Thursday, August 29, 2013

Intern's Corner

Kyle Stenger joined us this summer as an intern from Rider University. He has recently returned to his classes at Rider for his senior year.  The following are his thoughts on his summer internship.

Being an historian is no easy thing. Not everyone has what it takes to handle the strenuous and relentless tasks that are thrown in the way of those who search through the past. This is what I have learned throughout my academic career and it was justified in my time as intern at the David Library of the American Revolution. However, anyone from the most distinguished in academia to the most casual common-man can enter the David Library and feel at ease with the most knowledgeable staff—a team that I feel lucky to have been a part of this summer. Being here has really shown me what it takes to do in reality what I have been practicing in school as a student of history: researching the past and making my findings accessible.  
 So what exactly did I do here at the David Library? I took on many projects; some pertain to the practice of history and some deal with the general operations of a library. I have cleaned and dusted bookshelves and re-shelved books used by patrons. That is the dull stuff, yes, but it is necessary to run the library. Occasionally our librarian, Ms. Katherine Ludwig, will charge me with the challenge of answering a research question sent in by a patron located too far from the library to make a visit. Almost always these questions relate to genealogical affairs and require a good amount of time and patience.

In most cases I go straight to the Revolutionary War Pension Records. Other times I pick up the Pennsylvania Archives or scroll through the New Jersey Archives on microfilm; however, for a lot of our microfilm collections we hold film guides to make it easier accessing the materials. Every once in a while an answer will not be available, meaning either there were not many records kept about the topic in question or, in a rare instance, the David Library does not carry the necessary materials.

Besides the normal parts of the job, which I have just described, I have worked on two big projects throughout the summer. One came about because of a need for space. The library is running out of shelf room and the idea came up to go through our entire journal collection and make a catalogue of specific articles in each journal that actually concerns our era and topic; that is, the years 1750-1800 and the American Revolution, respectively. Bear in mind that the subject matter for the American Revolution branches out a great distance.

The journal collection consists of many academic monthlies, quarterlies, and annuals. We have received issues from journals such as the Journal of American History, the Journal of Southern History, the American Neptune (a journal of maritime history), and the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research (a British military history journal). There is a great deal more (I have conquered barely half of the collection this summer), and we include even the most minute issues from local historical societies and even Bicentennial special programs. Going through these journals, I have expanded the boundaries of my horizons immeasurably; so much more has been researched and written about than I had previously even thought of.

By far the most gigantic project I have ever been apart of is the British General Courts Martial records. It is an occupation in and of itself. Interns have been working on it for the past few years and they will continue to work on it even when I start my own career.

Around 2011, the historian who was employed here traveled to London and visited the British National Archives. He returned with photographs of Court Martial records: 15 large books with around 400-500 handwritten pages each documenting court martial trials which had taken place all over the world (from Gibraltar to New York to Nova Scotia to army camps in India) and occurred from the 1730’s to the 1770’s.  

My job, as was and is and will be other intern’s job, is to transcribe these records and enter all pertinent information into a database, which is an Excel spreadsheet as of now. It is very tedious and time-consuming work, and one may go so far as to call it “boring” work. However, that person would be one who had not experienced this work. It is tiring, yes, but also exciting. I have read glimpses of people’s lives from close to 250 years ago. I have found out why certain, supposedly unimportant, people died so long ago. I have gone through such cases as desertion, theft, drunkenness, mutiny, rape, and even murder, and have experienced some of these people’s best and worst times.

I have gone through pages which have not been seen by many eyes since they were first written in the 18th Century.

I have studied families who are not famous but common.

I have followed the most plain soldier from town to town during his time in the War of the Revolution.

 I have done seemingly the most unimportant and nonchalant work there is to do in a library. 

And it has been quite the pleasure. I have learned and enjoyed so much here at the David Library that I do not regret taking an unpaid internship and not making nearly as much money as I could have this summer.  The people that I have met and worked with, the patrons that have come in, the conversations I have had, has all been worth it.

Kyle Stenger, 20 August 2013

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