It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 9 months since I first started working at the Penn Museum. To be honest, I don’t know what originally prompted me to volunteer. I hadn’t been to the Penn Museum in over a year and as it was, my schedule was practically full between extracurricular activities and schoolwork. However, when I contacted the Museum about volunteering, they were extremely kind and accommodating and before I knew it, I was spending my sunday afternoons at the Penn Museum.
Although I took immense gratification out of my work in cartifacts, I felt as though I could be doing more in the Museum. After several months, I grew fatigued of presenting the same artifacts to visitors, and oftentimes just being ignored or not taken completely seriously on account of my age. I was disappointed that besides cartifacts, there wasn’t another opportunity for teens to expand their horizons within the Museum. I wanted to take a more active role within the Museum, and the Museum simply didn’t offer it.
I first met Thomas at a Big Brothers Big Sisters event that the Museum was hosting in march. I remember discussing with him the possibility for teens to have a greater role within the Museum. Thomas not only wholeheartedly agreed, but he also told me that he had already been working on an opportunity for teens to serve a summer internship. I really was ecstatic. But, it remained to be seen whether or not there actually would be a program off the ground for the upcoming summer.
When I received an email in early May inviting me to apply for an internship at the Museum, I was pleasantly surprised. I honestly didn’t think that the program would get off the ground for the upcoming summer. I wanted to ensure my acceptance, and so I applied without delay. I was already going on a dig, and I felt as though the internship at the Museum would be a perfect way to cap off my summer. A little less than a month later, I was accepted into the program.
I came back from my month of digging in Israel eager to see how my experiences in the field would relate to my work back home with the Museum. I had learned such a tremendous amount as a direct result being out in the field, and I can honestly say that I was worried that the internship wouldn’t have the same sort of meaningful impact on me that the dig had. Fortunately, I was wrong. My experience as a high school intern at the Penn Museum was honestly just as valuable to me as work in the field.
When I learned that I was going to be working in the UR digitization project, I was elated. One of my initial reservations about the internship had been that I wouldn’t be working on a project which tied in to my interests. This project was practically perfect. On my first day, I learned all about the project. I was amazed by the sheer scope of it. I found it incredible that the task of compiling an online catalogue of all of the materials and artifacts from Woolley’s 1922-1934 excavation of UR was not just a project undertaken by our museum, but also by the British Museum and the Iraq Museum. I learned that I was going to be in charge of tagging and transcribing the artifact note cards and photographs of father Legrain, an epigrapher from the Penn Museum who worked on the site of UR for several years. The project was an ongoing one and while I would not be able to see the end of the project, I still felt very content with the role I was playing. The amount of materials involved in the project was so great, that I realized any help they received was greatly appreciated.
One of the largest challenges for me going into my project was the fact that I really didn’t know very much about UR. Although the project didn’t directly require me to know much about the excavations, I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like doing something without knowing a great deal about it. This hurdle however was only a temporary one thanks to the help of Dr. William B. Hafford and Kyra Kaercher, the Project Managers at the Penn Museum. They answered all of my questions about the UR excavations and made sure that I became more familiar with not only the history of the UR excavation, but also with the entire near eastern region. In a very short amount of time, I learned so much as a direct result of their efforts.
In addition to the knowledge that I gained from my internship project at the Museum, I also feel as though I have gained several academic connections as well as friends. From the moment that I met the staff I was working at in the Museum I never felt as though I was in a condescending environment. I was never treated as being ‘just a teenager’. Everybody I met wanted to help me grow both intellectually as well as personally. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to work in close proximity to both Dr. William B. Hafford and Kyra Kaercher. They were always warm and welcoming towards me and some of my favorite times of the entire internship were when I had the opportunity to simply sit down and talk about both the projects as well as their careers. I also had the opportunity to meet numerous people from the education department, conservation, archives, as well as several graduate students who I was lucky enough to be given a q & a session with. I came into the experience worried that I wouldn’t be able to meet people because after all, I was just a high school intern. Instead, I met so many great people and I’m quite thankful both to the Museum and to the internship program for these opportunities.
Before I started my internship, I felt like I wasn’t truly a part of the museum. Cartifacts put me in the galleries, but I still felt fairly menial. My only view of the Museum was from one side of the glass. I felt like little more than a visitor. This opportunity allowed me to see what the Penn Museum really was, a top notch research institution of archaeology which also displayed their findings. I hadn’t realized before how prominent a role that the penn museum had had in the past. I realized that this museum really was the gold standard for academic archaeology in america. My oppurtunity on this internship gave me greater insight into what goes into research and the museum aspect of archaeology. Although I went on a dig earlier in the summer, I feel as though the Museum helped me to complete my view of archaeology. Most archaeology doesn’t take place in the field, but in museums where objects are stored and studied. I had an opportunity to be a part of that process and I had a chance to finally be on the other side of the glass.