Graduate Tessa Scheller talks about her internship with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
Where were you based during your internship?
From April to June 2018, I was an intern at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. I worked for the department of the Smithsonian Provenance Research Initiative (SPRI) as an Outreach and Education Intern. During this time, I had the chance to attend many events such as talks, discussions, and museum tours all over the Smithsonian Institution in addition to my normal working hours.
What projects did you work on and what was the main outcome of your internship?
One of my main tasks was the development of a provenance research online guide as an outcome of PREP for the years 2017-2019. Another task was the preparation of and the participation in the Material Culture Forum with the topic “What’s ownership history got to do with it? Provenance across the Smithsonian”. Some of my other tasks included researching in the special literature archives, examining how provenance was presented in the display of objects in the Smithsonian museums, and evaluating these presentations.
What do you feel that you gained from completing an internship with the Smithsonian Institution? What knowledge and skills did you gain?
During my work placement I gained many skills. First of all, I learned that structuring a task over and over again and also restructuring it in the middle of the process helps focus on the essential issues. This makes it easier to deal with broad projects such as the online PREP guide. Secondly, I learned how to develop a questionnaire and how important asking the right questions in the right order is for an outcome of a project. Thirdly, I had to communicate via e-mail with many PREP participants, asking questions and collecting expert knowledge. In this regard, I enhanced my communication skills and learned the American way of writing e-mails, which means communicating with people less formally than I would in Germany.
How do you feel the internship has prepared you for your next steps – what are your next steps?
The internship gave me the chance to work closely together with some of the leading people in provenance research in the US and therefore, the skills I learned from the experts will be a great help in my future career as an art lawyer and provenance researcher. It will also help me writing my master thesis as it opened up new research resources to me. Therefore, I am thankful for my time at the SPRI which added another fascinating facet to my education as a lawyer and provenance researcher.
Why would you recommend and internship with the Smithsonian to future students?
When applying for internships, I was specifically interested in the internship at the SPRI because it was about education and outreach and the communication process to the public in regard to provenance research. I think that in provenance research communication is even more important than in other fields of research because of its interdisciplinary nature. I wanted to see how this is experienced in a huge institution, such as the SI, where people with different professional backgrounds people often ‘speak different [professional] languages’. Furthermore, I was interested in the German and American exchange, in particular with regard to WWII restitution issues and in deepening the transatlantic relationship. The SPRI sounded so interesting to me because it was created to build a network between different institutions to raise awareness of the issue of provenance. My work placement fulfilled the expectations that led me to apply for the position. Hence, I would highly recommend interning at the Smithsonian.