This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.
Over the past eleven weeks, I have been interning with the Division of Interpretation at Gettysburg National Military Park. Throughout the summer, I have acted as a front line interpreter for the park, giving programs in numerous areas around the Gettysburg Battlefield. In addition to the knowledge I’ve gained about interpretation, I have learned more about my life goals as well, pushing me to pursue a career in the National Park Service. My experience at Gettysburg has given me an unforgettable summer with numerous new friends, lessons, and knowledge that I can utilize for the remainder of my life.
My internship at Gettysburg NMP consisted of several components: preparing and presenting interpretive programs, assisting on children’s programs, working the Visitors Center information desk, and preforming research and other interpretive duties. My two formal programs took place in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery and at the George Spangler Farm. When preparing the Cemetery program, I learned a lot about the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg as well as the Cemetery’s planning and dedication. For my program, I decided to focus on one soldier from New Hampshire who wrote a poem about how much he was willing to give for President Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom.” This experience taught me not only about the small stories of the Battle of Gettysburg, but showed me the individual sacrifice of soldiers who have hallowed this ground. Preparing this program showed me the importance of individual stories when interpreting history, as they can often bring a more personal dimension to the program. This personal connection often resonates with people because they see the individual as no different from themselves.
My second program explored the medical care system used during and after the Battle of Gettysburg. This program takes place at the George Spangler Farm, which was a hospital during and after the battle, and being out at the site really strengthens the program. This program not only taught me about the medical system used during the Civil War, but also showed me how important a site is to historical interpretation. A program on the wounded could be given anywhere, and at Gettysburg NMP one is often given behind the Visitors Center, but being at the hospital site makes the program more effective as it gives it numerous dimensions. Standing at the location of the operations all the while explaining the steps of an amputation makes visitors more aware that these events occurred and makes them realize how gruesome the medical system was. Being at a historical site also allows an interpreter to use the site to point out certain aspects of the narrative and can enhance the narrative by placing the people on the location of occurrence.
My time at Gettysburg National Military Park has been an amazing one. I’ve made many new friends and have learned many new lessons. This summer has shown me that I want to continue in the National Park Service, hopefully leading to a career. With the help of my friends, co-workers, and supervisor, I got the most out my internship as I possibly could have. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer and for that, I say “thank you” to everyone who helped me during my time at Gettysburg National Military Park.