Photo: A picture from the local newspaper of my tour to an elementary school group.
Hello! My name is Quinn Campbell and I am a rising junior majoring in history. This summer I have had the opportunity to intern and learn at the Custom House Maritime Museum in my hometown of Newburyport, MA. Newburyport is located on the coast of Massachusetts and has a rich history as a seaport. Shipbuilding dominated the small city in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The city became known for the clipper ship: a fast, sleek vessel used in trade. Additionally, historians and a proclamation from President Lyndon B. Johnson trace the founding of the U.S. Coast Guard to Newburyport. For these reasons, Newburyport is known as the “Clipper City” and the birthplace of the Coast Guard. I was able to explore these topics and the city’s history during my internship.
My main role at the museum has been as a curatorial intern. Curators and their staff are responsible for the collections, exhibit creation, and presentation of historical knowledge to the public. Working with the curator, I have conducted research on shipbuilding, the U.S. Coast Guard, and Newburyport’s sea captains. Putting my research into action, I wrote labels for a pair of lifesaving medals and an ocean current study bottle as well as a storyboard about the man who received the medals. These are the labels found next to artifacts in museums that explain their origins and background. This past week, I rearranged the display case with these new artifacts and added my labels. In addition to writing labels, my other main curatorial duty has been transcribing and researching a Newburyport family. One Friday, the curator handed me a box of donated artifacts all from one family. The box contained letters, photographs, school report cards, and even locks of baby hair! I examined the various pieces and ultimately, began to work on a letter about the Brown family’s voyage from New York to Hong Kong in the 1880s. First, I transcribed the document and then I added footnotes from research in order to clarify certain points to readers. This project drew from research and writing skills I have developed at Skidmore and fostered other skills I look forward to using in the rest of my college career and beyond.
Because of the small and collaborative nature of the museum, I was also able to help in other departments. During one of my first weeks, I helped sell tickets for a major fundraiser. The museum brought in a replica of Columbus’ Santa Maria and offered tours on the ship. This large scale event had not only ship tours, but fundraising and other events on the boat each night. It gave me the chance to see a large fundraiser being run. Small non-profit museums like the Custom House need to be creative in obtaining funds. I also assisted with school/camp tours at the museum. We had groups from public schools, a local Montessori school, and an ELL program. Helping with these student groups allowed me to consider museum education as a future possibility. I learned that I want a work environment that involves collaboration with co-workers and interactions with the public, especially children and students. With this in mind, my final project is geared to seeing how museum docents currently cater this tours to younger audiences and then creating a guide of tips on creating a kid-friendly tour. Lastly, I have helped at museum events for the museum’s members. One event, featuring a presentation and mingling, demonstrated the multiple layers of involvement in museums. Museums operate with staff, volunteers, a board of directors, and members. I saw first-hand the small staffing of the museum and its reliance on volunteers as a non-profit. Non-profit management also interests me so I enjoyed seeing how the museum operates behind the scenes.
As a history major, I am often asked what my future career plans entail. Many people see a history major as a stepping stone to a career in education or law. While both are worthwhile and essential paths, I wanted to explore a path that incorporates my passion for history, my interpersonal skills, and sharing stories from the past to the public. My classes at Skidmore have invited me to think about how we present history, whose stories are shared (whose stories are left out and why), and history’s role in the education of the public. I am very interested in these topics and public history in general. Museums are institutions that focus on sharing stories and history to people.
Small museums and non-profits like the Custom House Maritime Museum do not have the funds to pay their interns. The Skidmore Summer Experience Fund and its donors recognize that Skidmore students may have interests in paths and organizations with smaller budgets. Small organizations and non-profits provide an excellent experience with hands-on learning, direct interaction with staff and mentoring. The Skidmore Summer Experience Fund gave me the opportunity to work and gain experience in the museum studies field. I am very grateful to the donors; thank you!