This past Friday, August 2, was the last day for my internship at the Indiana State House. It has been a wonderful experience, one that continually reaffirmed my desire to make a living out of teaching people about the past. Everyone at the Capitol Tour Office does a wonderful job and it was a pleasure meeting and working with many of the state’s leaders, including various state legislators and their legislative assistants, members of the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and Governors Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence. I consider working for the Capitol Tour Office an awesome responsibility, one that requires a great deal of work in studying the history of Indiana and how their state government functions today. Having almost no knowledge of Indiana history or state government in general before moving to Indianapolis, I tried my best to study and understand these topics to the best of my abilities. Hopefully my knowledge and passion for the job came through on the tours I gave over the past year. Here are a few thoughts about my experience:
I view State House tours as tools for civic engagement: To be sure, tours of the State House should inspire a a degree of pride in Indiana as a state, and rightly so. The Capitol building is a beautiful structure and many caring people have served the state over its 125 year history. Yet I always tried to challenge my audiences to think critically about what happens with state government and how the actions of our elected leaders affect everyone in the state. Students from Northwest Indiana (Lake and Porter counties, for example) live so close to Chicago that they sometimes forget that their state capitol is in Indianapolis, not Chicago, while students in Southern Indiana live so close to Kentucky (“Kentuckiana”) that they too forget that they are residents of Indiana at times. This, combined with the fact that most of us naturally gravitate towards political news in Washington D.C. rather than our local State Capitols, brought home the importance of educating people about state government. It’s nice to talk about Indiana Limestone and the original chandelier in the Supreme Court, but it’s equally important to point out the webcams in the House, Senate, and Supreme Court and encourage people to watch a session online sometime. It’s important to bring home the fact that it’s our duty as citizens to be informed of what our elected leaders are doing, and if they’re doing a bad job, we should be empowered to vote in someone else who might be able do a better job. If an adult who has lived in Indiana all their life now watches local news with a more critical eye, I’ve done my job. If an 18 year old went back home and registered to vote, that’s a victory. If a 4th grader takes an interest in history and government after their visit to the State House, their education has been greatly advanced.
4th Graders are fun!: Prior to working for the State House, I always felt a bit of uneasiness when working with elementary aged students. I must say, however, that working with thousands of 4th graders over the past year (this is the year when students learn about Indiana history) has totally changed that. 4th graders students are still kids, but around this time they really start thinking about the world around them, and in most instances they were more willing than high school-aged students to engage a discussion with me during my tours. I learned as much from them as they did from me. A great benefit of this internship is that I now have practical experience working with students of all ages and I feel like I can develop education programs for museums, libraries, etc. for all k-12 grades.
My research project was largely successful: Another part of my internship required me to engage in a research project entitled “History’s Mysteries at the State House.” On days that we weren’t particularly busy I went to the Indiana State Archives and Indiana State Library to analyze primary source documents and glean new insights into the history of the building. For example, tour guides had been telling audiences for the past few years that the marble flooring throughout the building came from Vermont and Tennessee. I went through six volumes of the Board of State House Commissioners records that were written throughout the building’s construction from 1878-1888 and discovered that while the black and red marble flooring did in fact come from Vermont, the white marble actually came from Italy! Unfortunately, there are many instances at tour sites around the country in which one tour guide says something about their site (“I remember reading about this somewhere!”) and suddenly it spreads like a bad virus as everyone else starts repeating it on their own tours. I’d like to think that my research and findings were able to reinforce to the rest of the tour guides the importance of checking reliable primary sources before saying things on tours. I also tried to show my fellow tour guides how to conduct their own research, so hopefully they will be empowered to do their own research when new questions pop up about the building. At this point, my research has not been published online, but the Capitol Tour Office recently received a grant from Indiana Humanities to begin building a “virtual tour” of the State House that will be facilitated by the intern replacing me. When that tour goes live, it will hopefully include a lot of my research and findings.
…And so a new chapter in my professional career begins. On Tuesday, August 6, I will be starting a nine month appointment with the National Council on Public History. This internship will be more behind the scenes than my appointment with the State House, but I wanted to have a different position for my second year in the IUPUI public history program, so this works out perfectly. It will also be really exciting to help organize and travel to NCPH’s annual conference next year, which just so happens to be in Monterey, California. 🙂
Until next time…