Summer Internship: Elinor Berger '22
Name: Elinor Berger
Class Year: 2022
Major: Literatures in English, Medieval Studies
Hometown: Bethesda, MD
Internship Organization: American Philosophical Society
Job Title: Curatorial Intern
Location: Philadelphia, PA
As a curatorial intern for the American Philosophical Society, I worked on an upcoming exhibit on women in science. We were in the very early stages of exhibit planning, so most of my days revolved around delving into the collections and seeing what we had by or about women scientists. I love doing this kind of research because it feels almost like detective work; following leads to find an interesting letter or three-dimensional artifact. For most of July, I had the opportunity to go in person to Richardson Hall, and from there, I could cross the street to visit the library and actually examine artifacts I had only glimpsed online originally. I worked with the papers of biochemist Mildred Cohn, learning about her work for gender equality at Penn, as well as more intimate affairs involving hiring processes and working with students.
I was drawn to this internship because I love museums and have loved the library work I have done in the past. The APS is both a library and a museum, so as a curatorial intern, I got to work with books within the context of exhibition preparation. This was a way of merging the familiar with something that I am still fairly new to. I work with rare books and manuscripts in Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections, but curatorial work was not something I had previously completed (at least to this extent), and I was eager to learn more about the process. Research is also something that I am well-acquainted with, however I have always conducted research in preparation for papers or presentations, not for museum exhibits that will have vast and varying audiences. Something I learned while completing this internship is how important it is to try and understand how a large audience might perceive your exhibit. We handled this aspect of the curatorial process by asking big picture, critical questions.
One of my favorite parts of the internship was my “brown bag” presentation. This was a presentation I completed during the last week of my internship, and I decided to focus on a bas-relief sculpture of Emma Diruff Seiler in the APS collections. Seiler was one of the early female APS members and was both a scientist and a voice teacher. My presentation revolved around contextualizing this three-dimensional artifact, understanding how it is unique within the APS collections, but also how it continues more harmful gender practices dating back to the Renaissance. I really enjoyed the freedom I was given when putting this presentation together, and as a non-art history major, I loved getting to work outside the confines of my majors. This presentation and my experience at the APS overall was such an incredible and influential introduction to the world of museum studies. I am hoping to take more art history classes throughout my senior year at Bryn Mawr, and I am excited to pursue research roles similar to this one post-graduation.
Visit the Summer Internship Stories page to read more about student internship experiences.