2010 PFIG Recipient Carolyn Browder
College of Arts & Sciences
2012 Graduation Year
Internship: Plimoth Plantation
Notes on the first week
Today I completed my third day of work at Plimoth Plantation (yes, this is the correct spelling), and I have already seen and done so much! First of all, let me give you a little background information regarding the museum. Plimoth Plantation is a bicultural museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It is composed of three sites, the adjacent Wampanoag Homesite and 1627 Pilgrim Village as well as the Mayflower II. Although the English Village is filled with first-person interpreters who act, speak, and dress as though in the 17th century as do the re-enactors on the replica of the original Mayflower, the individuals on site at the Wampanoag Homesite from 9-5 are true Native Americans who carry on the traditions of their ancestors by dressing in traditional garb and performing tasks that 17th century Wampanoag peoples would have performed in their daily lives. They speak in modern language and are not portraying characters, but the English villagers all portray the lives of real individuals who inhabited Plimoth Colony. Not only is the museum a museum of living history, both colonial and contemporary, it is a thriving center for performing and visual arts, agricultural and livestock cultivation, and education. Although all of these areas have interns, I personally am interning inside the Education Department.
When I first arrived to the museum, I was so impressed with the beautiful facilities. With beautiful vistas of Cape Cod Bay and the Eel River all around, it is lush and scenic. The museum's buildings are nestled into the woods, and on the grounds are open fields where rare breeds livestock are raised as well as heirloom herbs and other 17th century plants local to the area. After being warmly greeted by my department with a homemade breakfast and great conversation, the other two interns and I were taken around the grounds. We visited the English village, where we were greeted by costumed interpreters speaking in the dialect of the period who began to chat with us about the town gossip and to tell us about their lives. The village is made up of a number of small homes of varying size based upon rank. There is a fort that is lined with canons and also serves as a church. There are chickens running amuck, and occasionally a goat or cow wanders into the dirt road. Inside the homes, some of which are actually being constructed in from of visitors by the interpreters, are usually individuals cooking authentic meals over fires. All the relationships between the characters are established based on real primary sources, and they go through incredibly rigorous training that continues throughout their employment. After visiting the pilgrims, we passed through the fence and walked down a wooded path through the forest and into the Wampanoag site. This is particularly amazing because no one on the site is an actor or interpreter. They are all of Native American heritage, either of the local Wampanoag Nation or others such as the Cherokee, Mohawk, or Tuscarora. The homesite is truly a family operation. It is a fully functional place where canoes, or mishoons, are built, food is grown, skins and furs are made, and daily life is carried out. Many of these Natives have spent their whole lives coming to the plantation to educate guests about not only the history of their ancestors, but also of Native American culture in modern times. Most have told me that they began coming as young children, even infants, with their parents and still continue to share their historical and important legacy. The third site, the replica of the ship which the original English settlers arrived on, is not accessible at the museum. Instead, it is docked next to the Pilgrim Hall Museum in a harbor in downtown Plymouth.
The grounds tour was amazing, but not nearly complete. Later that day and since then we have seen the interactive facilities used for classrooms, the craft house, the wardrobe house, the barns, and the more traditional style museum in the main building. On the second day I got to really get my feet wet in the world of museum educational programming. Plimoth Plantation is a popular site for field trips, so they have constructed separate, smaller versions of the village and homesite which are fenced in and separate in order to host private activities for scheduled groups. We watched as two directors of the education program led children in colonial games, taught them to write with quill and ink, and allowed them to investigate and work in an authentic colonial home. In fact, these same homes used on the field trip enhancement site were featured in the PBS special, Colony House. Afterward, we were asked to contribute our opinions and idea about the program, and our supervisors, as always, were eager and excited for suggestions and ideas. On the third day, we traveled to a suburb of Boston where we observed one of these same women as she visited a 3rd grade class. School teachers are able to schedule classroom presentations with education employees at the museum. Upon scheduling they are given a packet of course materials and classroom activities to prepare the children for the visit. Our supervisor dressed in traditional clothing and spoke in traditional dialect and gave the children a lesson on colonial life. It was wonderful! The children were so excited, and I was able to see hands on application of techniques that work in the classroom. Also, after we had finished observing the class, were were advised by our supervisor to take a day trip to historic Lexington and Concord to visit sites of the Revolutionary War. Not only was this a great way to bond with my fellow interns, but I got to see some amazing sites while on the clock!
As someone who is determined to find a career working in historical museums, this has already offered me a wealth of information. I am able to observe the ins and outs of daily operation of a museum. The employees are wonderful hosts to the interns. They are willing to tell us what works as well as what doesn't. They are eager for us to create our own programs and contribute to the museum. We are offered freedom to be creative and to make the experience what we want it to be. Though speaking with interns in other departments I can see the successes and struggles of curation or agricultural preservation. This is already an invaluable resource for me by offering insight into what I hope will be my future career and offering me direction as I plan my future career path. Over the next few days our supervisors will be taking us on road trips to other museums in Massachusetts and around it as well as assigning us further responsibilities and divulging the mechanisms behind a successful, ever-growing museum.
Well, I am exactly one month into my internship today, and I cannot believe how much I have done in the past 30 days! When I came to Plimoth Plantation's Education Department, I thought I would be working in a quiet office making lesson plans for classroom visits and teacher training. To my surprise and delight I have done so much more. I have had the opportunity to dive right in and participate in anything and everything I can. While I haven't yet been asked to do any mundane office work or menial tasks, I have been asked to plan an event to celebrate our artist in residence, to write a culturally-accurate play about the first Thanksgiving, to teach a workshop on Shakespeare, and to become "goat certified". I even designed a 17th-century brewing class that I am calling "Pint with a Pilgrim" which I am currently researching and organizing. From running lines with the actors who are in residence this summer to performing 17th-century-style Shakespearean performances to holding one-day-old goat kids to watching Native American drumming competitions, I am doing and seeing so much more than I imagined I would.
This week we have just begun to run our summer adventure programs. Thus, I am taking all the skills and knowledge I have accrued in the past month and turning them into fun and interactive lesson plans for a day program for ages 8-12. After spending every day for a month taking in the sights and sounds of Plimoth Plantation, I started to forget what a unique experience the museum provides. Now that I already feel so at home there, I find myself losing sight of the incredible sense of surprise which overcomes guests when they arrive at a sign which reads "Welcome to the 17th Century". Fortunately, the arrival of our young participants allows me to feel the excitement of such a unique museum all over again through their eyes.
Since my supervisors both inside and outside of the Education Department are taking such an active interest in the interns at the museum, I am being offered so many opportunities to explore the work of other departments while I am there. This has made my internship a wonderful learning experience in terms of my future career search. I have learned that there is nothing better than coming to work every day to a completely different schedule. My love for working with children has been reaffirmed. I love being in a classroom setting. Still, I am also really enjoying working with the adults who enter the museum, many of whom have spent their entire lives believing that Native Americans are accurately represented by the mascot of the Atlanta Braves or by any movie starring John Wayne. All of my previous job experience has been exclusively educating children. It is a pleasant surprise to learn that it is still possible to educate adults and to debunk myths with which they have been familiar since childhood. Even though my love for the field of museum education and education in general has been so strongly affirmed, my chance to work on event planning and museum marketing and development is really unearthing talents which I have never had a chance to exercise. In the past 30 days I have certainly received a great deal of absolutely invaluable information and training that I know with be essential in my future career.
I have arrived back in Virginia after a busy summer in Massachusetts, and it is great to be back in Charlottesville. I won't deny that I was glad to be done with my 40 hours per week. However, as I said my goodbyes to all the wonderful people who made me feel so at home at Plimoth Plantation I was overwhelmed with gratefulness for all the experiences they offered me. In my time there I worked with adults, kids, and even goat kids. I learned that the part of a museum that visitors experience is only a tiny scratch on the surface. Behind the scenes are dozens, even hundreds, of individuals who dedicate their careers to constantly discovering new information and creating ways to deliver it to the public. The most exciting and eye opening discovery I made was that within the realm of museum studies it is possible to make a career out of very specific skills. At Plimoth there are carpenters, potters, blacksmiths, farmers, gardeners, and actors who are all able to make their hobbies into careers. Not only that, but they have a rare opportunity to impart their passions on others. In terms of my own career goals, they have changed in my time at Plimoth. Where I once saw myself as a curator or historian performing research and managing collections, I now know that in that capacity I would miss the interaction with the public that I enjoy so much. During my internship I was able to organize several programs. For children I taught a Shakespeare workshop as an offshoot of summer camp. For adults I created Pint with a Pilgrim, a 17th century brewing demonstration and tasting. I was able to try event planning and design a cocktail party for the museum's artist in residence. While creating and organizing these programs I found that planning and marketing events is where my passion lies. I am so grateful for the opportunities available to me during my internship. Because the museum staff gave me freedom to explore all of my interests and use my creativity, I now have insight into what I want to achieve in my future career.