My Internship with… The American Swedish Institute

Today our My Internship with… series continues with History/Social Studies Education major Annie Berglund (’14), who spent her summer as an intern at the American Swedish Institute, in Minneapolis, MN.

Why did you pick a History major? Did you come to Bethel knowing you wanted to pursue that course of study? (If not, what changed?)

I haven’t always loved history. In fact, I used to hate it in middle school and early high school. I think it was the stigma that went along with history class: it’s boring, irrelevant, and just another hurdle to jump through in my education. I couldn’t agree less with that statement now! History became one of my passions in high school when I took an Ancient World history class. Because I connected so well with my teacher, felt that it was a topic that clicked for me, and realized the importance of understanding historical issues, I soon decided that history would be in my college future. Along with that, I had the aspiration of becoming a teacher. Even though I knew I wanted to become a history teacher before I came to Bethel, the classes I’ve taken and professors I’ve engaged with have furthered that drive in me.

How did you become a summer intern with the American Swedish Institute? (Were you looking to work there in particular?)

It all happened so fast! My sister Rosie, who graduated from Bethel in 2010, told me about an opportunity at the American Swedish Institute (ASI) and said she thought I would fit well as their intern. I looked it up on Bethel’s online Career Services [now known as the Office of Career Development and Calling], and immediately felt excited about the possibility of spending my summer doing something I love: researching social history. Prior to this, I had no idea ASI even existed. It was really a stroke of luck – or more appropriately, God’s perfect timing – that led my sister to finding the job, led me to apply, and graciously gave me the position at the internship.

For those who haven’t been there before, describe the ASI. What’s your favorite collection or exhibition?

Annie at the ASI
Annie at the American Swedish Institute

The American Swedish Institute is in downtown Minneapolis off of 26th and Park Avenue. Its main attraction is a preserved, semi-furnished mansion that was owned by one of Minnesota’s wealthiest immigrants in the early 1900s. Swan Turnblad, an immigrant who came from humble beginnings as a farmer’s son in Sweden, rose to the top due to his resourceful personality and hard work ethic. He was responsible for many accomplishments, but one of his most impressive was saving a Swedish temperance newspaper from extinction and revamping it into a successful source of news for Swedish immigrants in the Twin Cities: the Svenska Amerikanska Posten. In 1929, twenty-one years after the mansion was finished being built, Turnblad donated it to what is now the American Swedish Institute in order that it would become a cultural center for Minneapolis’ Swedish community. ASI, in the spirit of its founder Turnblad, continues his Posten and sends out new editions of the newspaper to members of the museum.

Though I have not had time to tour every new exhibit in the museum, I know their current collections display many different aspects of Swedish culture. For example, the museum has art exhibits for Swedish hand knits, Scandinavian woodcarvings, traditional Nordic lace styles, and a collection of tapestries from Swedish artist Helena Hernmarck. One of my favorite collections of furniture found in the mansion is the kakelugnar, eleven Swedish tile stoves that are ornately decorated and distributed in different rooms throughout the house.

What kind of work did you have the chance to do as a museum intern? What was most exciting or enjoyable about it? What was challenging?

My job as the museum’s research intern was to debunk rumors that have developed over the years about the mansion and the Turnblad family that lived there. As with all history, it is important that we view stories and legends through a lens, knowing that myths may have developed into perceived facts over time through oral accounts. At the beginning of the summer, when I began my internship, I was given 20-25 questions or statements about the social history of ASI and was asked to determine answers that can be proven by evidence. These topics were either frequently asked by visitors to the museum or ideas that are speculated as being incorrect. Most of the questions have had multiple answers, but it is my job to find out which ones are most accurate. I think the most exciting part was being able to work with primary sources in the museum’s archives. They have boxes and shelves full of old photographs, news articles from the Minneapolis Journal and the Posten, census data about the Turnblad’s living arrangements, and so much more! It is exciting to be able to see and read firsthand accounts of the life of the family I am studying. The most challenging part is actually answering the questions I have been given. Because the Turnblad family did not document much of their life or their plans for the museum, it leaves a lot of room for speculation when discussing and researching them. However, with the help of longtime docents and members, as well as the research I have collected, I hope to bring to light some of the truth involving Turnblad myths and legends.

Do you see yourself doing similar work as a career? Has the internship experience influenced your thinking about work and education in the coming years?

I can definitely see myself doing historical research in a museum somewhere in my future. Though I plan on working toward a career in social studies education, this internship has shown me the value in a degree in history when working in a museum. Before I worked at ASI, I had hardly any concept of the amount of background planning, work, and research that goes into every exhibit and event at a museum. People are needed from all types of backgrounds in order to keep a museum functioning at its best, from environmental science majors who work with Eureka to help keep ASI green, to business and marketing professionals who monitor expenses and financing of the Posten and the building itself, to the history and art majors who can contribute research and their own academic expertise of the exhibits within the museum. Working at ASI or another museum in the future would be a great alternative to teaching!

What advice would you have for our majors who are interested in seeking internship experiences?

I think the most simple advice I could give would be to go for it! Internships are so entirely important for college students. However, I would also make sure that you research the internship opportunities that are available to you. While they always look good on resumes, it is important that you know whether it will be worth your time. Though I was apprehensive to apply for an internship that was unpaid, knowing that it would cut into the time I could spend working during the summer, it was definitely worth it since it has given me experience that I could not get anywhere else. So, when approaching various options for internships, try not to get caught up on whether you will be paid or not. Instead, look at the lasting benefits of getting a head start working in your field of choice, as well as networking among professionals who value your degree as a history major!

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