“‘Pray For the People Who Feed You’: Voices of Pauper Children in the Industrial Age” is the newest exhibit to be featured in the Schmucker Art Gallery at Gettysburg College. The exhibit was curated by Gettysburg College senior Rebecca Duffy ’16, and is the culmination of her three semester International Bridge Course (IBC) program. At its opening on Friday, October 2, Duffy discussed her experiences with the IBC program and the process she went through in putting together this unique project.
This post is part of a series on the experiences of our Pohanka Interns at various historic sites working on the front lines of history as interpreters and curators. Dr. Jill Titus explains the questions our students are engaging with here.
On the morning of the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Opening Assaults at Petersburg, I carefully watched all that was happening. While there was plenty going on – children’s activities, cannon demonstrations and a camp of re-enactors – one tent seemed to constantly have a steady stream of visitors who all spent a significant amount of time there before moving on. The tent that was so popular was the archeology one. Visitors put on clean white gloves and examined bits of pottery, fragments of metal and dropped bullets neatly organized in trays indicating the area in which each was found. As an intern in Resource Management, the department which predominately deals with the preservation and conservation of the park’s cultural and natural resources, I, of course, am partial to archeology, but what was it that was entrancing all these visitors? So I got to thinking about why I love my own job.
Studies by historians Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelan indicate that many of us prefer a history which is directly pertinent to us, one we can grasp, and therefore humanize within a framework we are already familiar with: the stories of our families, the history of our communities and our own personal past. When we lack that sort of direct connection, artifacts can help build it for us. By sketching out a familiar context they can bring a story which may seem impossible to imagine close to us.
At Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park I, as an intern, began my summer with nearly two weeks of training. Of course, we interns wear many hats. We are the frontline historians: friendly faces behind the desk at the visitor’s center, voices over the PA system reminding visitors that the “twenty-two minute film on the Battle of Fredericksburg will be beginning momentarily.” We are the authors and guides of most of the daily tours. Thus, with all of that information- from park operations to living in quarters to the site specific facts our visitors came to learn-we need every second of that training. Yet the most difficult job we have, interpretation, using the tangible objects around us to bring the stories of the war to life, cannot really be taught. It’s learned best on-the-job.