Jessica Brabble is pursuing an MA in History with a certificate in Public History. She graduated from North Carolina Wesleyan College, where she majored in history, sociology, and psychology. Her research interests include late 19th- and 20th-Century U.S. cultural and history. In particular, she is interested in studying the role of better baby contests in North Carolina’s eugenics movement. This summer, she interned with Historic Bethabara Park in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
1. Explain why you said “yes” to this particular internship. Why did this particular opportunity make sense for you in light of your research interests, career goals, the skills you already have, and even your personality? You can use this as a chance to introduce yourself.
I did my internship this summer with Historic Bethabara Park in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Bethabara was the first Moravian settlement in North Carolina in the 18th century. The park seeks to tell the history of these Moravians through restored buildings—like the original 1788 Gemeinhaus church—and exhibits. Since the Moravians were stewards of the environment, the park also features some pretty great nature trails and gardens.
Personally, I’m interested in researching late 19th and early 20th century popular culture, entertainment, disability, and race. For my thesis, I’m studying the better babies movement in North Carolina and how it helped to spread eugenic rhetoric across the state. Obviously, this is pretty different than the time period and subjects studied at Bethabara, but it ended up being a great fit for me.
Working at Historic Bethabara gave me the opportunity to learn new skills that I hope will come in handy later in my career. While there, I focused on two main projects. First, I helped make their school tours more accessible to the visually impaired, hearing impaired, and those on the autism spectrum. I created several different packs for these groups with things like touchable objects, flash cards, and “social stories” to review step-by-step exactly what will happen on tours. Accessibility is becoming increasingly important to museums and historic sites, so learning how to make already existing tours more accessible to a wider audience was very helpful. It also allowed me to utilize skills that I learned in undergrad as a psychology major.
The second project I focused on was creating virtual field trips for Bethabara. Because of COVID-19, Bethabara has been closed to the public for most of the summer. Rather then letting this stop operations, they instead adapted and began creating online content for their audience. Seeing firsthand how a historic site has been able to adapt to something as unprecedented as a pandemic has been eye-opening, and ultimately creating these virtual field trips has allowed the site to reach people who otherwise might not have known about it or been able to visit.
3. What’s it like adjusting to a new workplace? What is it like interacting with the public, or how is it different if you interacted with the public regularly before? What are some unspoken rules or etiquettes that are good to know? (I’m using this one also to talk about what I had to learn/how I adapted)
Fortunately, working with the staff at Bethabara was a breeze. Historic Bethabara’s administrative staff is made up entirely of women; this gave me the wonderful opportunity to learn from these women about how they got their positions and how they have navigated the public history world. Samantha Smith and Diana Overbey–who oversaw my internship–were so fun and easy to work with, and we got along great.
Although adjusting to the staff was easy, I did have to do quite a bit of research about 18th century North Carolina and the Moravian community in order to create content for Bethabara. Luckily, the Moravians kept very thorough records of everything they did. These records are available in four very long volumes, and I referenced them frequently, especially when working on the virtual field trip videos. Samantha sent me a copy of A Separate Canaan: The Making of an Afro-Moravian World in North Carolina, 1763-1840, which is a great book for better understanding the complicated history of slavery in the Moravian community. Finally, Diana sent me their incredible tour guide handbook, which ended up being a great help when planning for virtual field trip videos. I interacted with the public mostly through these videos, which is quite different than what I pictured for the summer. Bethabara has a great audience on their social media sites, so seeing the positive feedback on the videos I made was encouraging.
4. What experiences or advice can you share about keeping up good work or adjusting when it gets discouraging and hard?
It’s cliché, but communication is key. Your supervisors—both at your internship site and at VT—are there to make sure you get the most out of your internship experience. It can be hard to admit when you need help, especially when you’re trying to make a good impression, but it’s always better to ask questions than to end up frustrated with your internship. You should also share your successes with others. When you accomplish something at your internship and feel proud of it, post it on social media or shoot an email to one of your favorite professors. There are always going to be people in your corner that want to celebrate you, and it feels good to have recognition for what you’ve done!