Blog Reflection Post 4

What are you doing that seems to be successful in the internship?  Challenging? How can you address these challenges?

My most successful project in this internship is the database that I am compiling of the usage of the words “famous,” “celebrated,” and “celebrity” over time. I’ve been with the material for so long that I can recognize patterns and historical trends in the articles. The data sometimes confirms my suspicions and sometimes takes me completely by surprise. I feel confident about writing up an analysis of this data, and I look forward to doing so, as I can explain my findings to someone other than my fiancé. The real challenge with this project is time: it will be my only project for the next few weeks and even into the early new year, since we need to present our findings.

The more challenging project has been compiling the database of celebrity politicians. Of course, compiling your own database is always harder than simply adding to someone else’s. However, my database so far was relatively easy to compile, given that I utilized other organization’s lists of famous politicians to help me build a solid foundation. The real challenge, as I head into the new year, will be diving into the Political Graveyard–a very, very thorough database of US politicians–to find the names of lesser-known entertainers and celebrities from the period especially lacking in my current list: the 19th century. This work will be challenging in that I will have to do more fact-checking and general sifting through countless names, but it will also be exciting to figure out the best way to do so as well as learn more about 19th-century politicians.

For next semester, I’ll address these challenges by devoting more time to my digital internship–from 10 to 15 hours. Since my boss wants to present some of these findings, I’ll also be meeting with him and others at NMAH once a week to get a better sense of the team dynamic and work environment. (So really, this will be a part-digital, part-IRL internship.) The best way to deal with deadlines and learning new material, after all, is not any new-fangled techniques and strategies but just time. It will be strange next semester when this internship is my only “class” at George Mason University, but I will put in the effort as I would any other academic course–now without other academic courses to take time out of my schedule. Looking forward to the new year!

Blog Reflection Post 3

What new skills are you developing? Have you identified other skills to develop in the future?

When it came to research, I didn’t think that I needed to develop any new skills. However, much as with other misconceptions I had about graduate school, I was very, very wrong. No matter how much you think you know about research, there’s always more to learn.

Specifically, this internship is really helping me develop my improvisation skills. Although we live in a glorious age of digitized newspapers with searchable text, sometimes even an algorithm or a supercomputer messes up. If a term that I searched for isn’t highlighted in the text, I have to make some decisions: do I just skip this example and use another one that is easier to locate? If not, how do I go about finding the word “famous” in the page of a newspaper without reading through every line of text? In most cases, rather than worry about whether I’m cherry-picking data, I mostly go through the newspaper.

However, when it comes to compiling my own database of celebrity politicians, I understand that it’s dangerous to go down rabbit holes. Sometimes it’s more important to get down a name and make a note that it needs fact-checking rather than spending a half-hour trying to access dead links to old newspaper articles. Where is my time best spent? I’ve had to make hard decisions, and since I’m working digitally, I can’t always ask my boss questions about every single problem I come across. In a way, the digital internship has taught me to be self-sufficient–to solve my own problems.

In the near future, I might have to write a summary of all my research. While I’m using to writing research papers, I’m not accustomed to writing for audiences outside the academic world. However, I do look forward to flexing this skill, since I’m eager to share what I’ve learned over these past few months with others.

Blog Reflection Post 2

What are you enjoying the most during this experience?  What could you do during the internship to help create more positive experiences like these? Have you learned anything about your work style preferences as a result?

There are many aspects of this experience that I enjoy–not ever being late for work, nobody caring if I wear sweatpants, etc. In a seriousness, I most enjoy–and I know this will sound corny, but I’ll say it anyway–learning new things. Given the nature of my digital internship, the learning experience usually takes two paths.

When I’m working on the “famous,” “celebrated,” and “celebrity,” word-frequency databases, I’m very intrigued by how these terms are used. For instance, the word “celebrated” mostly appears in advertisements–and those advertisements are almost always for medicine. One of my more humorous takeaways is that the readers and advertisers of the Times-Picayune really liked sarsaparilla–which I only recently found out is, in fact, root beer. I guess before we discovered its potential as a soda fountain favorite, we were using it to cure seemingly any ailment.

With the celebrity politician database, I’m struck by how many celebrities–so far my list consists of mostly actors and athletes–run for office. More interestingly, any conception that this “celebrity runs for office” thing is a trend means that it’s a very long trend, since many of the oldest entries come from the 1910s and 1920s. As my list expands, I know it will go back even further, but it’s always interesting when history proves a “modern” phenomenon has deeper roots than originally thought. I’m disappointed by the lack of women on the list, although I think a general list would be lacking in women as well.

Fortunately, since my favorite thing about this internship is simply doing my job–gathering data, doing research–I don’t really know how I could make it more of a positive experience beyond doing more research. Written analyses may be down the line, and I’ll be very happy to share these findings with others in and outside of the history community.

I find that when delving into this research, I work best over long stretches of hours. Unfortunately, due to my school and work schedule, this isn’t always possible, which is why I’m often logging hours on Fridays and Saturdays: I prefer knocking out ten hours across two days rather than logging two hours every weekday. However, preference only goes so far with other obligations, but I think I’m doing the best I can to balance them.

Blog Reflection Post 1

What is the mission of your internship organization/department?  What is your role in the organization/department and how does it support the mission? What are you most excited to be doing?

This semester, I’m working with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The mission of the museum and its employees, and I quote from their website, is, “Through incomparable collections, rigorous research, and dynamic public outreach, we explore the infinite richness and complexity of American history. We help people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future.” I believe my work supports this mission, as I’m providing background information that might not be available to some people. More importantly, I’m helping put this information in context, so it is dynamic and interesting to viewers. My internship work involves collecting data on the usage and evolution of the words “famous,” “celebrated,” and “celebrity,” in 19th and 20th centuries. My second task also involves understanding the concept of fame in America, but through the lens of celebrities (or “professional entertainers”) who have run for political office. My work will (hopefully) be useful in creating an exhibit that will help educate and challenge museum visitors’ ideas about celebrities and fame in general. A lot of my previous misconceptions of how Americans thought/think of fame have been challenged, like how objects—things, places, events—-were more likely to be described as famous than people. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be interested in seeing how the usage of the word “fame” compares to “celebrated.”

I’m most excited about creating my own database of celebrity-politicians. The process has led me to re-examine what a celebrity is, as well as what types of celebrities the public seems to value (enough to put into office!). I’m amused by certain patterns I pick up. (It seems like the town of Palm Spring really likes voting in former actors as the mayor!) What I thought would be a straightforward spreadsheet—name, location, position—has turned into columns upon columns of details I never would have considered, such as primary vs. general elections or election year vs. years served. Right now my list mostly consists of actors from the 20th century, so I’ll be intrigued to see how the data changes when I add professional entertainers from other fields, as well as from other time periods.

On a personal note, one of the people on my celebrity-turned-politician list with whom I am fascinated is John Davis Lodge. He was a former actor who became governor of Connecticut, and as a fellow Nutmegger, I felt a natural interest in him. Upon further research, I discovered that he was also a World War II veteran who received French decorations while serving as an attaché. His grave is in Arlington (near my current home), so I must investigate further. Such is the problem with research—it always leads you down another rabbit hole!

The next week will involve cataloguing the usage of the “celebrated” in early American newspapers. Just from an initial look, it’s far more than “famous”!