All Shapes and Sizes: Summer Internship with The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Our guest blogger this week is Lynn Rice, a Keystone Intern in the Education and Outreach Department at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. A graduate student in public history at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Lynn described her internship to me as follows: "This department works hard to keep the museum doors open from day to day by teaching classes, escorting school groups and working with the community and local organizations to make the museum a central space for functions. Working here has opened my eyes to what a museum can do for a community." Thanks, Lynn, for your work, being willing to blog about your experience, and the photos (the captions are mine).

Lynn Rice in IdeaZone

Though not everyone in this department would consider themselves a public historian, they certainly reach the public. Mostly when I ask the question “Do you consider yourself a public historian?” many pause, give me a puzzled look and say, “I guess in some ways.” Due to the newness of this sect in the history field, many historians who fall under other titles do not think of themselves as public historians. In reality most historians who work at all these sites, parks and museums are public historians in some sense. Public historians come in many shapes and sizes. From the lighting coordinator for exhibits, school group coordinators to the museum director, public historians are found on all levels. Interning with museum educators this summer has been rewarding. These people work daily with the public making Pennsylvania history interesting and available. In my definition and those classes I pay for, that is a public historian.

Lynn with her intern mentor, Cherie Trimble, museum educator

My project this summer has been to put together IdeaZone. This is an interactive space for families to explore and learn about this year’s theme, the arts in Pennsylvania. In some ways, this project was a test of my abilities, in that I have almost no education background, and in other ways this project felt like the back of my hand, as I have much performing arts experience. The point of the theme is to bring light to the idea that the arts are not just paint to canvas, but stretch across mind and stage. Many of the arts stretch to other fields like architecture and communications. In many ways IdeaZone and concepts like IdeaZone touch on several forms of public history. This internship has helped me see the connection between what I study in class and this practical museum work experience. A main concept I have taken from my graduate studies so far is “space for dialogue.” It encompasses the idea of an exhibit or room where people can have open conversation with the public historian and each other to gather their own individual experience. In IdeaZone people can do just that.

Community Art Wall outside IdeaZone

With my time working in IdeaZone, I see a three-fold public history experience. First, creating the exhibit takes an understanding of the audience, a focus of content and creativity of the historian. Second, in the space the audience has a place they feel the interaction with the content, whether it be hands-on artifacts or activities for families. And third, by being in the exhibit to direct it, I act as the go-between of the public and the exhibit. This is in an attempt to pinpoint what the audience wants to take away from the exhibit. In many ways, IdeaZone is the ultimate public history experience for both the intern and the families.

State Museum staffers Chris Shope (standing) and Amy Whiting

reenact (sort of) the FAO Schwartz scene from Big

Public historians can come in all shapes and sizes, even in the simplest sense. Overall, the public historian comes alive with the warm summer months. Coming out of ivory-tower hibernation, the public historian can work in creative and mysterious ways to bring history to these summer visitors.


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