It was mid-February in India and the morning cool had just started to wane off in favor of the afternoon heat. Seated at the dining table, I patiently waited for my email to refresh by counting my mosquito bites and taking sips of my chai. I was mid count when an email from my professor caught my eye. It had “post-grad,” “opportunity,” “paid,” “anthropology” in it; the sweetest words that any soon-to-be graduate of anthropology could ever hope to see. After learning more about the American Anthropological Association and past members like the Franz Boas and the Margaret Mead, I figured it would be kind of taboo for me to not take a shot at this. It would be a difficult endeavor given that I was halfway across the world and in the midst of my thesis research, but if I learned anything in college it’s how to balance multiple projects at once—even when your ankles are being bitten by red weaver ants.
I am student of cultural anthropology and the humanities. This means that for four years, most of my academic courses studied the human experience through multiple levels: biological, cultural, philosophical, linguistics, and religion. A major part of my studies was learning how these experiences are communicated to an audience outside the self like through the medium of art. More specifically, art spanning from ancient Greece to the Renaissance. Therefore, deciding to apply for a position at the National Museum of African Art would be step outside of my familiar bounds. Of course African art, like all art, communicates a message, a commentary, or an opinion on a subject. The difficulty of switching from classical art to African is being unaware of how these themes and ideas will take form. I anticipated that my first month would be spent catching up on the history of African art, and given the sheer number of countries in Africa, a month would not be enough time.
So far, I have spent my first couple of weeks at the National Museum of African Art with my mouth open in awe. From learning what goes on behind the scenes of a museum to watching live masquerade performances from local groups, work seems less like work and more like fun. As a curatorial intern I am working on two projects: creating a visual database for an upcoming exhibition, and helping a book project about Ethiopia get on its feet. My days are spent between searching our own archives and collections at other museums, searching the library for theories on African art, and looking through old Nikon slides of images that will eventually accompany a short publication. It’s the perfect place for someone who loves to learn new things and gaze at art ranging from millions of years ago to sculptures made last year. Although part of me yearns to be back in the field interacting with live humans, it is such a joy to work in an institution like the Smithsonian.
Perk of the week: Bypassing the line and going into the National Museum of African American History and Culture with my intern pass.
The field site aspect of my AAA internship is with the Naval History and Heritage Command, Underwater Archaeology Branch. The location is remarkably humbling, as I am in a military base and see the daily workings of our servicemen and women, and the contributions civilians make to have the base secure and running smoothly. It has been a wonderful opportunity to be a part of their team and participate in the variety of projects they work on. Since my arrival, they have been incredibly welcoming and accommodating. I began my internship by learning about the broad scope of material they cover, and the laws that have been enacted to enforce the protection of naval artifacts.
My main mission for the duration of the internship is to create interactive outreach material on US Navy submarines lost during World War II. This coincides with their 75th anniversary commemoration, honoring Navy veterans’ sacrifices and recognizing how their actions shaped the war. So far, the project has included researching information in their archives, using ArcGIS to detail the findings, and creating story maps using Esri software to present the information. I have also assisted in gathering records of the World War I era armored cruiser, USS San Diego. This was an unforgettable experience, as I was handling original Navy letters, photos, and ship plans dating back to 1900.
I appreciate that while we have solo responsibilities and deadlines, there is also a great deal of collaboration between interns from other branches of the NHHC. We have assisted their lab conservator in analyzing a Revolutionary War era cannon and attempting to establish its origin. In an effort to ascertain whether it ties to a ship belonging to the Continental Navy, we have compared it to other artifacts in their Navy museum and collections. On another ongoing project, interns are assisting the documentation, and subsequent digital reconstruction using photogrammetry, of a recovered ship from the 18th century.
I am excited to see the work come together and distributed for the public’s education. These incredible experiences have taken shape in a short time, so I look forward to all the opportunities I will be a part of in the upcoming weeks.
Stay tuned for more updates from Karina and Palmyra!
The AAA Internship Program is funded through generous contributions from our members. To make a donation and support the future of this program visit our website.