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”!