by Marena Montes-Colón
2021 Herstory: Women in History Intern
Serving as the Orange County Regional History Center’s inaugural HERstory: Women’s History Intern has been an enriching experience for me.* During my time with the History Center, I have worked with an amazingly collaborative and enthusiastic group of colleagues, who work to fulfill the museum’s mission. Most of all, I worked closely with a group of brilliant and talented women who acted as a community of mentors along the way.
I was welcomed with open arms by everyone. My first two weeks were spent being shown around the facilities, sitting down with staff, and learning about their duties throughout the museum. However, the collections department is where I spent the duration of my internship. By the end of my first month, I had discovered a profound interest and passion for museum work.
Magic in the work
To me, collections is a research playground where the “toys” are old, fragile, and shouldn’t be played with. It is also where the artifacts and archives are both preserved and housed. There is a magic in the work museums do to educate the general public that I can only attempt to express through my experiences here at the History Center.
Put in terms of wizardry, if the collections staff are the conjurers of knowledge, then the exhibits staff are the alchemists who contextualize abstract pieces of information into magnificent displays that educate the public. Finally, the museum’s education department works one on one to educate “young wizards.”
One of my first tasks was administered by the research librarian, Melissa Procko, and involved indexing an El Sentinel newspaper collection dating between 2001 and 2004. Getting to handle these newspapers – reading the current events of that time – was almost like reliving it.
My second project was under the mentorship of the collections administrative assistant, Noelia Irizarry-Roman. I researched, wrote, and presented the July 2021 Lunch and Learn program about Latinx artists and how they identify with and connect culturally to their national identities. This experience helped me better develop my public-speaking skills for a general audience. This topic complemented the HERstory internship’s focus on women’s history in that it was an effort to expand the collection and raise awareness about an under-recognized sector of the community.
For my main project, I chose to focus on the experiences of transgender women and had the opportunity to listen to oral histories with transgender women already collected by the History Center. Their narratives were rich, filled with their own lived experiences. I also had the opportunity to grow the collection by co-conducting an oral history alongside Dr. Aleksandra Ciecielag-Floto, the One Orlando oral historian. The addition of this interview highlights the museum’s goal of inclusivity, working to fill the gaps that still remain in collecting women’s history.
Like the history of all intersectional groups, transgender women’s history is also part of LGBTQ+ experiences. With the guidance of archivist Whitney Barret, I created a research guide that forms a solid foundation, consolidating different aspects of the History Center’s LGBTQ+ collection. In this document, I included the trans women’s oral histories because I found them to be eye-opening and unique pieces in the overall collection of LGBTQ+ content. This document will continue to grow as more relevant items are donated to, or cataloged within, the History Center’s collection.
The magic that occurs at the History Center comes from the hard work, dedication, and passion that this team brings with them every single day. However, something important I have learned here is that the museum industry is weighted down by shortages of funding and resources, but that here, they do the best they can with what they are allocated. Pamela Schwartz, the executive director, is at the head of local progressive change with a determined attitude as well as a faithful staff to back her up.
The History Center’s vision statement reads: “We explore the past to deepen our understanding of the world, to evoke empathy, and to inspire action towards a better future.” To achieve this continuously, what exceptional local institutions such as the History Center need are positions dedicated toward expansion, outreach, and diversification. Funding is integral to promoting such positions with fair compensation, encouraging individuals from diverse educational and cultural backgrounds who are committed to contributing toward a holistic reflection of the community.
I look forward to staying involved as a volunteer after my internship because my experience has been so profoundly motivating and inspiring. Most of all, the passion is palpable throughout the facility, and it’s hard not to want to be a part of that. I’m grateful for this opportunity and the experiences I have had this summer. They have helped me grow professionally and have also expanded my view of my own career possibilities and the many ways one can be a part of educating others.
*Note: The HERstory: Women in History Internship in Honor of Jeanne Edge Evans & Bickley Wilson, and the fund to support it, was created at the History Center’s inaugural Women’s History Month Celebration breakfast honoring Mary McLeod Bethune in March 2020. Jeanne Edge Evans and Bickley Wilson are the mothers of the fund’s founding supporters. The fund offers a paid internship to students interested in pursuing a career in public history, history, public administration, education, museums, and related areas who demonstrate a strong interest in seeking valuable museum experience and in researching diverse women’s history stories and museum studies. For more visit https://www.thehistorycenter.org/support/herstory/.