Pennsylvania Historic & Museum Commission: State Archives Internship

February 2012-May2012

Supervisor - Digital Archivist Kurt Bell

Job Description:

 An intern at the Pennsylvania State Archives will learn and assist with various types of archival work as described below, and by doing so, will gain an understanding of professional archival principles and standards, and of how to properly utilize them in the day to day operation of a large government archives.  Specific collections of records to be dealt with will be jointly agreed upon by the intern and the supervisor according to institutional needs and the intern’s areas of historical interest.  The intern will be in constant proximity to both the supervisor and other staff as projects progress, so there will be plenty of interaction, discussion and feedback on a daily basis, both about the assigned projects and more general topics.  Over the course of the internship, the intern will gain an understanding both broad and specific of this field of applied history.  By the end of the internship, the Archives hopes interns will complete the following objectives: basic processing of archival collections, conservation and repair of damaged documents, and other various archival duties.

Internships can involve the acquisition, arrangement, description, and preservation of historical government records and private manuscript collections; the creation of web-based finding aids and user guides on particular subjects; records management, including the development of retention and disposition schedules and records appraisal; research; and education and reference services.

 Learning Objectives:

Objective #1: to learn how archival material is organized and catalogued electronically and physically

Resources/Activities –

·         observe mentor, Kurt Bell, filing and retrieving materials

·         training in how archival material is organized through one-on-one explanation of system used and reading of instructional material

Evaluation/Verification –

·         demonstrate the ability to retrieve archival material without assistance by recording the number of items retrieved demonstrate the ability to explain storage system in its physical and digital formats by writing out, without aid, an explanation I would give.

Objective #2: to understand the various tasks required of a digital archivist

Resources/Activities –

·         establish relationship with digital archivist who can explain various duties

·         read course material provided on what digital archiving entails

Evaluation/Verification –

·         reflect on what observe and learn about what a digital archivist does through a weekly recording of what I observe and learn

Objective #3: to learn the process involved in preserving historical documents

Resources/Activities –

·         training in the cleaning process of historic documents

·         read resources provided by preservation specialist on document preservation

Evaluation/Verification –

·         demonstrate the ability to clean documents without aide by reporting each week what cleaning takes place

Objective #4: to understand how archive documents are made available digitally to the public for research

Resources/Activities –

·         work with digital archivist to learn how records are put on the online database

·         catalogue information from archival material onto a database

Evaluation/Verification –

·         show spreadsheet made for collection that being put into a database in conjunction with a reflection on the process and what was learned

 Executive Summary:


Over the course of a 12-week period during the spring of 2012, I had the opportunity of completing an internship with the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg.  As a branch to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Archives collects and maintains permanently-valuable records of the Commonwealth and papers of private citizens and organizations relevant to Pennsylvania history.  Additionally, the Archives seeks to make these records available to the public for research and scholarship.  Employees working at the Archives are responsible for a wide variety of tasks from digital preservation to specializations in research.

Under the tutelage of Digital Archivist Kurt Bell, I developed four learning objectives to be completed by the end of the internship which were to expose me to different aspects of archival work.  In my first objective, I sought to learn how archival material is organized and catalogued both electronically and physically.  Secondly, I desired to understand the various tasks required of a digital archivist.  Thirdly, I choose to learn the process involved in preserving historical documents.  Finally, I aimed to understand how archive documents are made available digitally to the public for research.  Using a variety of resources and activities, I accomplished each objective to the satisfaction of my supervisor.


To complete my objectives, I was given multiple projects to first learn and then do myself.  For my first project I was introduced to the process of document cataloguing, which was part of a larger on-going mission to catalogue railroad material.  Given several boxes of engineer drawings from the Baldwin Locomotive Works Railroad Company dating from the 1880s to 1950s, my job was to enter into a spreadsheet all relevant numerical data a researcher might look for in trying to locate a drawing they might need.  This involved first learning what information to look for, then sorting each box in alphabetical order by drawing title, and finally entering the data into the spreadsheet.  As micro-level cataloguing work, this project took patience and persistence.

Once a week, I worked under another archivist, Steve Noel, in preserving historic documents.  The current document project involved cleaning Civil War Muster-Out Rolls but also learning how these documents are preserved long-term.  During these days, I became a paper conservationist, carefully taking off all the dirt and grime from these documents that I could.  This meticulous work helped bring these documents as close as possible back to their original condition.

Working with Digital Archivist Sharon Nelson, I learned how information about material possessed by the archives becomes known to the public.  Using Microsoft Access and Dreamweaver programs, I transferred descriptions and other information about archive material to the Access database for electronic storage, in addition to making this information available on the Archives website.  For this project, I was given several record groups, or collections of government records, to input into both systems.  Also, for this project, I worked with Kurt Bell in creating a Series Description, a summary of an artifacts contents and components, for a railroad real estate atlas in the archives collection which appears on the Archives website.


Going into this internship, I hoped to learn as much as I could about what being an archivist involves.  For me this meant working with paper documents, possibly cataloguing them, and organizing them.  Through the shadowing of my supervisor, I was able to observe the many tasks of an archivist including cataloguing, collections processing, document conservation, and creating digital/electronic storage.  After observing the archivists around me at work, I have a new understanding of what archival work really entails.  This internship taught me how to learn about unfamiliar and new subject, through reading and observation.  During my internship, I was given multiple sources from which to piece together the essence of archival processes, being able to recognize and comprehend new jargon.  These sources gave me an awareness of how specialized information can be for a particular field/career or place.  I realize now that for any place I work in, I will need to educate myself in its terminology and procedures in order to be an effective asset to the organization.

On a skill level, this internship has given me greater familiarity and ease with various digital media devices.  Working with the Digital Archives Division within the State Archives introduced me to new technical programs and applications.  Prior to this internship I had no experience working with web design programs like Dreamweaver or Microsoft Office programs like Access.  Being given projects that required learning and using new digital media expanded my skill level and comfort.

Future Plans:

Through this internship, I gained valuable advice for graduate programs I could attend and career paths I could follow.  Due to the advice given, I have begun compiling information on various graduate schools and programs which would interest me and utilize the experiences I have acquired.  Looking at mainly public history and material culture programs of study, my internship at the archives will help me appear knowledgeable in several areas when added to the other internships I have completed.  Talking with various archivists and other employees in the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, I see the necessity of getting a Master’s degree to further my job prospects.


As part of my Public History Concentration to my History Major, I took the core Public History class which introduced me to theory in the field as well as the various career opportunities within public history.  Also, my core history courses that I have taken have helped me learn how to think critically where historical knowledge is concerned.  I would recommend that the Public History course I took spend more time explaining and discussing archival science as a potential career path.  For history students seeking an internship, I would recommend that the history department encourage student to take the Public History core course prior to doing an internship and that they take upper-level history courses to gain experience in thinking historically.

This free website was made using Yola.

No HTML skills required. Build your website in minutes.

Go to and sign up today!

Make a free website with Yola