Students dive into local history through summer course

Derek Moore, the Crawford Curator of Transportation History, and graduate student Scott Lillard scour the archives at the Western Reserve Historical Society as part of their internship.

Six summer interns are deep in local history at the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) as part of faculty member John Grabowski’s “Museums—Theory and Reality” history class at Case Western Reserve University.

The summer course, open to undergrads and graduate students from various universities, puts into practice theories from such required readings as History Museums in the United States, Mickey Mouse History and Making Museums Matter, said Grabowski, the Krieger-Mueller Associate Professor of Applied History and senior vice president for research and publications at WRHS.

“The course is designed to introduce students to the inner workings of one of America’s largest private urban historical societies,” Grabowski said.

As part of the class, students also spend 10 weeks or 100 hours on specific projects at the historical society on East Boulevard in Cleveland or WRHS’ Hale Farm and Village near Bath, Ohio.

Through the course, they have access to rare materials normally sequestered in archives or behind display windows, as they perform tasks like cataloging manuscript collections and preparing advertisements.

Case Western Reserve’s Anna Yeagle, of Berthoud, Colo., logs Civil War era sheet music—an assignment that aligns well with the second-year musicology graduate student’s interest in music history.

This level of interaction with music gives a sense of music as a commodity and social practice, she said.

“It is one thing to read about the circulation of popular sheet music during the mid-nineteenth century, and it is another to become familiar with the publishers and composers,” Yeagle said.

The historical society internship builds on her museum experiences at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, S.D., and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Also looking at Civil War history is James Porter from Gettysburg College. His work involves WRHS’ collection of Civil War documents.

The history of cars has been the focus for Case Western Reserve graduate student Scott Lillard, from Memphis, Tenn., and CWRU’s fourth-year history and political science major Joseph Verbovszky, from Rocky River.

Both interns have worked with historic automobiles and memorabilia in the Crawford Archives at WRHS and the storage area for the historic autos in Macedonia.

Lillard eventually hopes to work on preservation of historic automobiles. He visited the WHRS’ storage facility in Macedonia, a welcome change from his research in books and articles.

His work in the archives also contributes to WRHS’ new exhibit, “Setting the World in Motion,” which opens in January. Lillard has prepared exhibit materials about why Cleveland-based automaker White Company switched from making steam-powered cars to gas-powered ones, for example.

“I like the hands-on aspect of dealing with the physical cars but also understanding how an archive or historical society works from an internal perspective,” said Verbovszky, who is interested in organizational structures and how they operate.

Megan Findling, a graduate student from New York University, is working on historical interpretations. For her, the internship has provided insight into the field.

“The work gives students a good idea of what actually goes into preserving documents and producing exhibits,” she said. “It is much like an apprenticeship in your chosen field.”