During the Fall 2021 semester, Danielle Morrison is interning at the History Center at Fort Wayne, Indiana. Under the direction of Ethan Bowers, she inventories objects and artifacts in the collection. Danielle’s main project is creating a tour of Lindenwood Cemetery to highlight stone art and significant figures who are buried there.
This interview was conducted by Colwin Mondor.
How did you decide you wanted to pursue a degree in Public History?
I began at Ball State as a German language teaching major, but after studying abroad in Berlin, Germany, I was much more fascinated with the work that is put into public history institutions. Berlin has 170+ museums along with the history that one sees in the city daily. Day after day I passed underneath the Brandenburg Gate, strolled through museums holding thousands of different artifacts, and walked around buildings that have stood through centuries of history, and I knew I wanted that to continue throughout my life. I learned about BSU’s Public History Program during the semester after I returned from Berlin and had a feeling it was what I wanted.
I knew that I made the right choice immediately. I love my classes, my projects, and of course my internship! I have accomplished so much and made so many connections in just a single year in the Public History Program. I know that my experiences will benefit me as I begin my career.
Why were you interested in this specific internship?
Being from the Fort Wayne area, I know that the city has a very rich history. However, I feel as though very few people in the area really know much about it, let alone other people around the state or beyond. Many residents in Fort Wayne seem to show very little enthusiasm for their city. But the History Center, which is the home of the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society, engages with the public in so many ways to keep the history and traditions of the city alive. For example, there is the Barr Street Market, the oldest public space in Fort Wayne that the History Center has owned since 1988; the annual Festival of Gingerbread, where people of all ages and skillsets showcase their gingerbread creations for the public to come see; and Fright Night, a Halloween-themed event that features several downtown businesses (like the History Center!) and holds a Zombie Walk through downtown.
The History Center also works with so many different Fort Wayne communities and celebrates the diversity of the city. The museum creates its projects and exhibits with respect to all peoples and cultures and actively maintains good relationships with those who contribute their knowledge and resources.
Also, have you seen the building? The History Center is located in the old Fort Wayne City Hall building, which to me looks like a castle in the middle of downtown Fort Wayne. I might not be a Disney princess like I wanted to be when I was 5, but at least I do still get a castle!
What does a typical day at your internship look like?
I start each day by going to the third floor and starting up the database computer that I work at. I spend most days going through miscellaneous files, taking inventory of their contents, and then adding them to PastPerfect, which is a collections management software program that is used by thousands of museums. PastPerfect lets museum workers add items to a database, placing them in one of four categories: objects, photographs, archives, and library (books). All information can then be found by looking up a specific keyword, name, or category.
When we get in new donations, I go through the items that are going to be accessioned and label them; we put down the year, donation number for that year, and then assign each item a number. After they have been labeled, I photograph each item and upload the information to the database. I then store the items where they need to go, such as the postcard boxes, the photo files, or the art room. If I need a break, I will go to the second-floor office and get newspapers for the week. I cut out significant articles, label them with the newspaper name and date, and then file them in the clippings cabinets.
Other tasks will be thrown in as well, depending on what is in store for the week, what events are nearing, and what donations arrive. I might take a visit to another location, such as the Chief Richardville house or Lindenwood Cemetery, help retrieve archives or artifacts for specific research and exhibits, or laminate and press exhibit labels. For my Lindenwood project, I usually spend afternoons out at the cemetery photographing graves, taking note of their style, condition, and construction, and noting their locations to plot on the maps I am creating, as well as the best way to layout the tour.
What are the most valuable skills you have gained from your internship?
I think that the ability to quickly navigate and work with the PastPerfect museum software has given me a better feel for how museums take note of their inventory and organize it. I can go through the database quickly to find what I need, and it takes me just a few minutes to add new items. Being brief but precise is important when items are being sorted through and described, and having to go through numerous artifacts on a daily basis has given me a better idea about what information is most necessary to include. I have also learned how to set up displays for various exhibits. I know to keep in mind what artifacts are most central to the exhibit, what should be grouped together, and what the best ways are to utilize the space provided within the exhibit.
What is the most fulfilling part of your internship?
I think the most fulfilling part of my internship is when I am shown that the skills and knowledge I have obtained are valuable. For example, when I began discussing my project on Lindenwood Cemetery with my supervisor, I mentioned details about the creation and stylization of certain headstones, which I learned about when volunteering for the DNR Historic Preservation and Archaeology division in the Spring 2021 semester. He said that they had never really done anything before that focused on this aspect of the cemetery and that it would be something new and interesting for people to learn about. It’s a great feeling to know that all the effort that I’ve put in thus far has been well worth it!