Undergraduate Work

    Christina Hansen using a soft bristle brush and HEPA vacuum to remove surface contaminants from the taxidermied (Ursus maritimus) in Polar World.

     

    Mitigating Unwelcome Bugs and Dust, but Preserving Petrified Puke

    When exploring the hallowed halls of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, guests might expect to find themselves enraptured by dinosaur skeletons, mesmerized by walls of butterfly and beetle displays, or have their breath taken away by award-winning nature photography. But, as a conservation intern, I focused my personal queries on the “yucky” stuff – unwelcome creepy crawlies, dust bunnies, and the powdery remains of historical vomit!

    During the Spring 2020 semester, I interned under the guidance of Gretchen Anderson, conservator and head of the Section of Conservation. Gretchen’s philosophy for collections care is preservation through preventative action and reducing the risk of damages before they occur. Therefore, most of my time was spent carrying out annual housekeeping tasks to remove dust, stray Cheerios and other surface contaminants that build up in public-facing displays over time. Not only do these measures keep displays looking beautiful for guests, but they also mitigate conditions favorable for insect habitation and feeding.

    One Tuesday, with the museum closed, a crew of collections management specialists and a slew of giant suction cups removed the glass on the Alcoa Native American Basketry Cases. Gretchen and I were joined by Deborah Harding, collection manager of the Section of Anthropology, to assess the condition of the encased objects for the first time since the exhibit’s installation. Over those past twenty-odd years, the collection had accumulated a light layer of dust and developed areas of salt crystals, but overall maintained its previous condition.

    We worked under the illumination of spotlights, gently removing surface contaminants, while Deborah pointed out design motifs and shared stories associated with the museum’s vast basketry collection. There are some objects that contain “ethnographic materials” ranging from cornmeal and pollen residue, to traces of human vomit once deposited during ceremonial emetic purification practices. These types of samples pose additional conservation concerns for mold growth and require specific storage solutions, but contribute to the object’s cultural context and should be preserved along with the object itself.

    Due to the unique circumstances of COVID-19, my physical experience in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has been digitally supplemented with online Integrated Pest Management training. Armed with the spring’s cumulative knowledge, I move forward better prepared to protect collections of baskets, furs, feathers, or even preserved puke from unwelcome critters and the ravages of time.

     

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Tagging films by language to make them more accessible to the public

     

    Making Meaning Through Memory: a Museums Role in the Coronavirus Pandemic

    Museum Studies intern at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, Spring 2020

     

    You might expect a Holocaust center to be a solemn, distressing space. However, while the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh takes its subject matter very seriously, it is quite the opposite. 

    As an intern, I got a sense that although the space was small and the atmosphere was light-hearted, the Center’s projects and ambitions reached far beyond the walls of the building. Even while routine tasks, like keyword tagging books for the online database, there were moments when a name or a story would touch me and remind me of why what I was doing was important.

    The Center serves an important role in the Pittsburgh Jewish community. They hold events that educate and connect people in the memorialization of the Holocaust. They give Holocaust survivors and their families a platform to share their story if and when they wish. In fact, the team working at the Center all showed me that with a lot of hard work, museums can be warm and inviting spaces that people can turn to in times of crisis. 

    Recently, the Center has had to step up and support the community in unforeseen ways. The team at the enter explained to me that after the Synagogue attack in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018 people started walking into the Center simply looking for a place where they would be heard and understood. After going above and beyond to support people through this deeply traumatic experience, the Center has received international attention.

    The last time I left the Center, I was preparing to go home for spring break with no idea of what was to come. When it became clear that I would not return to Pittsburgh because of the intensifying Coronavirus outbreak, I expected the Holocaust Center to shut down like museums across the country. Instead, I was impressed how the Center and other museums reached out to the community. In unprecedented times the Center, though just a small operation, has been able to organize free online workshops, vigils, panel discussions, and more. 

    As the world has turned to online networks, organizations like the Anti-Defamation League have been warning that there has been a rise of hate crimes by white supremacists, who thrive in these online environments. Assaults on the Asian community have become more frequent, and more and more violent rhetoric is targeting other minority groups. The Holocaust Center, by refusing to let physical barriers stop them from making their educational programs accessible and by speaking out against this hatred, is making an impact.

    In the last few years, I have spent time working in various roles focused on understanding the Holocaust and its connection with hatred and racism today. I have seen firsthand how resources like museums and archives can empower people through facts and information. The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh has shown me how, bolstered by the power of history, a museum can guide people through times of crisis. 

     

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    WWI Display Utilizing Rare Donated Items

     

    The Duality of War

    There are always two sides to any conflict in life. In my time studying History at Pitt, I’ve narrowed the focus of my studies on learning the untold narrative, the stories that are often left out of general history textbooks. As I began my internship at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, the complexity of historical events like war and their human dimensions began to stick out for me.  Most of my work in the museum was done in collections and archives. I accepted donations, cataloged and assessed items for display and inventory, and evaluated the condition of artifacts. As I worked on items that came directly from people’s homes and personal lives, I came to realize how important individual experience is in even the most major historical events. Though I have studied history by sitting in lectures and reading textbooks, this hands-on experience at Soldiers and Sailors brought to life how no matter the conflict or the ideology behind it, both sides have human beings involved with their own stories.

    For instance, I processed a donation by the family of a WWII veteran who served in the Pacific Ocean theater of the war. In this collection was a letter taken from the body of a deceased Japanese soldier. The US veteran had this letter which was originally written for the Japanese soldier’s home village translated from Japanese to English. In it, the soldier explained how uncertain he was about being in this war and that he was afraid how far they must go to be victorious. Nevertheless, he assured his family he was alright and that he was simply fulfilling his duty to his country. Reading this letter opened my eyes to the reality of war and how often the soldiers who risk their lives, on either side, dedicate their lives to causes they may not even fully believe or support. I was able to takeaway a fresh perspective on the reality that history is often written by the victors, and to be able to truly study the untold narrative one must be able to see how conflicts have multiple sides to them.

    Along with this personal awakening of sorts, I had the pleasure to be apart of several ceremonies where local veterans who went above and beyond the call of duty, were honored and celebrated with the Museums ever expanding Hall of Valor. The experienced I gained setting up the event and preparing speeches for inductees’ family members to read, rounded out my work at Soldiers & Sailors, to include aspects of both the education and collection side of museum operations.

    With the experience and knowledge that I gained by having my hand in a variety of efforts at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, I hope to continue my interest in exploring history in the museum setting, telling the stories of the past and speaking for those who no longer can share for themselves.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    The Work Behind the Artifacts

    Museum Studies Intern at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Department of Anthropolgy – Spring 2020

     

    Walking into the Anthropology department of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History I was confronted with an endless array of cabinets, filled to the brim with artifacts from around the world. I was surrounded by drawers holding carved ivories from Japan, pots from the Mayan empire, and statues from New Guinea, the kind of precious objects that could be the spoils in an Indiana Jones movie. When I was a kid, I loved those kinds of movies, they filled me with a sense of wonder and excitement about the world, and ever since I have wanted to work at a museum. However, the work is far less glamourous than the movies make it out to be, if anything is. I knew that museum work would not be an adventure, but something that did surprise me was how much of my work was making up for past mistakes.

    I focused on the maintenance of the South American pottery collection. I spent much of my time documenting and building supports for pottery. Earlier supports were built using brittle materials and easily broke. The foam and other materials contained chemicals that could lead to the degradation of the pottery and instability in the supports. It is important to note that these materials were the best available at the time, but as technologies advance, so should museums. I created new supports for each pot using high quality and non-toxic materials that will last for potentially hundreds of years and keep pots from breaking.

    In addition to making new supports, I photographed and documented the pots, updating previous documentation. Of course, when the pots entered into the museum collection in the early twentieth-century modern computer technology did not exist, so I spent a lot of time transferring old documents into new digital databases. Despite this not being the action-packed work people might associate with an intrepid anthropologist, I loved every second of it. I was afforded the opportunity to work with pots that were hundreds of years old and ensure their safety for future generations. The documentation and photographs now make numerous artifacts available for study by archeologists from around the world. I learned about the innerworkings of museums and proper artifact care, giving me a whole new perspective on my potential career. Maintenance of objects and their records is big part of museum work and I am happy to know that my actions will have a tangible impact in the museum community. While I was not Indiana Jones, I helped bring long-forgotten objects to light

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Guests interact with museum kits on Super Science Saturday at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

     

    Museum Education and Medicine may be closer than We think

    Museum Studies Intern at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Anthropocene Living Room – Spring 2020

     

    Humans shape the world in more ways than you think. Spraying your hairspray every morning can have a direct impact on the quality of the air for generations to come. I learned about the effect that humans have on air quality through my internship position this semester. In my position at the Anthropocene Living Room exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, I made museum education kits under direction of Dr. Nicole Heller and Asia Ward. Museum education kits are simply designed informative material that the public can interact with and learn from while inside the museum.

     

    The Anthropocene Living Room is a designated space made for visitors to relax and interact with the idea of the Anthropocene. The term “Anthropocene” describes our current era, a time period in which humans have had a direct influence on the climate and environment of Earth. The Anthropocene concept, coined by Eugene Stoermer in the 1970s, is a novel concept to many visitors, but it should be understood that the era is here to stay. The Anthropocene Living Room includes selected pieces from the CMNH’s prior exhibition, We are Nature, which helped the public to understand the effect that humans are having on the environment. The pieces in the living room include remains of land pollution, birds that are stained from air pollution, and artwork showing the ways that humans have interacted with their surroundings for centuries.

     

    My assignment was to design informative kits that could aid visitors engage with issues around air quality. We were able to design three kits that were put to the test during one of Carnegie’s Super Science Saturdays. The public successfully interacted with the education material that displayed the impact of air quality over time, measure of air quality, and impact of air quality on the body. The visitors learned about these concepts by reading and influencing a Speck air monitor, pumping “dirt” into a simulated “lung” made of a plastic container and a bicycle tire pump. This may seem simple, but it is a useful simulation to show pollutive effects, and cleaning off dirty objects that had been affected by air pollution. Visitors were interested in the material and even shocked by how much air pollution could affect us.

     

    My particular situation with the museum studies internship is unique when considering my future plans. Many people that pursue a minor in Museum Studies will be working in a similar realm, but I hope to become a Physician Assistant. My internship, linked medicine and museum studies with my focus on the impact of air quality on the human body. I examined how air quality has affected and will continue to affect the population with a closer look at the respiratory system and the problems that can develop such as bronchitis, asthma, and certain cancers. I am grateful for my internship because it showed me that there is a strong link between medicine and museum studies. Also, it showed me that scientific and medical information isn’t always as assessable to the public as it should be, even in the museum setting.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Anna Schanne standing next to the Anthropocene Living Room sign displayed in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History exhibition

     

    Visitor engagement and curating the Anthropocene

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Fall 2019

     

    Natural History museums provide a space of learning and inspiration for visitors to better understand the natural world around them -- past and present. This Fall semester, I interned with Dr. Nicole Heller at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History with their Anthropocene Living Room exhibition. The Anthropocene is a proposed new epoch in our planet’s history, defined by humans’ rapid transformation of the biology, land, water and air everywhere on Earth. The opportunity to assist in curation of the anthropocene themed gallery truly changed my view of natural history, focusing my attention on the modern relevance Natural History museums have on visitors. 

    My favorite part of the Anthropocene Living Room is its approach at including contemporary research and showcasing visitors that nature is dynamic, not something we can simply put in a display case. Science Today is the portion of the exhibit that artfully exhibits seven fresh articles about nature in the present and human involvement, however connected. Part of the curation process is to find new articles and prepare them for display. This is where I come in. During this internship, I curated 9 articles over the course of two Science Today rotations.

    It is not surprising that a Geology major like myself would greatly enjoy nature articles, but natural history museums need to present themselves in a way that is appealing and welcoming to anyone and everyone. 

    I created a survey using Qualtrics program to understand the overall visitor sentiment towards the exhibit, as well as the idea of the “anthropocene” in general. I later compared the results of over fifty completed surveys to a different, but related survey from the previous year. My results provided insight into how visitors interact and learn from an exhibit. This also helped me to see the bigger picture of how small tasks like visitor observations and survey collection can give significant insight into what works and what does not when wanting to excite and educate visitors.

    An additional aspect of my internship was to record visitor observations and make comparisons to evaluate what features and topics draw in a visitor to engage with a space. The result of this project is a series of data that can now go towards creating a map of visitor dwell time throughout the museum. This can later be used for new exhibit placement to reach maximum efficiency and pleasure for visitors.

  • Olivia and fellow intern help Curator David Oresick frame a photo

     

    Behind the Scenes of a Photo Gallery

    Museum Studies Intern at Silver Eye Center for Photography – Fall 2019 

    When I began my internship at Silver Eye Center for Photography, I was pleasantly surprised by just how hands-on my position would be. Just a few weeks after it started, we began preparing for an upcoming exhibition with an Indonesian artist, Leonard Suryajaya. Suryajaya’s artistic vision for the gallery included hanging over 4,000 small prints each covered with 30 tiny mirrors and the application of specially designed wallpaper transformed the walls to complement the thirteen large framed color prints. This exhibition installation was very challenging, but it was so validating to be able to point to exactly where I contributed and to see just how much we could transform the space. I was very excited to be immediately learning new, practical art-handling skills that are essential to museum work. Over the semester, my internship proved more and more helpful and challenging in this aspect. 

    Installing this exhibition encompassed only a fraction of the skills we honed this semester. My very first day my fellow interns and I were tasked with taking apart the last exhibition’s framed works and wrapping them to be packaged and sent back to their respective artists.  

    The first few weeks of my internship were spent getting us familiar with the Silver Eye Lab. As a Studio Arts major, I was very interested in the fact that Silver Eye has its own space for practicing artists in partnership with the gallery. With the help of Lab Manager Sean Stewart, I learned how to print photographs on different media, develop film, edit film, create and assemble mattes and frames, and package artwork for shipping. Because the staff of the center includes only three people, it was not long before the other interns and I were trusted to complete these tasks independently.  

    Now that the semester is coming to an end, I find myself thinking back on just how much I have learned. The guidance of my supervisor, Assistant Curator and Communications Coordinator Kate Kelley, has been invaluable in teaching us exhibition development, marketing strategies, and curatorial writing along with the skills we were taught by Sean Stewart in the lab. Because of the very small staff at Silver Eye, I felt very lucky to be able to foster wonderful relationships with the staff and other interns, as well as get real hands-on experience with everything that happens at a photo gallery behind the scenes. 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Joanna Harlacher and Dr. Chase Mendenhall, Assistant Curator, Birds with the Guerilla Girl’s Posters Featured in the Carnegie Museum of Art

     

    Women Behaving Badly (in Science)

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Fall 2019

    This semester, I had the opportunity to intern as the Carnegie Museum of Natural History as a research assistant for an upcoming exhibition on gender in the natural world. I was charged with the task of finding novel objects that could be featured in the exhibition. Working with my mentor, Chase Mendenhall, I was able to identify several pieces that I deemed related to the exhibition theme. This opportunity was beneficial as I was able to witness the process of exhibition development. I also gained knowledge about the cultural sector and positions in the museum field. Because of this invaluable experience, In the future, I would like to pursue a career in curation.

    Many parts of the exhibit will include feminist critiques of the ways science ignored and excluded many people and ideas on the basis of their gender. When researching, I was inspired by the artist collective the Guerrilla Girl’s revolutionary approach to revealing inequalities, specifically inside the museum, including the posters on view in the Carnegie Museum of Art. Dr. Mendenhall and I wondered what might happen if the Guerilla Girls moved into natural history spaces to highlight gender biases. It occurred to me that we could highlight female scientists in this same style. Specifically, I want to highlight women who are “behaving badly” in scientific fields. Through this internship, I proposed to dedicate space in the exhibit to feature women how had faced forms of gendered backlash in the sciences which could include important scientists such as Joan Roughgarden, Lynn Margulis, and Jane Goodall. Joan Roughgarden is an American ecologist and evolutionary biologist who has critiqued Charles Darwin’s theory of sexual selection. Lynn Margulis was a biologist whose serial endosymbiotic theory (SET) of eukaryotic cell development revolutionized modern understandings of the origin of life. Jane Goodall is a primatologist and anthropologist who has made great strides towards understanding the social relationships of chimpanzees and discovered that chimpanzees can make and use tools. Naming these women and showcasing their important contributions would help correct the common histories which leave them out. 

    Aside from this initiative, I developed several other exhibition concepts and objects related to the overarching theme. This internship has helped me to grow not only academically, but personally as I gained new insight on relevant issues. I am enthusiastic about the future development of this project and I am grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Mendenhall.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Myself examining a personal letter of Dr. Haas prior to translating it from German to English at the archives of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation

     

    The Search for a Missing Dialogue: The Life of Botanist Dr. Theodor Philipp Haas

    Museum Studies Intern at Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation – Fall 2019

    Botany can pertain to more than the study of plants — researching botany can provide a lesson in history and geography but also an intimate insight onto how one looks at the world. The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation houses boxes of letters written to and from Dr. Theodor Philipp Haas, personal photographs, and unpublished research. Haas was a well-respected botanist in Munich whose many accomplishments in botany were distinguished by his travels and remarkable experience as a Jewish scientist escaping the rise of the Nazi Regime. As an intern, my role was to translate and research as well as provide contextual footnotes in order to fill gaps in the personal history contained in Haas’s archives. Working with these documents required reading in both German and French. Some of the German documents are handwritten in Sütterlin, a form of traditional German handwriting that has not been traditionally taught since the second half of the nineteenth century. During my internship, I applied my knowledge of languages and my ability to read Sütterlin while also diving into botany, a topic previously foreign to me.

    Though imprisoned in the Dachau Concentration Camp, Haas was released after six weeks because of the visa he obtained before his imprisonment. Haas was placed on the List of Displaced German Scholars, a list composed of prominent scholars who were threatened by the Nazi regime in 1933. The list aimed to help scholars leave Europe and continue their work in a country not threatened by the Nazi Party. Haas left for the United States and ultimately received a position at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, becoming a well-known figure in botany.

    This was just one aspect of Haas’s life that I learned about in my internship. His notes and letters provide a raw account of his story and trips he made while fleeing Germany through Asia — specifically Kobe, Japan, which was not a common port to the United States from Western Europe — before entering through San Francisco. His documents provide an intimate glimpse into a man’s life and love for plants that often were a lifeline for Haas to find hope and meaning despite all the pain and loss he endured. Through his descriptions of the plants he studied and his travels, it became clear that botany was his way to identify with the changing world around him and remain true to his past and identity.

    Working directly with the material I am translating in the archives, and closely with the documents I have received access from the Arolsen Archives in Germany as well as multiple archives and academic institutions Haas was affiliated with in Munich, I am able to help fill in missing pieces in his life trajectory, and help the public better understand Haas not as a botanist but as a human being.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • In the stacks of the Detre Library and Archives at the Senator John Heinz History Center
     

    Uncovering the History of the Local Art and Music Scene

    Museum Studies Intern at the Senator John Heinz History Center – Fall 2019

    As an intern at the Detre Library and Archives at the Senator John Heinz History Center, I had the rewarding opportunity this semester to contribute to preserving the history of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. The Detre Library and Archives has an expansive number of collections from families, businesses, artists, and events from throughout Pittsburgh’s History. My job as an intern was to process a handful of collections. This included organizing and researching the materials in the collections, as well as creating finding aids and catalogue entries for them. Most of the collections I processed involved cultural spaces in Pittsburgh, such as live music venues and art galleries. I felt that my research revealed a lot to me about Pittsburgh’s history and culture, and I found a new appreciation of my community because of my work. 

    Delving into aspects of Pittsburgh’s history that I did not know much about was one of my favorite parts of this internship. Two of the collections I processed had material on the Pittsburgh music scene from the 1970s to 2000. Through one collection on a Pittsburgh-based band called The Damaged Pies, I was surprised to find how many unique opportunities there were for local musicians in Pittsburgh during that time. Through another collection, on a live music venue and bar called The Decade, I was introduced to the unique history of live music venues in Pittsburgh and the local and national acts they attracted. I found these materials really intriguing, and I had the opportunity to write a blog post about these collections for the History Center’s website. 

    The collection I am currently processing is on the Skinny Building, a 5’6 wide building in Downtown Pittsburgh that was used as an art gallery from 2001 to 2007. In organizing the collection, I was drawn into the material on local artists at the time, and their exhibitions at the Skinny Building. This collection, as well as those involving the music scene, gave me a new appreciation for the relationship between artists and the community in Pittsburgh. I’m grateful I had the opportunity study these materials this semester, and I hope that my work can allow others to understand and admire more aspects of their community as well. 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

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