A Postcard From: Isabella Nugent ’18

Name: Isabella Nugent
Class Year: 2018
Major: International Studies
Hometown: Green Brook, N.J.

Internship Placement: The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Job Title: Archival Research Intern
Location: Philadelphia

What’s happening at your internship?

Over the course of the summer, I conducted archival research to inform the curation/renovation of the Penn Museum’s African galleries. Under the leadership of advisory curator Dr. Monique Scott, I worked within a team of three Bryn Mawr students/alumni to conduct visitor research studies and investigate how “Africa” has been historically represented in the Penn Museum and in similar institutions.

However, the bulk of my time has been spent assisting the head curator, Dr. Tufuku Zuberi, gather provenance information for the objects intended for the future exhibition. Dr. Zuberi has a bold vision for the renovated galleries and intends to explore the complicated provenance of the collection. Together, our team dug through the Penn Museum’s archives to establish how the objects in the African galleries arrived at the museum with a focus on uncovering their colonial histories. We traced objects back from their creation and saw how they traded hands from the artist to dealers, tourists, ethnographers, and military leaders through letters, receipts, and photographs. I can’t reveal too much about our findings as the exhibition is still being developed, but I am extremely excited for Dr. Zuberi’s vision and to see the gallery opening.

Why did you apply for this internship?

When I was part of the Dalun-BiCo Summer Action Research Fellowship the summer after my freshman year, part of our experience included a visit to the African galleries in the Penn Museum. I was deeply disturbed by the language and presentation of objects in the “Imagine Africa” exhibit as it seemed to treat the continent of Africa as an exotic monolith. When I heard of the opportunity to work under Dr. Monique Scott to conduct research for the renovated galleries, I leapt at the opportunity. I wanted to be part of the team that would radically change the exhibit. Overall, I am extremely grateful for Museum Studies Program for the incredible experience I had working at the Penn Museum this summer.

What has been your favorite part of this internship?

I loved so many aspects about this internship, from getting to learn from the wonderful Monique Scott to the loveliness of the other interns to the pure fun of being in a museum all day. However, what I appreciated most was being able to work with incredible archival materials. Just the feeling of being able to piece a complicated story together was such a fun and revealing experience and I never got over the shock of being able to hold such an important letter or photo in my own hands. This experience fueled my love for history and my belief in the importance of archival work.

Was this internship what you expected it to be?

I did not expect to this internship to be as hands-on as it was and I was pleasantly surprised. At other internships, interns are delegated menial tasks and learn little from their experience. This was not the case for us. We communicated directly with the head curator and we were entrusted with important research responsibilities. I was able to work with invaluable archival materials and I was given so much support every step of the way. This level of trust and freedom is what makes this internship experience stand out from every other.