First Two Weeks at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Going into the summer, I was constantly being asked what I intended on doing with my time. I told everyone that I would be interning for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the second largest historical archive in the country to the Library of Congress, but beyond that I wasn’t entirely sure myself.

 

I knew my job would involve a decent amount of writing and researching, both things I have come to enjoy throughout my time at Haverford as a political science major, but I didn’t know what I would be researching or for which kind of audience. Upon arriving, I soon realized why I was unsure of my job description. HSP doesn’t often assign it’s interns specific tasks with strict deadlines: rather I was given the freedom to tell my supervisor what areas I wanted to be most involved in, and furthermore, which topics I wanted to explore the most. Having worked in an office before, I am well aware of how rare it is that an undergraduate intern  has the agency to pursue subjects that are genuinely of interest, as opposed to running menial errands for everyone else.

 

So far I have been working on the interactive online map used for the public, wherein there are links containing historical information about hundreds of significant locations in Philadelphia. Thus far I have been researching two main topics–both of which are very relevant to things happening right now. The first is about the Reading Viaduct project–the expansive abandoned railroad that the city is trying to turn into a park, much like the New York City Highline. I am researching the history of the Reading Railroad to try to understand how the original structures/services of the railroad are being repurposed to create a green space. The second project I am doing is tracking the history of political party conventions hosted in Philadelphia, beginning with the Whig Party Convention in 1848. I chose this topic because the Democratic National Convention is being held here in a month, and HSP always has great involvement in the Political Festivities surrounding such a significant event. Additionally I chose this topic because there is a lot riding on the upcoming convention–while it looks like Bernie won’t get the contested convention he had hoped for, there will be a lot of deciding to do when it comes to the party platform–and I wanted to explore other contentious conventions to better understand the significance of this one. The most challenging about these topics is probably writing for the public. The language of these stories that I write are supposed to be at an 8th grade level, and have to be compelling as well as educational.

I won’t be working on these projects for the rest of the summer. I will soon transition into working on a lecture series that HSP does every year, where I think I will be given an opportunity to do research and present it to foreign students my age. I haven’t gotten any details on that yet though, so I will have to give updates on that later in the summer.

In general I am really enjoying my time here. I have noticed that because there are not strict deadlines or explicit tasks,  my productivity and overall enjoyment of my work directly depends on my own initiative. I think it is good practice for the real world, where you only get what you are brave enough to ask for, and diligent enough to work for.

PS

Here is one of my favorite archives I have found so far. I think old ads are super interesting!

milk ad