Smithsonian internship helps Emily Cranfill '15 pursue her passion for history

Emily Cranfill

Since Emily Cranfill ’15 was in eighth grade, her goal has been to work at the Smithsonian. Halfway through her first year at Gettysburg College, Cranfill found out she would have the chance to live that dream sooner than she thought.

In January, she was selected for the American Political Items Collectors (APIC) Mark Jacobs Internship at the Smithsonian Institution, a six-week position that allowed her to work closely with the curator (Dr. William Lawrence Bird, Jr., pictured below with Cranfill) at the Political History Division of the National Museum of American History (NMAH).

Originally from Kokomo, Ind., Cranfill is pursuing a major in history and a minor in writing. The summer internship she was awarded allowed her to pursue both areas of study, while enabling her to acquire new skills and relevant work experience.

The majority of her work at the Smithsonian focused on an upcoming exhibit that explores presidential campaigns and voting procedures throughout American history. The exhibit, tentatively titled “Democracy,” should be on display at the NMAH in 2015.

Bird and Cranfill“My specific project was to gather and document campaign materials used in a previous exhibit that ran from the 1970s through the 1990s,” says Cranfill.

After finding objects to be featured in the exhibit, Cranfill documented their sizes and locations within the collection and photographed the items. Throughout her internship, Cranfill saw and handled many objects of significant American history, including the desk upon which Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence and the top hat worn by Lincoln on the night of his assassination.

“I’m really passionate about Lincoln and his assassination,” says Cranfill. “To physically touch things involved with that event was an incredible experience for me.”

Cranfill’s internship proved to be full of similar invaluable experiences. But perhaps most importantly, it helped her to develop a clearer picture of what she might choose to pursue as a career path after graduating from Gettysburg College. While working at the Smithsonian had always been an end goal for Cranfill, she now feels inspired to develop new and varied career objectives. She enjoyed her time at the NMAH and would consider returning in subsequent summers (her supervisor invited her to come back next year), but is also thinking about pursuing work at a smaller and more focused museum. Alternatively, she may forego the museum idea altogether and try her hand at writing about history or teaching in some capacity.

One of the best parts of her internship, aside from working directly with historical documents and artifacts central to American history, was the relationships Cranfill built with her coworkers at the museum. The internship gave her substantial experience working in a professional environment and allowed her to form connections with established individuals in her desired career field.

PintoAs Cranfill enters her sophomore year at Gettysburg, she already has one meaningful internship under her belt and plans to seek out similarly stimulating work experiences in the future. She cites her positive experiences as a first-year student at Gettysburg as having a large impact on her level of preparedness going into the internship in June. Cranfill especially appreciates the support of her academic adviser, history Prof. Karen Pinto (pictured left), who wrote her a letter of recommendation when applying for the internship last winter.

“She [Pinto] was very encouraging and accommodating,” says Cranfill. “That’s something you wouldn’t necessarily find at another school, especially as a first year.”

This year, Cranfill is excited to take a variety of classes that fit her broad range of interests. She looks forward to her classes this semester, which include Historical Methods, Creative Writing, and Introduction to Sociology, but also to her extra-curricular activities. Outside of the classroom, Cranfill participates in theatre productions, is a member of DiscipleMakers Christian Fellowship, and serves as Staff Development Coordinator for the CUB Desk staff. She is also working as the Peer Learning Associate for Dustin Smith’s first-year seminar, “Voice of the Rebel in America,” a class that Cranfill took in the fall of her first year at Gettysburg.

Cranfill would consider working in Washington, D.C. again at some point, although next summer she hopes to stay in Pennsylvania to help with the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

“It was really neat to be a part of something this big,” Cranfill says of her internship experience at the NMAH. “I hope I can go back and visit in 2015.”

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Article by: Liz Williams '13, communications & marketing intern
Contact: Nikki Rhoads, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803

Posted: Mon, 3 Sep 2012

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