Re-envisioning My Future by Preserving the Past: A Summer Internship at the Washington County Museum

By Blake Brooks ::

Internship work had never really crossed my mind until my senior year, and now, I am kicking myself for not taking advantage of the opportunity sooner. As a history major, finding internships can seem difficult at times, but by chance, I was introduced to the curator of the Washington County Museum and I quickly realized that I wanted to become an intern with the museum. With a little bit of paperwork and communication, I was all set to start my summer of work and I had no clue what was in store.

My work with the Washington County Museum began in June at the archive location at Portland Community College’s Rock Creek campus. The archive has everything that a history major could dream of. At first glance, it looks like a spacious office area with a reception desk and mini exhibits lining the entryway. It’s not until you see the back of the archive that you really understand the true scope of the museum. The storage area looks like a warehouse of historical objects ranging from clothes, to furniture, to native american artifacts. There is so much more there that I couldn’t even begin to write about it all.

Seeing the artifacts was an amazing and almost moving experience. There was so much history in its most raw form. When reading a textbook or looking through the exhibits of a museum, you see history through the lens of an author or curator. In the storage area, there is history on every shelf and inside every cabinet, from all different periods and lifestyles. You get an appreciation for just how vast history is from one eyeful.

From the moment I started, Liza, the museum’s curator, became a wealth of information to me. Every artifact and photo I could see had a story, and Liza more often than not, knew exactly what that story was. I started out working on a project that involved finding photographs in the vast picture archives. An online database had short descriptions of the photographs and where to find them. It was a daunting task at first—holding a list of hundreds of numbers and knowing I had to find as many as I could.

I soon discovered that the hardest part about searching for the photos was staying on task long enough to get the work done. Scenes from every walk of life in all formats are contained in the archive, and digging through them exposes you to countless amazing photographs. You can get lost just flipping through one after another, before catching yourself and pulling open only the photo you need. I learned so much just by looking and reading the backs of photos and portraits and asking questions.

My favorite project by far was setting up a machines for display in an upcoming exhibit. I went through old cash registers, typewriters, standing radios, and televisions. Working with actual objects and artifacts became a passion of sorts as I examined and cleaned them. The work needed to be done is seemingly endless, but incredibly enjoyable and you learn so much just by being around the material.

Interning at the Washington County Museum has changed my future goals. I’ve learned the practical application of my degree and even found a career path I really want to follow. I’ll be interning again next term, and I’m excited to do it, too. The Washington County Museum feels like a place I belong, and I sincerely hope more people choose to volunteer or intern, just to experience what I have in these past ten weeks.