Digital Humanties Internship #2: Not So Virtual Intern

Disclaimer: The views and opinion shared in this post reflect the author’s personal thoughts and do not reflect the thoughts or opinions of the Smithsonian Institute Archives.

When I last blogged in December about my internship at the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA), I had just begun my work. At that point, I was still trying to get a handle on the ins and outs of the Drupal interface used to build exhibits on SIA’s website. Even though I had little experience with Drupal, I was optimistic about the road ahead. Now, six weeks into the new year, I have really gotten into the “meat” of the internship, so to speak. I have finished transferring one of their older exhibits into Drupal. I was also able to add links on each exhibit page to related sources and related collections within the Smithsonian Institute. This will hopefully encourage curious viewers to dive deeper into the Smithsonian’s excellent collections and resources hosted online by the many different branches of the larger Smithsonian organization.

Currently, I am working on transferring a exhibit called “From Smithson to Smithsonian” which traces the story of the Smithson bequest and the discussion among Americans about how best to use the money, which had been set aside to further “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” While my task is to transfer the pictures and text from the old website in to the Drupal interface, I have consequently learned a lot about Smithson and the birth of the Smithsonian Institution. As a public historian, it has been fascinating to learn about the origins of the largest museum and research complex in the nation.

While all of my internship work can be completed online, I have chosen not to remain completely a “virtual intern.” Because I live in the DC area, at the beginning of the internship, I arranged to meet with my internship supervisor downtown at the SIA offices. During our first meeting, she offered me a spot at their DC office to do some of my internship work, if I was interested. Because I was eager to not only be a part of the work they were doing, but also to experience the day-to-day goings on at the Smithsonian, I accepted. For the past two weeks, I have been working one day a week at the SIA offices in L’Enfant plaza, and then completing the rest of my work virtually from home.

I believe that this one-third/two-third split between in-person and virtual work has been very beneficial to my internship. While I have learned to communicate with my supervisor via email, phone and video-conferencing, it has been helpful to have a once a week face-to-face check-in. If there has been some sort of confusion on my part about what she is expecting, we can normally clear it up quickly in person, instead of having to take the time to type out and email back and forth to solve the problem. Also, I have found that it is easier for me to learn new process through a quick hands-on tutorial, instead of having to decipher a written document which gives the steps. For example, in the beginning of my internship, I was only creating basic pages. Now, after a short lesson with my supervisor, I am able to create photo gallery and pages which show a document and its transcript side by side. Then I am able to take what I learned and discussed in the office during my day of in-person work and apply it to virtual work during the rest of the week.

I also believe I am getting more of the total Smithsonian experience by spending some of my internship time in-person. It is nice to have faces and relationship to put with the email addresses I am corresponding with. If I was only a virtual intern, I think I would feel less connected to the projects I am working on. Instead, I have met, talked to and worked with the people who originally wrote the text and found the pictures for the exhibits I am migrating. This gives me more respect for them and their work, and make me more engaged with the work that I am doing at SIA.

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