The Smithsonian museums are lauded as living time capsules of our country’s history. They welcome millions of visitors each year to explore the American story through carefully curated exhibits in 19 museums across the country, many of which are located in Washington, D.C., within close proximity to Gettysburg College.
This past summer, Peter Wildgruber ’24 played a role in curating and organizing the collections at the National Museum of American History. The history and German studies double major spent two months interning in Washington, D.C., supported by the Civil War Institute’s (CWI) Kuhn Fellows Program, marking the first time the Institute has placed a student at a world-class Smithsonian museum.
“Being the first student placed by [the] CWI, I had no idea what to expect going into it, but I knew that living in Washington and meeting other passionate historians would be a special opportunity,” Wildgruber said. “[The] CWI’s support for this unique experience makes me incredibly grateful and honored to represent Gettysburg College.”
Wildgruber worked as a curatorial and collection management intern, focusing on the train, automobile, and timekeeping collections in the work and industry division. His Gettysburg history education—filled with rigorous research and writing opportunities—prepared him for the hands-on experience of sorting through hundreds of photographs and research notes to prepare them for digitization.
“Much of the work … was part of a larger effort to modernize research and curation resources and make them more accessible to future researchers,” Wildgruber said. “A major advantage of working at the Smithsonian was the diverse backgrounds and breadth of skills that everyone brought with them from across the country. They shared their stories, how they got where they are today, and emphasized the flexibility of a history degree.”
Wildgruber’s internship was made possible by the generosity of Visionary Gettysburgian Carolyn Kuhn Byron ’62, who expanded the Myron I. Kuhn Endowed CWI Department Award Fund to include support for a student internship in Washington, D.C. A stalwart supporter of the College—and believer in the power of a history degree—Byron established the fund in 2007 in honor of her father to support scholarships for the CWI Summer Institute.
“Generous Gettysburg alums are the reason that opportunities like my Smithsonian internship are possible,” Wildgruber said. “Their generosity allows students to make the most of their internships without worrying about affording housing or whether stipends will cover living costs. I know that without Carolyn Byron’s support, I would not have been able to focus my efforts on my internship and truly enjoy it.”
“Gettysburg is blessed by alums who encourage the academic strides of its students and make opportunities accessible to all.”
– Peter Wildgruber ’24
For Wildgruber, and countless other students, gifts from alumni make a direct and lasting impact on their Gettysburg experience. A contribution toward student scholarships not only allows students to pursue internship opportunities or summer programs at top institutions, but also helps them achieve their goals, pursue their passions, and lead lives of consequence.
“Byron wants to see historians in action, and her generosity has paved the way for our students to leave the classroom every June for incredible summer internships,” Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies Peter Carmichael said. “Alums like Byron are doing all they can do to expand the professional opportunities of our students proving that studying the past at Gettysburg College is not just an academic exercise, but an intellectual training that leads to meaningful career opportunities while they are still a student.”
Byron intends to keep contributing to the future success of students for years to come, potentially expanding the program to more than one intern a year. She has committed to supplementing the program in the coming years to allow students the opportunity to learn from and build connections with historians and curators at the nation’s top museums.
“After the success I had this past summer, I anticipate and hope that Gettysburg students will be able to take advantage of the same opportunity I had,” Wildgruber said. “The skills and confidence that I gained through my internship should greatly benefit me in my studies at Gettysburg and beyond.”
Looking back at his summer at the Smithsonian, Wildgruber will always remember the hours spent digging through archives and digitizing old photographs and he appreciates the attentiveness and instruction from amazing mentors. Ultimately, he has the honor of playing a role in the vital, enduring work of preserving American history.
“Peter’s contributions will inform public exhibitions and programs that will reach thousands of Americans,” Carmichael said. “His work over the summer calls attention to the relevancy of the past and the need for Americans to situate contemporary issues within a long history. Peter helped make American history a usable history.”
By Phoebe Doscher ’22
Photo courtesy of Peter Wildgruber ’24