CHESTERTOWN, MD— For three Washington College students, the summer of 2011 brought unexpected opportunities to live and breathe history through interning at some of the nation’s leading institutions for the study of early American history and culture. With the generous support of the Comegys Bight Fellows Program, they delved deeply into the material records of the past – documents, artifacts, books, etc. – and found new directions for their own futures.
The Comegys Bight program, conceived and generously sustained by Drs. Thomas and Virginia Collier of Chestertown and administered by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, offers stipends for students to pursue research-based internships that provide real-world experience in their own areas of historical interest.
History major Kevin Lynch ’12 spent the summer on the grounds of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens, working as an intern in the Education Department. At Mount Vernon, he drafted lesson plans for the site’s popular distance learning program, on topics ranging from political disagreements in Revolutionary America to the far-reaching impact of the Washington presidency.
Lynch also worked extensively with Mount Vernon’s highly-competitive summer institutes for teachers, and helped to script the filming of a new documentary on black Virginians’ diverse responses to the violent overthrow of slavery in Saint Domingue. While working on this project, Lynch collaborated with experienced character interpreters from Mount Vernon and Colonial Williamsburg. “It was remarkable to see historical interpreters working behind the scenes talking about how their characters will interact and feed off each other during a filming,” he noted.
Lynch hopes to approach his senior thesis on Benedict Arnold differently thanks to his summer experience. “It’s one thing to know a lot about a particular field of history,” he reflected. “But it’s another thing entirely to learn how to explain it to others and make it meaningful.”
Kendall Mulligan ’12, an art history major, spent the summer at Brown University’s John Carter Brown Library, which houses one of the world’s richest collections of books, maps and documents related to North and South America and the Caribbean between 1492 and 1830. The first undergraduate student to ever intern at the library, Mulligan split her time between two departments, digitization and cataloguing.
Her work in both departments centered on archiving and organization, and introduced her to the various technologies used in a rare book library. In the digitization department, Mulligan worked with priceless early accounts of exploration of Brazil and Peru, ranging from 17th-century maps to 18th-century books and letters. She also created photo labels for the discs housing scans of many of the images in the library’s collection, a project that allowed her to immerse herself in the history of political cartoons.
The experience heightened her interest in archiving and restoration, and she is now considering pursuing a masters degree in library science. “My experience at the John Carter Brown Library was wonderful,” said Mulligan. “I feel so lucky to have worked at such an important and established place.”
Charles Weisenberger ’12, a history major, interned at the Maryland Historical Society, where he served as a member of the War of 1812 research team. Putting his research skills and previous experience in museums to good use, Weisenberger combed the society’s collections to identify materials for use in upcoming bicentennial exhibits and programming.
Weisenberger’s supervisors at the MdHS charged him with investigating the impact of the conflict upon black Marylanders. Immersing himself in period newspapers, city directories, and court records, as well as the letters, diaries and personal papers housed in the society’s library, Weisenberger documented the experiences of men and women whose pursuit of freedom led them to cast their loyalties on both sides of the conflict. He also compiled a list of daily happenings between 1812 and 1815, and created annotated transcriptions of important documents for use by future researchers.
In 2012, Weisenberger will join a panel of other War of 1812 researchers for a public program at the Maryland Historical Society. Looking back on his experience, he reflected, “I’ve gained critical thinking and research skills, as well as extensive exposure to working with a rare-collections library. I believe these skills will enable me to market myself better to future employers.”
Now in its eighth year, the Comegys Bight program has served 41 students since its inception in 2003. Recipients of the Comegys Bight Fellowship are provided opportunities to take their passions beyond classroom study, resulting in experiences that have, in some cases, changed the course of their intellectual lives.
“In collaboration with the donors, we changed the nature of the fellowships somewhat this year,” said Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the Starr Center. “Rather than simply funding independent study, the Comegys Bight program now pairs up Washington College students with nationally eminent institutions that hire them as interns and researchers. We think this new focus will not only provide students with exciting and intensive research experiences at a very high level, but also generate connections that may help advance their academic and professional careers. And I was especially proud to hear back from the institutions that these Washington College students were some of the best undergraduates they’ve ever worked with.”