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Intern Reports Summer 2013

Morton (Doni) Bloomfield (History)

The Jewish Daily Forward, New York City.

The Forward is a tiny operation that does a bit of everything in media, and working there for 10 weeks has meant throwing myself into its operations on every level. In my first week I penned a movie review for the paper, interviewed top researchers and ethicists at the NIH for our genetics section, began planning a short science documentary film, edited several pieces for the op-ed page, and collected rabbinical opinions on the religious advisability of attending fireworks and music during an annual period of mourning in the Jewish year. The pace has only picked up since then.

The workspace culture is one of freedom, experimentation, hard work, long hours and a constant sense of humor. Very little reporting is assigned: the small number of staffers and interns meet every week to discuss ideas we have with the managing editor and news editor, but almost all stories begin and virtually end with the reporter, with a great deal of feedback from the editorial staff. This freedom has its costs for a person new to the field, but also tremendous benefits. Several weeks into the internship, having gotten the hang of jumping between writing up short blog posts and longer news stories, on a tip from a friend, I spent a week researching a totally uncovered crime story concerning an ex-Marine who allegedly threatened a synagogue and police station in Massachusetts and, on one witness’ word, was kept in jail without bail for five months awaiting trial on charges that could land him more than 40 years behind bars. In any larger paper I would have three minor local stories to cover without time to concern myself on a totally unknown case but at the Forward I had the freedom to speak to the prosecution, the defense, the Pentagon and a host of local people to uncover an otherwise unknown case. I learned invaluable lessons in investigative reporting and the painful conflict between reporting on a case and involving oneself in the injustice of it.

My reporting on the Massachusetts case also brought with it another valuable lesson: you can’t control the news. The paper needs to be done by Wednesday afternoon every week, so Tuesdays and Wednesdays are constantly a crunch of editing, layout, writing for deadline and often hilarious takeout dinners. After I had worked well into the night for a week on the story, just as we were going to press, a judge issued a decision dismissing the case and killing the story. One thousand words and more than a week of constant work disappeared because justice was served. Someone could write a magnificent novel on the alternate histories cobbled together from the discarded drafts of news stories that never were. Dewey wins, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is solved at the turn of the century, Nelson Mandela dies in late July 2013. It’s not news until it’s happened, but you can’t wait til then to write it and so you need to be prepared to let even a piece your proudest of go unprinted.

The freedom to create isn’t limited to occasional investigative pieces, it’s in every aspect of working for the paper. Over my whole internship at the Forward I’ve been assigned to write only a single piece, a genetics story, and even there what the story was, and how it was written, were left in my hands until they reached the editorial desk. I have recruited people to write editorials and guided them through the process, filmed, narrated and edited films, crunched statistics on demographic trends and worked with large databases to sort out more productive approaches to various flagship features the Forward runs. I have been able to hone my skills in journalistic and essay writing, reporting and interviewing, on stories of my own make and model. That’s a privilege.

What makes it that much stronger, though, is the constant incisive feedback on my work. What makes the freedom so powerful is not only the resources available to journalists in a serious media operation but the guidance of professionals who take very divergent paths to reach journalistic excellence. The former foreign correspondent and the former Daily News editor have wildly different ideas about what makes a story strong, not only between themselves but often with me, but that doesn’t stop them from teaching valuable lessons about the very particular form of communication necessary to make a news article sing. The same is true about short review essays for movies, blog posts on food, and filmmaking on the street. Through constant experimentation and lightening-quick, subtle feedback from people I respect, I have learned an enormous amount about journalism, from the editing shorthand and absolutely authoritative voice to on-the-fly fact-checking and mapping out an unfamiliar subject in a day. This summer has shown me how much I love to use every tool of analysis and communication to expose important stories, open them up with cutting analysis, and deliver them with flair.

Melissa High (History)

Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, Skokie, IL

This summer I worked as an intern with the education department at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. Working within the department, I learned a lot about the museum’s education initiatives and how the museum works to provide meaningful learning opportunities to diverse groups of students and adults. Throughout the summer, I assisted with programming and trainings for teachers, law enforcement professionals, and many summer camp groups who visited the museum. I learned about how the museum works to teach a sensitive and important subject by creating meaningful resources, exhibits, and workshops to try to make the history and the lessons of the Holocaust relevant to each of its visitors. By working at the museum, I also learned a lot about museum leadership and organization. This summer gave me the valuable opportunity to explore and better understand museum work, including many of the challenges of operating a museum- from finding grants and funding for projects to maintaining volunteer involvement and docent staffing.

Throughout the summer, I worked with a fellow intern to align museum resources and field trip options to Common Core State Standards. The education department at the museum wants teachers to know that the resources and programming that they provide will align with the standards that teachers have to meet during the year, making it easier for teachers to come and spend a day at the museum. By working on this project, I had the opportunity to explore the museum’s curriculum guides and the field trips that are offered for students of all different ages. I learned a lot about how the museum teaches Holocaust history while challenging students to build critical and analytical thinking skills, and social studies research skills.

One of the education department’s key programs is to lend out teaching trunks to schools across the country, which are filled with classroom resources and books. One of my summer projects was to contribute to the creation of a K-2 Teaching Trunk, which will challenge young children to consider themes of identity, community, culture, and activism at an age-appropriate level. By contributing to the project, I got to read and sort through picture books for the trunk and design accompanying activities in order to engage young students in the material.

As I hope to work towards becoming a social studies teacher at either the middle school or high school level, learning about the museum’s educational mission and its curriculum and programming was one of the most valuable parts of the internship. I truly enjoyed learning about how to make history relevant to students, and how to get students to think beyond just the dates and facts in order to better explore the human story and individual experience. I also had the chance to reflect on the responsibilities that teachers have when teaching important but emotionally charged histories (for example, how to make choices about what materials will be age-appropriate, and how to make choices that will convey both the “light” and the “dark” parts of history). These are lessons that I know will stay with me as I work towards becoming a teacher. While I am not specifically interested in museum work as a professional career, I was very grateful for the opportunity to have learned about the kinds of partnerships that museums can create with teachers. As a result of my internship, I hope that as a future teacher, I will be able to make better use of museums and their resources in order to create more meaningful learning experiences for students.

One of the most challenging parts of my summer internship was that I was learning about a very emotionally charged history on a daily basis. At times, it was very difficult to research and hear so many personal stories of death, loss, and trauma. It was such a privilege to be able to meet survivors and to hear their stories, but I also had to learn how to relate to the history so as to be able to work with it and to not be constantly overwhelmed by it. I really had to rely on mentors within the department and fellow interns for support. It was very helpful to hear from those who have been working in the museum for years, and to hear about how they have dealt with the emotional challenges of this particular kind of work. Although I witnessed some office politics and conflict throughout the summer, I also learned how an office can work to support one another and how essential this kind of support system can be.

Throughout the summer, I learned the most from the relationships that I was able to form- those with my fellow interns, my supervisors and mentors, and the many museum volunteers I interacted with. I learned a lot about communication, the importance of sharing stories, and the importance of listening to other’s stories and providing safe places for individuals to heal and share their stories. In addition to being exposed to museum work and the education field, I know that this summer was also an incredibly valuable opportunity to learn lessons in history and humanity that continue to shape both my professional and personal life.

Abigail Hoskins (Classics/NELC)

The Oriental Institute, Chicago

The nature of the origins and development of writing is one of the most fascinating and enduring questions in the study of Sumerian and ancient Mesopotamia.  In my work as a research assistant on the Writing in Early Mesopotamia project under Professor Christopher Woods and Massimo Maiocchi, Ph.D., I not only had the chance to grapple with this challenging and intellectually stimulating topic, but also gained valuable insight into how research is conducted in the field of Ancient Near Eastern Languages.

The goal of the Writing in Early Mesopotamia project is to use modern technology and data managing techniques to plug a gap in the resources currently available to researchers. We are building a prototype of a database that will include all of the texts of the Sumerian literary corpus. What separates this database from the digital archives of Sumerian literature that already exist is the breadth and variety of information provided and the way in which that information is synthesized. Our database does not only provide the composite version of a text, but also includes all of the known variants. Its catalogue includes pictures and full references for every tablet included. Each text is grammatically analyzed and orthographically parsed. A sophisticated search feature allows users to search for the frequency of certain signs, morphemes, and more complex grammatical structures. All of these functions combine to create a primary research tool that could allow scholars to more easily make and more rigorously support claims about how writing developed and changed over the millennia.

Because of the scope and complexity of the Writing in Early Mesopotamia project, my daily tasks were varied. At the start of my internship, I worked mostly with the catalogue of the database. I tracked down missing materials that needed to be included and edited scans and photographs of tablets. Through these tasks I learned a lot about the organization of the Research Archives at the Oriental Institute, and also gained familiarity with the standards and conventions of publications in Ancient Near Eastern Studies.

Later in my internship, I began to work more closely with the database itself.  I numbered the lines of transliterations and spaced them in such a way that would allow the database to recognize bound morphemes. Then, I used a parsing system that my colleague Massimo Maiocchi, Ph.D designed to encode the grammatical information for the spaced texts. Through these tasks, I had the opportunity to practice reading Sumerian and sharpened my understanding of the finer points of Sumerian grammar and syntax. Often during the encoding process, I would come across a construction or writing that was unfamiliar to me. Massimo and Professor Woods were always happy to provide guidance and discuss the trickier phrases with me. In addition, These tasks also introduced me to different theories of information infrastructure, and the ways in which databases prioritize, organize, and link different types of information.

Throughout my internship, I also had the opportunity to sit in on meetings with Professor Woods and Massimo. These meetings centered around the more theoretical aspects of the database—what types of research it should cater to, what type of information should be prioritized, whether or not the grammatical encoding should attempt to grapple with fuzzier questions of semantics. These meetings were, for me, incredibly valuable. I often felt as though the ideal relationship between modern technology and computing and the study of the ancient languages and civilizations was being hashed out before me, as Professor Woods and Massimo debated different ideas and hurriedly scribbled examples on the blackboard.

My internship experience this summer was rewarding in so many different ways. I was able to gain first-hand insight into how research and scholarship in the study of the ancient world is conducted. My Sumerian improved by leaps and bounds. I learned about databases and information infrastructure and was inspired to try and learn more about computer science and coding. Finally, my experience solidified my ambition to go into academia and become a scholar of the ancient world myself one day. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity, and excited to continue working on the Writing in Early Mesopotamia project this fall.

Jessica Kadish (Anthropology)

Oriental Institute, Israel

4:20 a.m. You know it’s early, but somehow it still comes earlier than you think. But in order to get in a solid eight hours of work in before the sun gets unbearable, digging has to begin before sunrise. It’s hard to say you get used to such hours, but there is a certain gratification in waking up before the sunrise that made me appreciate the time, despite the nightly dread of knowing you will be jarred awake too early the next morning.

The site of Marj Rabba is split into three areas: AA, BB, and CC. As an intern, I was charged as the assistant area supervisor of area AA. This meant helping enter notes into the iPad and notebooks, answering questions of others in the area, taking photographs of the various loci, and recording measurements, stratigraphy, colors, elevations, and 3d points of features. This was especially useful as I was able to see the way that notes are properly recorded, in addition to better learning basic excavation techniques, both of which will be invaluable in future digs.

After the excavation is over for the day, we returned to camp for lab, with an occasional lecture sometimes preceding it. Lab involved washing, sorting, and marking pottery and flint. Marking the finds ensured that even if individual pieces were taken out of their appropriate bags, they could still be replaced in their contexts, which is vital for proper understanding of the artifacts. These labs allowed me to understand which artifacts are more informative and thereby useful in compiling information about the site. Being able to discern pieces that give you details of daily life at the site is knowledge that I can apply to other sites as well as use in comparative analyses with other areas in various time periods.

During the last two weeks of the internship I worked with my co-intern, Ani, at the Albright Institute in Jerusalem. Our time there was largely spent helping prepare an end-of-the-season report for the Israel Antiquities Authority. This report included area summaries and analyses and required compiling and unifying locus and basket lists, assembling proper databases, and creating and arranging maps and surveys. The basket and locus lists required quite a bit of reformatting, and this gave me experience with FileMaker Pro and its function as both an onsite tool and a printable document for reporting data. The report also required assembling Harris Matrices, maps that show the chronology and stratigraphy of each locus, which allowed me to be better acquainted with how dating at a site is compiled, arguably one of the most important parts of modern excavation. This project was also incredibly useful for understanding the types and formats of data that are necessary for onsite collection.

My co-intern and I also finished floating the soil samples that had not been processed, and we then analyzed the resulting finds. We processed the heavy floats by separating out the finds from the rocks and debris. This sort of analysis is a learned skill that requires a unique attention to detail and ability to focus. Ensuring that nothing is missed in the sorting reflects a larger part of archaeology: whether out in the field or in the lab, a good archaeologist needs a sharp, trained eye that is always on the lookout. This is definitely a skill that will stay with me.

The first part of the program was difficult for me: the hours, the lack of shade, the heat. Looking back, I wish I had managed to bring more energy to that part of the program, but maintaining positivity in those conditions was challenging for me. I too often got tired and cranky and unable to perform up to par. This is something I now know I need to be more diligent about. But knowing that this is an issue for me will allow me to engage with this sort of fieldwork more thoughtfully and purposefully in the future.

Overall I feel reaffirmed in my convictions to pursue archaeology as a profession, although I know I will need to improve my ability to cope with extreme conditions in a more productive and energetic manner. But, working in the field provides experience that you cannot get in a classroom. There is no way to know an artifact’s importance in a culture if you cannot understand, let alone identify, the artifact in question. Leaving alone the personal insights I have developed (in the form or better understanding when and how I fail and what I can do about it—i.e. being more thoughtful and less stressed by the conditions), gaining this sort of familiarity with excavation and artifacts has given me more confidence in my position and has helped strengthen my desire and ability to move forward in archaeology.