Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

In Search of the Right Story: An Intern’s Tale

July 23, 2013
Posing next to the life-size statue of Henry Ford (object ID 2003.117.1) outside of the Michigan Café.

On a Friday morning in March during my spring break my phone rang. I woke up and groggily answered the phone. The call was from The Henry Ford. It was one of my future mentors calling to ask me to interview for their Simmons Graduate Internship in the Curatorial Department. A few short hours, several cups of coffee, and a quick review of my resume later, I had completed my phone interview. I felt pretty good about how it had gone, but the waiting came next, and two weeks later I had a voicemail offering me the internship. I was ecstatic. I could hardly believe The Henry Ford wanted me for the summer, and that my project was research, something I never had the time to do. It couldn’t get much better.

As a Masters Candidate in the Eastern Illinois University Historical Administration program, I am required to complete six months of full-time internship work. The first three months I am spending at The Henry Ford. As a member of this year’s intern group of three, I work closely with the Curatorial Department. The other two interns and I are working on a project that involves the Adams House (also called the Adams Family Home—not to be confused with that Addams family!) in Greenfield Village, and it has been my job to do the research portion of this project. As I am halfway through this experience, I am reflecting on what I have learned thus far.

The core of my research focuses on the town of Saline, Mich., and the First Baptist Church, which in 1846 built the parsonage that now is in Greenfield Village. Through my research efforts I have developed new skills and honed ones I already possessed. For starters, I have mastered Ancestry.com, a tool that makes researching people a lot of fun; in fact, sometimes I get a little carried away. I also have access to the resources of the Benson Ford Research Center. Did you know if you put all the shelves together in the stacks of the research center it would be about five miles of shelving?

At work examining collection pieces.

Another skill I am learning is communication, as I send out research questions and requests and correspond with people across the country and even across the Atlantic Ocean, where I’ve been in contact with Oxford and the Bristol Baptist College. My daily tasks vary from week to week, and my “To-Do” list seems to be growing by the second. The weight of the job, and the expectations that come from it, are very real, as I have to meet deadlines, go to meetings, discuss the project, and present my work.

A few of my tasks have included researching different stories that might be told in the Adams House and developing those stories so they are applicable to the message The Henry Ford wishes to emphasize. My favorite part of researching is discovering the stories of the people – and I have come across some good stories. For example, the Reverend Charles Evans served as a missionary in Sumatra from 1819-1826 during a time of political unrest and tiger and elephant stampedes. Later on he is the minister in Saline, living in our parsonage with six children. These people are so real to me I feel I could sit down and have a conversation with them.

I have also had the opportunity to go collection hunting, which is possibly more difficult than buying jeans. Sometimes objects end up in the wrong place, without a number, or buried behind a giant papier-mâché foot—for example. But even with the odds stacked against us hidden treasures can be uncovered.

Some of the treasures we've discovered in storage:

Meridienne, circa 1830-1850 (Object ID 29.1664.1); Chinese tea box, 19th century (Object ID 23.44.93).

These “finds” are a thing of joy, especially when they create opportunities to enhance a storyline. This process so far has allowed me to utilize the information I learned in my schooling and apply it to my work at The Henry Ford. It has also given me access to brilliant minds and visions and has expanded my own ability to perform. This experience has proven difficult, fun, crazy, but most importantly, it is the reason I like to get up in the morning and come to work. I never know what I will find when I’m digging into the past!

Clarissa Thompson is one of the 2013 Simmons Graduate Interns at The Henry Ford.

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education, interns

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