Summer at the Museum
Oct. 31, 2012
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— Not many people are greeted by a 65 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus
Rex or a 2,500-pound Titanoboa each morning at work, but for Illinois Wesleyan University
anthropology majors, Sarah Carlson and Kate Scott, it was just another day on the
job. As summer museum interns, they were able to apply their skills obtained from
anthropology coursework to a practical museum setting. Through their internships they
experienced first-hand how museums try to go beyond the glass cases to bring the exhibits
“Museum internships give students an inside look into how museums operate, what the
work of collections managers and curators entails, and better prepares them for graduate
training in museum studies and employment in museums after graduation,” said Rebecca
Gearhart, department chair of anthropology at IWU.
Both seniors at IWU, Carlson interned at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago
and Scott worked at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
“Working in a museum is something I have thought about since I was younger. After
I took the museum studies May Term course, I knew I could see myself working in a
museum setting,” said Scott.
The May Term anthropology course "Museums, Representation, and Cultural Property”
exposes students to how museums have acquired, displayed, and interpreted cultural
objects and represented cultures, peoples, and heritage, in the past and present.
Some of the topics covered include the artifact trade, representational and ethical
issues and effective exhibit presentation.
According to Gearhart, courses like this prepare students for careers in a variety
of fields, including museum studies. “Anthropology, like other disciplines in the
social sciences, provides students with the foundational skill-set necessary to go
on in any field: critical thinking, clear and thoughtful writing, ability to communicate
orally, and for anthropology students in particular, the ability to sensitively and
comfortably interact with people from different cultural backgrounds.”
Sarah Carlson '13 spent her summer interning at the
Field Museum in Chicago.
Carlson utilized these skills as a Regenstein Collections Intern in the Anthropology
Department at the Field Museum. During the summer she re-housed artifacts using updated
methods and updated the digitized records of The Philippine Collection.
“In the past, artifacts were stored in ways that seemed unsafe or detrimental to their
condition,” said Carlson. “Today, the Field Museum works hard to ensure that every
artifact is stored in the safest way feasible, and with millions of artifacts under
one roof, this is an ongoing process. I housed several hundred artifacts, mostly
ceramics, jewelry and musical instruments.”
Carlson also spent time photographing the collection, entering digital records and
updating the database as part of the Field Musuem’s effort to stay in the forefront
of collections management.
“The Philippine Collection consists of over 10,000 objects, most of which have not
been seen by the public since they were taken off display in the 1980s,” said Carlson.
“The number of objects and amount of information contained in that building boggles
Walking through the Field Museum you may be impressed by the pristine galleries filled
with colorful displays and intriguing artifacts, but according to Carlson, the true
treasure trove lies beneath the surface.
“Only one percent of the museum’s collections are on display. The non-public areas
are huge and very confusing. I would get lost every day for a while.”
Carlson is no stranger to the marbled hallways of the Field Museum.
“I grew up a few hours from Chicago, so The Field Museum has been one of my favorite
museums for years, and I have always dreamed of working there. This summer, I got
my dream job.”
It didn’t take long for Carlson to realize that there is no “typical” day when it
comes to working in a museum. One day, she was holding million-year-old stone tools
and another, examining tribal Philippine jewelry.
She even played the role of detective. When visiting researchers brought in a recently
discovered, thousand-year-old cloak, Carlson assisted them in comparing feathers in
the cloak to feathers on model birds in the Ornithology Department.
“We figured out which bird feathers were used, and from there, we were able to determine
a lot about the people that made the cloak,” said Carlson.
While Carlson delved into the stores of artifacts, Scott spent her summer with much
more lively subjects. She worked at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural
Heritage as a Campus and Community Intern.
Kate Scott '12 interned at the Smithsonian
in Washington, D.C.
Scott’s primary responsibility was to help plan and run the Smithsonian Folklife Festival,
which celebrates cultures from across the country.
“The purpose of the Folklife Festival is to strengthen and sustain different cultural
traditions by presenting them to the public on the The National Mall,” said Scott.
“The festival allows people to connect and share with each other so that they can
learn about each other's culture and appreciate and understand the similarities and
the differences between them.”
The festival attracts over a million people each year and Scott had the opportunity
to get a behind the scenes look at how museums interact with the community.
“It takes so much more time and work than I imagined. They usually start planning
festival programs at least a few years in advance if they can,” said Scott.
As part of community outreach, Scott wrote a blog post about one of the cultural groups
attending the festival. For the post she interviewed two curanderas, Native American traditional healers, who practice laugh therapy.
“The curanderas were so open to talking with me and as an anthropology major getting the chance to
practice my interviewing skills was great,” Scott said.
For her, it was an eye-opening experience into how museums operate and what goes into
creating exhibits and programming.
“Now, every museum I walk into I think about what goes into running it,” Scott said.
“When I go into an exhibit I think about how much research and work went into creating
it. How did they choose the artifacts? What made them decide to do an exhibit on that
particular topic? What was it like working on it?”
Their summer internships only strengthened Carlson and Scott’s desire to pursue a
“I’m still trying to decide if I want to focus on the curatorial aspect of museums
or if I’m more interested in educational programming. No matter where I end up I
hope that it is in a museum in some way,” said Scott, who is currently an intern at
the McLean Museum of History in Bloomington.
Carlson has her eyes set on her dream job and hopes to return to the Field Museum
“I’m currently looking for work at smaller institutions in either collections management
or exhibition development. I hope to work for a few years, then earn a graduate degree
in anthropology with a concentration or certification in museum studies, and then
try my luck at the Field Museum.”
Contact: Katherine Filippo, ’12, (309) 556-3181 firstname.lastname@example.org