Student Life Editor
Although school was not in session, Washington College’s Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience employed more than 30 students as part of two distinct internship programs this summer.
The National Home Front Project summer program was a continuation of the Starr Center’s StoryQuest oral history program, with a focus on collecting interviews from local and regional residents who experienced World War II on the American homefront.
From June 11-July 13, 13 students lived on campus and worked at the Custom House researching, conducting, indexing, and transcribing oral history interviews.
By connecting with local organizations like Heron Point of Chestertown, students collected 30 local oral histories to add to the 200 interviews the program has amassed over the last five years. This year, the program broadened its scope to include interviews from Centreville, Easton, and Seaford, De. as well.
Interns learned how to process each interview, beginning with an index. After listening to the full audio, students selected and edited the most memorable “stories” for transcription and eventual publication on the program website, nationalhomefrontproject.org.
Sophomore Ethan O’Malley shared a particularly memorable interview narrated by Howard Cook of Centreville. During his teenage years, Howard worked alongside a German prisoner of war on his family farm. After the war, the Cooks were visited by the man’s son, who traveled from Austria to thank them for sheltering his father.
“It was such a touching story,” O’Malley said.
Narrators shared stories with topics ranging from Victory Gardens to the attack on Pearl Harbor, but most revolved around civilian participation in the war. In some cases, narrators presented artifacts or photographs to accompany their memories.
Junior Kate Voynow, in her second year of the summer internship program, observed that some stories challenged the common historical narrative of World War II often taught in the classroom.
“Not everyone felt FDR was the right man for the job; not everyone was willing to drop everything and fight overseas,” she said.
“This internship challenged my previous knowledge of World War II history, allowing me to be more empathetic towards people with different experiences and opinions. It was eye-opening,” she said.
In addition to the National Home Front Project-Local internships, student archivists worked as part of the National Home Front Project-National team to remotely process interview materials submitted by the program’s national partner institutions.
Starr Center staff Erica Fugger, Michael Buckley, and Lani Seikaly supervised and trained students throughout the course of the internship.
Starr Center Deputy Director Patrick Nugent helped guide students through the challenges of learning relevant oral history and digital humanities skills.
“This year we had almost an entirely new crew of interns. They learned quickly, and I was really impressed by the energetic, engaged, and supportive team atmosphere the students created,” he said.
He said the Starr Center’s example of a student-led oral history program serves as a model for other organizations looking to successfully conduct cross-generational interviews and make them broadly accessible to the public.
To listen to interviews from the Home Front and from World War II veterans, visit storyquestproject.com.
While their peers worked from Chestertown, 17 other WC students gained professional experience at museums, archives, national parks, and other historic institutions predominantly along the East Coast as part of the Explore America Internship Program.
With majors ranging from American studies and history to art, French, and political science, interns worked as archivists, collections assistants, exhibit designers, and researchers at some of the nation’s premier establishments, such as the Smithsonian Institution and the National Archives.
Interns shared their accomplishments with the public via weekly posts on the Starr Center Facebook page.
Junior Saoirse, an English and sociology double major, spent 10 weeks at the Apollo Theatre in New York City.
Contributing to both the education department and the archives, Saoirse’s first task was to digitize over 1,900 photographs formerly hung in Apollo Theater lobby. She continued working in “the Space”, the theater’s archive, labeling audiovisual material such as one-inch tapes, VHS, and DVDs to be shipped out for digitization.
In addition to hands-on experience, the internship offered avenues for professional advancement.
“I attended a Professional Development workshop titled “Apollo and Harlem: Teaching History through the Arts” organized by Education at the Apollo Theatre. I got to dress up as Zora Neale Hurston meeting people on 7th Ave. just as they arrive in Harlem as part of a role play activity about the Great Migration,” she wrote in her weekly update.
Senior Andrew Darlington participated in a more traditional museum experience as an exhibition intern at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
A political science major, Darlington used textbooks, documentaries, and databases to research potential artifacts for display in the Center’s exhibit on the 19th Amendment, scheduled to open in 2020.
Darlington expressed how his time with the exhibits staff gave him a new perspective on the planning process necessary to execute a successful exhibit, largely in addition to the written content and visual display.
“It blew me away how much thought goes into every aspect: lighting, case layouts, sound echoing, air conditioning and humidity, nearby storage space, benches and seating arrangements, and wheelchair and disability access are just a few things that exhibition developers have to manage,” he wrote.
The Explore America interns will be presenting about their experiences on Sept. 5 and Sept. 6 at 5 p.m. in the Egg.