February 02, 2016
Summer internships for undergraduates
6 min read
Today’s post is courtesy of Jordan Smith (Georgetown University), OI Regional Editor for The List. If you are interested in helping your undergraduates find an internship this summer then this is key reading.
Mount Vernon in the summer
Most of us have probably had a student email us or come to our office hours excited by their experiences in a class on early American history and wondering how to build on those lessons through a summer internship or fellowship program. Maybe these students are interested in a career in teaching, public history, or in the academy. For many students, a semester spent volunteering or working at a local historical site or archive can be an immensely valuable experience, giving them a greater understanding of the many ways in which the skills and knowledge developed in their history classes prepare them for post-college employment. For example, such experiences regularly push students to hone their research or analytical tools, improve their public speaking, and determine how to effectively present a message to a variety of audiences.
Not that long ago, I was one of those interested students. I wanted to use what I learned through history classes at Carleton College to work at a historic site. I applied to a wide range of paid internships, and was fortunate enough to be chosen as a Historic Trades intern at Mount Vernon. I spent the summer between my junior and senior years of college dressed in eighteenth-century clothing, demonstrating and explaining the tasks that George Washington’s free and enslaved farm workers engaged in. On off days, I listened to presentations by visiting scholars, carried out research at the Mount Vernon library, and visited other area historic sites. My fellow interns and I had fun and learned a lot from these interactions with a variety of practicing historians.
I found this experience so enriching that I continued working at Mount Vernon after graduation. The opportunity to research and design presentations for visitors to Mount Vernon reaffirmed my desire to make the study of history my career. Furthermore, in the fifteen months between graduating from college and beginning my Ph.D. program, I spent a lot of time in the Mount Vernon distillery—first leading tours and later helping to make whiskey and brandy. These experiences suggested certain questions that my dissertation—a study of the invention and production of rum in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Atlantic World—seeks to answer.
Of course, many former historic site interns do not end up pursuing a Ph.D. in history or a related discipline. I know former Mount Vernon interns who are now teachers, lawyers, librarians, public historians, and even veterinarians. Despite their varied career choices, most of them would probably agree that they enjoyed and benefitted from the opportunity to share their knowledge and interest in early American history with visitors.
However, connecting interested and qualified students with topical summer programs can be a challenge. Students may not know where to look for opportunities, and instructors do not always know where to direct them. My own experience applying for internships, as well as searching for fellowship opportunities to include on The List, has brought some paid summer opportunities designed for undergraduate history majors to my attention. Expectations and experiences for programs vary widely, but hopefully some of these programs are useful for you or your students:
Historic Deerfield Summer Fellowship Program—Due February 8, 2016
Living History Farms (Urbandale, Iowa) Paid Internships—Due February 19, 2016
Mount Vernon Historic Trades Internships—Due February 26, 2016
Newport Historical Society Buchanan/Burnham Internships—Due March 1, 2016
Harper’s Ferry Living History Internships—Due March 1, 2016
Lewes Historical Society Public History Internships—Due March 7, 2016
Old Sturbridge Village College Internships (some paid opportunities)—Due March 7, 2016
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, History Scholar Award—Due April 15, 2016
Claude Moore Colonial Farm Internships—no due date listed
Museums of Old York Elizabeth Perkins Fellows Program—no due date listed
Mystic Seaport Summer Internships—no due date listed
Plimoth Plantation Internships—no due date listed
I am sure that other opportunities are available—please add other suggestions in the comments!