Last summer, Katie Corbett ’16, a History major and English minor from Reading, MA, obtained an internship that placed her on Appledore Island, one of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire. The position required her to split time between the Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH, and the Shoals Marine Laboratory (on the island), which is run jointly by Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire. One Thing after Another asked Katie about her unusual experiences this summer.
Q: How did you get interested in public history—that is, history presented to the general public outside of an academic setting?
A: I first got interested in public history after I volunteered last summer as a historic roleplayer at the Andover Historical Society in Andover, MA. As a volunteer, I would speak to visiting third grade classes and talk about the differences between what daily life was like in the 1820s and what it’s like today. I was already interested in teaching history after taking ED 130: Principles of Teaching and Learning at Saint Anselm College, and it was neat to see how much the students, even at their young age, learned on this field trip experience.
Q: How did you find out about the internship at Strawbery Banke? Why did you decide to apply there?
A: I first found out about the position at Strawbery Banke when I was looking for a summer internship. I hoped to interact with the public on a larger scale than at the Historical Society. I also wanted a setting where the visitors would learn about what life was like in various eras as well as experience the actual atmosphere of each one as featured in a historic house. I had a lot of fun doing this type of thing at the Historical Society, and I wanted to experience what that would be like in a larger museum setting.
With this in mind, it is actually kind of a funny story of how I ended up working at a marine laboratory as a Garden Interpretation Intern. Initially, I had applied to the Education Department at Strawbery Banke, and I actually was passed over for the position there when the internship’s start date conflicted with when I would be returning to the US after participating in a summer study abroad session at the University of Limerick in Ireland. However, my application was then found by another person in the Education Department who had been charged with finding someone to intern at the Shoals Marine Laboratory as the “Celia Thaxter’s Island Garden Interpretation Intern.” Knowing that I had made it far in the application and interview process for the Strawbery Banke position, she recommended me for a position at the marine lab on Appledore Island. This internship was actually shared by Shoals Marine Laboratory (SML) and Strawbery Banke. Every Sunday, I would travel by boat to Portsmouth to live on the museum property at Strawbery Banke, and then I would return to the island every Wednesday.
Q: What was the job description for your internship at Strawbery Banke? What was a typical day like?
A: At SML, my responsibilities consisted of extensively researching the life and legacy of Celia Laighton Thaxter, who was a prominent literary figure in the late 19th century. In addition, I also looked into the significance of her garden, the subject of her most famous book, An Island Garden (1894). I would also participate in the guided tours that came to the island to learn about Appledore’s natural and cultural history. Using the information I had gathered from my research, I would speak to groups about Celia’s garden and its significance as well as answer any questions that groups had about Celia, her family, and their impact on island life as a whole.
At Strawbery Banke, I did a variety of things. When I was initially conducting my research on Thaxter, I used the resources available at the Portsmouth Public Library and the Portsmouth Athenaeum. After awhile, I started to observe aspects of the Education Department, shadowing a camp for teenagers interested in historic roleplaying. I also observed how the adult historic roleplayers studied to develop their characters and how they interacted with visitors as these characters.
Q: What was your favorite part about this internship?
A: There were so many things that I loved about this internship. It was really neat to be involved with the marine lab because almost every other intern there was doing scientific research and, through our intern meetings, we each got to learn about what everyone was studying and how they were progressing throughout the summer. Appledore Island is one of nine islands among the Isles of Shoals, located off the coast of Portsmouth, NH, and it was interesting to find out more about the other islands there. I was also interested in learning about what it takes to live on an island, especially when you have to be aware of conserving fresh water and electricity.
I would have to say though that my favorite part was being able to use everything that I have learned at Saint Anselm College about the application and analysis of history in a real world setting. This experience really put into perspective what I was capable of doing—particularly in terms of teaching a specific aspect of history to people who were generally interested in learning about it.
Q: You grew up in Reading, MA. Tell us something interesting about your hometown that outsiders might not have already known.
A: Growing up in Reading, I was fortunate enough to live really close to Boston and other towns of historical significance, so that it was really convenient to go visit a different town for the day without traveling any longer than 30 minutes to an hour out of my way.