Focusing on the Past for a Bright Future

September 16 2016
Category: Academics

This week’s #SoaringToSuccess features Hannah Gaston ’18.  The History and Sociology & Anthropology double major, spent her summer immersed in the past as she completed her internship with the Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmer's Museum.

Zac Park

Hannah shares with us her experiences:

I spent my summer in Cooperstown, NY. The village may be known for the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, but I spent no time at Doubleday Field.  My days were spent working with the headquarters of the New York State Historical Association at the Fenimore Art Museum Research Library and The Farmers’ Museum. Throughout the summer, I worked on a variety of projects with the Curator of Photography, the Director of Collections, the Director of Education, and the library staff including the Special Collections Librarian.

For my main project with the Research Library, I was given the task of creating an exhibit for the library display case.  Little did I know when I arrived that the Research Library has a large collection of the original letters between Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and their seconds: Nathaniel Pendleton and William P. Van Ness.  These letters discuss the infamous duel in Weehawken, NJ between the former Secretary of the Treasury and the Vice-President.  Working with transcriptions and the actual letters, I conducted research concerning the build up to the duel and created a display plan for the exhibit case.  This display plan outlined the timeline of the major events that led to the duel.

Just as I was ready to install this exhibit, the Director of Collections at the Fenimore Art Museum asked me if they could use my display plan to create a professional exhibit in the Art Museum.  Within a week, my plan and research had been worked into a professional   exhibit in the main museum.  The exhibit, Hamilton’s Final Act, is on display through December.

Following the professional Hamilton-Burr exhibit, I was tasked with creating a “teaser      exhibit” in the Library case discussing a different aspect of the Hamilton-Burr duel.  With further research and planning, I created a second display plan focusing on Aaron Burr.  This exhibit, titled Aaron Burr’s Empathy, has two letters on display that indicate that he may have regretted killing Alexander Hamilton.  While I may not be able to see Hamilton on Broadway, I had the chance to read (and hold) the actual letters between the two men, and as a history major, I think that experience is even more amazing than the musical! 

On top if my internship at the Research Library, I also worked in The Farmer’s Museum as a Museum Interpreter.  The Farmer’s Museum is a living history museum set in 1845.  Each day, I got to dress up in period historical clothing and “teach” in a circa 1810 one-roomed school house.  This work, compared to the Research Library, showed me a completely different side of the work that goes on in a museum.  Museum interpretation is an important part of educating visitors.  At the schoolhouse, I had one-on-one interaction with people from around the world who were curious to learn about life in a typical farming community in the 1840s.

Not only did I meet a group of wonderfully dedicated and intelligent historians, but as a rising senior interested in pursuing a career in Museum Studies, these opportunities have been priceless.  I did research with primary documents, learned how to operate museum data bases, and worked in climate controlled settings.  Furthermore, I gained first-hand experience in multiple aspects of museum operation including archives, curation, and education.  While Cooperstown may have been focused on the new inductees into the Hall of Fame, I admit I paid little attention, for I was focused in the past.