Today we revive our occasional series of interviews with Bethel History majors who have interned with local organizations. Last fall Lauren Gannon ’17 helped the Minnesota Historical Society prepare for this year’s World War I centenary. Lauren was part of the 2015 edition of our WWI travel course with Prof. Gehrz, who will be taking a group of 25 Bethel students to the Minnesota History Center this Saturday for the grand opening of the new “WW1 America” exhibit.
Only about half of our students actually come to Bethel declaring a History major, but you made that change a little later than most. Can you tell us about your decision to double-major in Media Production and History?
I became a History major by happy accident. I came to Bethel as a Media Communication major, hoping to minor in history, and other subjects if I had room. I didn’t necessarily intentionally take History courses at first; I just took classes I was interested in, and they just happened to be history courses. I have always liked history, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that these classes interested me, but I was surprised spring of my junior year, when I realized that I only needed three more to have a History major. I was ecstatic when I discovered this because I felt that I had made great relationships with professors and students in the History Department, and it felt nice to belong there. I also like the challenge of mixing my two majors in different projects, like making films on a historic topic or adding a film aspect to my history projects and research.
How did you become an intern with the Minnesota Historical Society? Any advice for students applying for that kind of program?
To incorporate both my Media Production and History skills, I thought the museum environment would be ideal. I could incorporate visual storytelling with my love for learning and studying history. I had been encouraged by my parents, mentors, and friends to look at the Minnesota History Center since they have a great and organized internship program. Their positions are posted online and it is a relatively easy application process, albeit incredibly competitive. I applied in the summer of 2016 for about five position for the fall and was thrilled to be offered one of them: WWI Daybook Research Assistant!
I think what set me apart was my previous experience. I had studied WWI abroad with the History Department in 2015, and the memoir I wrote for the trip was published here at AC 2nd, so I had some experience writing and studying the topic. I provided a link to my memoir and described the trip in my resume and cover letter for the application, and my supervisor asked me about it in the interview.
So my advice for students applying for something like this is to not be afraid to show and elaborate on your personal interest and give examples of your work. This will set you apart from other applicants who are just simply “interested.”
What kind of work did you do for MNHS? What was most exciting or enjoyable about it? What was challenging?
As a WWI Daybook Research Assistant, I digitized historical documents and artifacts, and wrote short, descriptive blogposts for the WWI Daybook blog, commemorating the centennial of the event, that will publish every day that United States was in the war. I really loved handling the documents and getting to explore the collections of the MNHS. I especially enjoyed reading personal letters and accounts, learning the stories of these individuals from all over Minnesota and how they were impacted by the war.
Like all internships, there is an element of monotony. Finding and scanning a document, then writing a short blogpost, and repeating this day in and day out did get a little old sometimes. However, every time I felt my work getting redundant, I would remember that I am handling documents that were written by people who lived unique lives 100 years ago, and I would get excited again. If you are someone who loves that personal part of history, you know what I am talking about.
What did you take away from your experience as an intern?
I learned a lot about the museum as an institution and place of employment. If not the biggest, Minnesota Historical Society is one of the biggest organizations of its kind in the United States. People in Minnesota love their history. However, some Minnesotans’ stories are not often told by the museum. Therefore, I was also challenged to advocate for and tell the story of the people and communities that may not be represented by the museum, as well as challenged to make relationships with and gain the trust of communities that had been hurt by the museum. I am also encouraged by the effort that MNHS is putting towards doing these exact things.
Do I think I will work in the museum field one day? Perhaps. It was definitely worth exploring.
For another student’s reflection on a different kind of MNHS internship, click here.