Gettysburg Semester 2006
Gettysburg Semester 2006
This past semester, I had the incredible opportunity of working alongside the park rangers at Gettysburg National Military Park, and having Scott Hartwig as my supervisor. I worked with published authors and leading experts on the battle. Every day provided something different. A couple days a week I helped run the Gettysburg Visitor Center, encountering a wide variety of people (the constantly cooling temperatures did little to deter visitors!). I met not only people from all over the country, but all over the world (England, France, Malaysia, Germany, Japan, Australia, Ireland, Italy, China-just to name a few!). My encounters with visitors spanned a wide range: one minute I'd be speaking with first time visitors to explain the basics of the battlefield, and the next person in line would be a hardened Civil War buff who wanted to know the exact location of a unit at 4 o'clock the afternoon of July 2nd. It took a little while to learn about all of the park's resources, where to find information, and how to transfer phone calls without hanging up on somebody, but it was a great experience. During the lulls in visitor flow, I learned life lessons from the many seasoned volunteers and Licensed Battlefield Guides staffing the desk with me (they have some great stories to tell). I never grew tired of meeting new people.
A major aspect of my internship was to develop and present a guided walking tour of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. After a couple of weeks spent researching in the park library, as well as much time spent with my supervisor discussing the aspects of a solid interpretive talk (there's more to it than you think!), I began giving tours through the cemetery. For my tour, I picked a few of the soldiers buried in the cemetery and told their individual stories of sacrifice. The tour then discussed how Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address pays unique tribute to that sacrifice. Giving these tours every week gave me a chance to improve my public speaking abilities, as well as learning how to tailor a tour to different groups.
On days when I was not giving tours or working the Visitor Center, I spent my hours in the park library. The ranger in charge of the library, John Heiser, taught me a great deal about the resources available there and how best to utilize them. Throughout my days in the library I worked on a few different projects. I transcribed soldiers' letters for the park's files, and responded to letters sent by the inquiring public who wanted specific information (I refer to this as "answering John Heiser's fan mail"). Towards the end of the semester I helped work on a project requiring me to research what happened to over five hundred Union and Confederate soldiers who were either wounded or killed at the battle of Gettysburg. This will be for an exhibit in the brand new visitor center opening in June 2008.
As I look back on my semester spent in Gettysburg, one aspect I enjoyed most was working at the park. I am very interested in public history, and am hoping to be an interpretive ranger for the National Park Service. This was a perfect internship for me, and provided me with not only helpful references, but valuable experience.