2016 PFIG Recipient Katherine Hitchcock
Journal Entry #1
Last week, I seemed to have two "first days" starting off my summer internship at the U.S. Department of State. I began with a general orientation with 60 other interns joining the State Department for the summer. Even though there were so many of us starting at the first orientation date, we would all separate the next day into our individual offices for the rest of the summer. Trying to navigate the large and confusing layout of the Harry S. Truman building, where the primary State Department offices are located, gave me an idea of just how large the Department is. The next day I started at my specific office, the U.S. Diplomacy Center in the Bureau of Public Affairs. The U.S. Diplomacy Center is building a new museum and education center that will be located outside of the Harry S. Truman building. The goal of the U.S. Diplomacy Center is to communicate the story of American diplomacy, educate the public on what diplomacy is and why it matters, and to recognize the past and current contributions of American diplomats.
The first few days of my internship I learned how the State Department is set up and how it functions. This background information is important in order to understand how the State Department communicates its role to the American public. I am gradually learning the bureaucratic language and add to a running list every acronym for the various offices and bureaus I learn along the way. I am also learning about the hierarchical set-up of the State Department and where my office fits into the Bureau of Public Affairs. There are several different career tracks within the Department, and I look forward to learning more about the various job opportunities available.
During my first week, I worked on records management for my office’s various development files. The museum is a public-private partnership that has an active development program to build support for this new museum. Going through these files and flipping through concept design plans and design narratives was a great way to familiarize myself with the project’s history and the different iterations it has gone through over the years. I also learned a lot about other projects going on in the office during my first week, such as the office’s educational programming. The U.S. Diplomacy center’s most popular education materials are their diplomatic simulations. These simulations are created in-house with the education team reaching out to several subject matter experts for guidance and input. There are eight different simulations: Crisis in Darfur: Negotiating a Solution; Crisis in Our Oceans: Negotiating a Solution to Protect our Food; International HIV/AIDS Crisis: Global Health and Development; International Refugee Crisis: Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance; Freshwater Crisis: Climate Change, Natural Resources and Development; International Nuclear Crisis: International Law and National Sovereignty; and The Suez Canal Crisis: National Sovereignty and International Access to Waterways. I was able to observe a group of university students from Hong Kong participate enthusiastically in the Freshwater crisis simulation, and witnessed how these simulations provide a great way for students to learn more about diplomacy by negotiating and working through these staged situations.
One of the bigger projects I will be working on this summer is helping out with the office’s collections work and learning how to use Proficio, the collections database system, used to catalog the various museum accessions. The U.S. Diplomacy Center’s collection has over 6,400 artifacts related to diplomacy in its collection, and has added 38 different new accessions to their collection in the last year alone! Some of the more recent additions to the collection include objects from the recent reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana. I’m looking forward to learning more about the cataloging process and collections after the first week of my internship!
Journal Entry #2
I cannot believe my internship is almost over! One of the most exciting events during my internship so far was when the U.S. Diplomacy Center hosted a diplomatic simulation for World Refugee Day on June 20th. As I mentioned in my last blog post, the U.S. Diplomacy Center conducts diplomatic simulations as a part of their education materials and programming. For World Refugee Day, the office hosted students from George Mason University and Montgomery College to participate in the International Refugee Crisis: Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance simulation. In addition to assisting my organization in running the simulations, I also had the opportunity to join the other participating students in the simulation and get an idea of how diplomats work toward finding a solution and common ground during negotiations. Among the student participants were refugees from Haiti and Ethiopia.
While we were discussing possible solutions to the fictitious refugee crisis during the simulation, Secretary of State John Kerry stopped by for a surprise visit and engaged in the negotiations. The Secretary also answered questions from the students. It was amazing to hear him talk about his views on the work of diplomacy and how he prepares for difficult negotiations himself. He referenced Syria as an example of an ongoing difficult negotiation he is engaged in and stated that there is always a solution in these negotiations- it is just a matter of finding common ground among the parties by aligning interests and values. I am so glad I was able to be a part of this event in honor of World Refugee Day, and have the incredible opportunity to hear the Secretary speak about this important issue.
Since my last blog post, I have continued to work on collections work for the U.S. Diplomacy Center. Through my work in cataloging various accessions, I get to have hands-on experience with the artifacts and learn more about the work of diplomats and the State Department. A very interesting question I have encountered while working on collections is what marks an item as an artifact of diplomacy. Diplomacy often takes place through formal discussions and activities that forge personal cultural ties with countries around the world. This work often does not have readily available objects associated with them. As a result, the museum collects a wide variety of artifacts to tell the story of diplomacy. Diplomatic artifacts can range from high-level briefing documents to historic passports and photographs of Foreign Service Officers. Some of the most unique artifacts in the U.S. Diplomacy Center’s collection are the diverse diplomatic gifts presented to past Secretaries of State.
Some of the items I am currently cataloging are from recent events and work taking place in newspaper headlines all around the world. I find this real-time collecting fascinating because I know these items will have an important story to tell in the future about American diplomacy. Who knows how these events will be perceived differently in the future? An example of this real-time collecting is the Diplomacy Center’s recent accession of artifacts from the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba last summer. These artifacts will become excellent tools for teaching current and future students of the historic reestablishment of diplomatic ties with Cuba after 54 years of frozen relations. Because the U.S. Diplomacy Center is the only museum dedicated to telling the story of the work of diplomacy, there is no other model to follow when it comes to collecting practice. As a result, this makes the Diplomacy Center’s collection truly unique and an interesting story to follow.
Journal Entry #3
I cannot believe my internship is drawing to a close and I am finishing up my last week. The past ten weeks have really flown by! During my last few weeks I mostly worked on collections in the office. I continued cataloging many of the artifacts coming into the museum collection- entering them into Proficio, taking photographs of them for the records, and then creating a separate paper copy to document all of this. I continue to find new and interesting objects that are part of the collection from working directly with the artifacts and cataloging. I have also taken several trips to the annex where all of the U.S. Diplomacy Center’s artifacts are stored, and I have learned a little about museum storage and conservation best practices from these trips. While I have been working here, the U.S. Diplomacy Center has hit a major milestone in the last few weeks- there are now 7,000 objects in the museum’s collection!
In addition, I have also completed research projects for the office and a project changing one of the display cases in the Harry S. Truman building’s exhibit hall. Until the museum is open, the U.S. Diplomacy Center will continue to exhibit items from the collection in the main State Department building’s exhibit hall for employees and visitors. I recently started a project that I will finish during this last week to install a new set of artifacts in one of the display cases. We determined that it would be best to use this display case project to commemorate the one year anniversary of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba reopening in July and August, 2015. To start off this project, I first went through the Proficio catalog database looking through the recent acquisitions of objects from Cuba and selecting objects I thought would be most interesting. The collection had many paper objects in these accessions, so I sought to create a combination between 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional objects that would make the display interesting and engaging for the viewer. After selecting the objects, I drafted the text for the labels to give background information on the event itself and the specific objects.
This will be the last project I work on during my internship, and as I reflect back on this summer the ten weeks I spent here seems extremely short. I have had the opportunity to learn so much at the U.S. Diplomacy Center, about both working in a museum setting and at the State Department. I have learned more hands-on practical skills, such as cataloging in museum collections, and gained valuable information and advice on career paths from the people in my office. The U.S. Diplomacy Center’s goal of communicating what diplomacy is and why it is important has sparked my interest in perhaps pursuing a career in foreign affairs, which is something I was not aware I had before this internship.
At the beginning of my last week, I had the opportunity to meet the Assistant Secretary for the Public Affairs Bureau in a discussion event along with the other interns in my bureau. One intern asked what advice he would have for graduating college students, and his response stuck with me in particular as I think about what I will be doing this time next year. He advised us to really graduate next year, leaving the past behind to gain new experiences by letting life happen to you. One thing I have learned career wise this summer is that often unexpected opportunities arise to bring people to a career field they may not have initially anticipated. With the experiences I have had this summer in mind, I feel prepared to return to UVA this year and continue pursuing my interests in foreign affairs and museum work. I loved working at my internship this summer, and I am so thankful for the Parents Committee Fund Grant that allowed me to take this internship, and to the U.S. Diplomacy Center for hosting me. It has truly been a fantastic experience that I was lucky to have!