Life in North Dakota

Not going to lie, when I applied for this internship, I was telling myself that I was not a collections person.  Sure I liked “stuff”, but collections management was not for me.  At the same time, I felt I could make it work because it was a decent internship.  After getting here and starting work though, I am a convert.  In these four weeks I’ve had a blast!

I’m working for the State Historical Society of North Dakota, which is the agency that manages the state museum in Bismarck and all of the historic sites around North Dakota.  The state government had a $700 million surplus last year, which seems to be pretty unusual these days.  Some of that money is going to a $52 million expansion project that will be doubling the size of the museum.  The staff is very involved in the planning process to the point that they go through the blueprints and make changes based on their needs.  That said, it’s a pretty exciting time to be here!  Here’s a link to some information about that…

http://governor.nd.gov/media/news-releases/2009/05/090506c.html

I get to work right next to the capitol building!

The entrance to the museum

My main project is to prepare artifacts for an exhibition at Fort Totten State Historic Site, which is about 2 1/2 hours northeast of Bismarck.  It was opened as a military fort in 1867, but was closed and converted to a boarding school for Indian children in 1890.  It finally closed in 1959 and was acquired by the state two years later.  Much of what I’ve processed was found in the walls, in crawlspaces and attics as the place was being renovated and I think that’s just great!  My favorite item has to be this Lone Ranger knife that was found under the floorboards at Fort Totten.

Really I’ve been finishing the paperwork end of this.  For each object I made a condition report, a data sheet for the exhibitions people and I updated Past Perfect.  I just finished the Fort Totten project yesterday, so I’ve begun an inventorying project.  I also find myself doing “other duties as assigned” quite often, so I’ve gone around with the pest control company and checked/changed traps around the museum, I’ve re-arranged display cases and even sat at the information desk for a few hours.

One thing I really admire about this museum’s collections policy is that it doesn’t just focus on the rich and the famous and all their stuff.  Sure they’ve got relics from famous people and they even have moon rocks!  But they also collect the everyday, so they’ve got 1980s kid’s toys, a GIANT cell phone from the early 1990s, and one of the first commercially available computers, called a Commodore.  They’ve got pop cans and t-shirts from this event or that event and Ginny they’ve got 19th-century textiles like you wouldn’t believe.  So there’s a little bit of everything!  My supervisor has told me that at least once a week, I should spend some time wandering around the collection area to see what I can find and I’ve been taking advantage of that.

I’m into my fourth week and I really feel like I made the best possible decision.  I love the people I work with, I enjoy my work and I love the museum itself.  The museum is a great organization that tells an awesome story!

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2 Responses to Life in North Dakota

  1. Mandy says:

    Glad you’re enjoying it! Let’s see a picture of that cell phone!

  2. Ginny says:

    YES! Thanks for the shout-out, Geoff. Textiles, as Erin Crissman says, are everywhere! And she’s right. Unfortunately because they’re so ubiquitous, textiles are incredibly devalued today. As a result of the industrial revolution, our relationship to textiles and clothing has changed radically over the last century. I’m glad museums like the Historical Society of North Dakota still take the time (and expense) to store them. (Do they have a textile curator?!) Textiles/clothing are one of the few things that universally unite all people across time and place. (Okay, sorry for the sermon… but I do LOVE textiles!)

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