Mattress Factory. My internship provided all of the experiences that I had hoped that it would when it first began.

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  • From the Special Collections Department's Walter and Martha Leuba Collection
     

    Making the Archives Accessible: Metadata Collection and Digitization

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Library System - Fall 2016       

    For my internship this semester, I worked in the Special Collections Department at Hillman Library to help to facilitate the online accessibility of the Walter and Martha Leuba Collection. The Leuba collection is composed of several hundred original woodcuts, wood engravings, metal cuts, and linoleum cuts, as well as thousands of books. As an art history major, I took on the task of compiling metadata about the woodblock prints, engravings, and lithographs within the collection. The metadata I collected, including the medium of each print, the dimensions, and some biographical information about the artists, will be used to update the archival finding aid. After examining each print, I rehoused the prints into acid-free folders to send them out for digitization, and they will eventually be available for viewing online. I also wrote two blog posts about some of the prints I worked with on the Special Collections Department Tumblr blog, http://pittspecialcollections.tumblr.com. This internship gave me the opportunity to learn more about the archiving side of art history, and I developed some problem solving skills in trying to locate the prints in the library and in trying to keep the prints organized once I found them; in addition to learning how to use an Excel spreadsheet, I taught myself to devise an efficient system of notes in order to keep track of what I was finding, changing, and missing within the collection. The project is not anywhere near done; I picked up where someone else left off and someone will pick up after me, but as a result of our efforts, the collection of prints will eventually be accessible online with images and information about each piece.

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    Women of Carnegie's Botany Hall

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016       

    Located on the second floor of CMNH, adjacent to the North American Wildlife Section, the Hall of Botany seems like a forgotten space by the museum. Initially, I was unsure if I would find a story that genuinely interested me.  I had no idea of the wealth of research avenues that would peak my interests.

    The narrative that I found most engaging was women’s roles in the conception and creation of the dioramas featured in the Botany Hall. In the beginning, I believed that researching the work and lives of these women and writing their biographies would sufficiently tell this story. However, while I was exploring through the abundant archival documents and photographs, I began to realize that there was something larger going on. I quickly learned that by learning about these women’s lives, I was only scratching the surface. The questions that came to mind focused on the subject of botany as a discipline. Was the study of botany considered “women’s work”? If so, how did this happen? What happened to the study of botany in academic settings? Has it been labeled as another topic? Other questions related to the subject’s relationship with museums. Why was CMNH neglecting this section? Were other museums doing the same thing? Did this lack of interest relate to gender? I was really seeking to understand these relationships. 

    I think the biggest challenge I have faced so far in this research project is trying to create a coherent narrative that connects the women of CMNH’s Botany Hall to this broader investigation into Botany’s importance in natural history museums and as a discipline general. Through these weeks of research, I have formed many questions but at times forming the connections between these queries seem disjointed or forced. In the coming weeks, I believe that as I continue my research and gather more details I will be able to see the connections that exist. 

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    • Visual Knowledge
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    • Dioramas in Context
    • Undergraduate Work
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    Midterm Blog Post- Update on Progress

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016

    After reading only a mere summary of a few possible academic internship opportunities, I really had no idea what to expect when I chose to join an internship that involved working on a digital exhibition of Botany Hall in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I had no idea what my role in this project would be, nor how large of a project this digital exhibition would be. When I first met with PhD candidate, Colleen O’Reilly, one of the two students in charge of creating the idea for the exhibition and curating it through each stage of the process, I was a little overwhelmed when she explained my role in the project. I was told that I could basically contribute any final project to the digital exhibition that I saw suitable after visiting and extensively researching Botany Hall – a site in the museum that mysteriously seems to have little obvious and accessible information available about it to the public. I was generally confused about what Botany Hall was, considering I knew it had been years since I visited the Carnegie Natural History Museum. She explained that the hall contained dioramas of various biomes around the United States.

    After meeting with Colleen and being introduced to the project, I examined Botany Hall on my own using a careful and precise art historical lens and the first thing that really stood out to me was the oddity of the idealistically painted backgrounds in the dioramas. They were made to be illusionistic and to make the three-dimensional objects in the foreground appear to extend into the background painting, giving an overall trompe-l’oeil effect. It seemed so odd that something so subjective like art could be used as an educational tool for something accredited with being so objective like science. At this point I knew my contribution to the digital exhibition would revolve around researching the background paintings and I ultimately decided that I could best contribute to the digital exhibition on the hall through producing an essay and wall text with images.

    Probably the biggest problem that I have had is one that might seem like a positive at first, but I have had the bittersweet problem of finding so much information, whether primary or secondary, to sift through it to ultimately choose what information is relevant. To my advantage in research, individuals that worked on this project previously had digitized a lot of primary sources that were at my disposal, so accessing that information was not as much of a struggle. The only aspect that therefore overwhelmed me were the many angles to pursue in looking at Botany Hall which made it hard to form just one cohesive argument. That one narrowed down argument is something that I am still struggling to define and is always being polished and refined in my process towards materializing my research as a final product.

    A lot of my time has been spent contacting other archives or individuals that would be primary sources regarding Botany Hall as well as researching data bases for secondary sources that hold relevance. The biggest problem I have faced that is both a pro and a con is the large amount of autonomy that I have in setting my own work schedule, research topic, and final product that contributes to the larger picture of a digital exhibition on Botany Hall. At this point in the semester, I have done a lot of research and am now just waiting to meet with other individuals and finalize my ideas for my contributions. For the time being, my research questions are whether art can be considered a legitimate platform for conveying scientific knowledge, and what scientific knowledge can be learned from 2D art paintings in this specific style versus other styles, mediums and media such a 3D crafted objects. I hope to make this a more precise and polished statement as I continue my process.

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    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Academic Interns
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

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