My Last Week at HSP but My First Step into Professional Public History Work: Final Field Blog for Summer 2019

This week was my last week at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I worked four days this week for 19 hours, making my total hours in my internship, 149 hours, as I wanted to finish with a full week of work to give myself extra time in case there were any last minute things I needed to polish up. I had a really great time this week, and in my internship as a whole. It has an incredibly rewarding and unique experience, that I looked back fondly at this week as my work was winding down. I finished up a lot of interesting things this week that made my last couple days incredibly satisfying.
Monday I did some tweaking edits in the Admission Book I had completely at the end of last week, as well as starting revisions to my research component. Tuesday the main highlight of my day was I got to attend another Colloquium at the Library Company along with doing my other duties. That was a fun time, though I didn’t have time to get anymore cool buttons! I also while I had access to the letters and other documents, brainstormed things to do for my final presentation for the Practicum, but I won’t spoil any of that here.
Wednesday I spent a large part of my time getting feedback and improving my written research material. Building from my supervisor’s first suggestion of using more of the official institutional documents to back up my arguments with the letters was incredibly helpful. With his help, I further developed my arguments and outlined clearly the Orphan Society of Philadelphia’s policies on custody. This made the piece stronger and easier for a reader to understand the issues surrounding custody and family requests in these letters. My issue was I had become so entrenched in the information about the Society, I knew all these details off the top of my head, but for a researcher who is just finding out about this organization, information would have slipped under the cracks if I didn’t point out things very specifically. Having another set of eyes on the piece really helped me realize this issue and fix it, which is always good news.

Today once I had confirmed with my boss that my writing was good to go, I learned more about the presentation I will have to do for the HSP staff, on the Orphan Society records. Basically, my boss picked a date in August and I will just commute over there to do the presentation with my fellow interns, it’s not necessary to count for my hours or anything like that, just a fun opportunity. I also was curious about when the OSP records would be made available to the public, and my boss explained to me the numerous steps involved in order to make that happen. What with editing and coding the material, it will be a long process but I am still excited and will be looking forward to when the records go live. Today I also worked on transcribing more letters that I had skipped over in my original week or so working on them. They were easier to read now, and honestly I thought I had skipped a lot more but I had just forgotten to attach a letter to ALL the children involved in the document, such as younger siblings, when necessary. So, I’d go find a blank spot on my Excel and realize all I had to do was copy and paste it! Overall I had a really great week and an amazing time at my internship.

A VERY heavily cropped photo of HSP in order to get it to the proper file size for blog

“On your Right is the Limbo Room” Practicum blog week 7

This week was my seventh week working at the Historical Society of Pennslyania. I worked four days out the week for a total of 20 hours. I made a lot of great progress with my summer work. I also got to experience new opportunities on multiple days of the week.
Back to the old news, I kept up a steady pace working with the Admissions Book of the Orphan Society of Philadelphia. By the end of Monday I finished 70 entries, out of 193. However with a great deal of patience and hard work I finished the entire book today! My duties with this book were to summarize the entries written, one for each child admitted into the Asylum over the 39 years the book covers the Orphanage’s records. I really can’t begin to explain how satisfied I was when I finished the last entry on that Excel spreadsheet, but it was a great feeling!

One of the unique opportunities I had this week was to visit the Library Company of Philadelphia. For reference it is right next door to the Historical Society. So I had walked past this place every day I went to work, but had never actually been inside it before this week. Tuesday, my supervisor asked if I wanted to attend a Colloquium at the Library Company, HSP staff and interns were invited to hear presentations by two research fellows working on their Phd dissertations. I had never been to one of these events before, and I never would have had the chance to go to one before this opportunity arose.

I learned from my supervisor as we were walking over that the Historical Society and the Library Company work together often. Also when books or manuscripts need to be moved from one institution to the next, there is actually a room that connects the two buildings. It’s jokingly referred to as “The Limbo Room.” This sounds like a very tangental segment of my week, but it is an example of public institutions work collaboratively, which is an important practice

This Colloquium was incredibly interesting to attend for a number of reasons. The first being the research topics the two research fellows presented were incredibly engaging and insightful. The more relevant towards my personal goals is the fact that I recently started looking in-depth at Graduate education in my own time. Hearing fleshed out examples of dissertation topics gave me insights into how developed and engaging these research topics need to be.

Other new things about this week is I completed my Assignment V Meeting between my supervisor and Practicum professor.Planning out a professional meeting was something at first that I thought would be challenging simply because of logistics. At first I was a little nervous, but everything worked out and exceeded in what I thought how the meeting would play out. It was a very professional setting and circumstances, but also just a fun time. I know that I’ve enjoyed my work these past few weeks and my enthusiasm for the topic brushed aside my nerves.

I also learned some interesting things about my work in general this week. First off, my research component will be added along with the historical essay to the HSP website along with other information about the Orphan Society of Philadelphia records. Also, one of my blogs was actually added to the Historical Society’s own social media pages! I was truly floored when I heard that! Overall it’s been an interesting and rewarding week.

I got some buttons from the Library Company to commemorate my first visit there

A Short but Productive Week Practicum Blog Week 6

This week I worked a total of 15 hours and 13 minutes. I had a really great time during this week. My week was shortened only because HSP was closed for the 4th of July. Even though it was a short week I got a lot of work done in the numerous hours I worked this week.

I started my week typing up a draft of the research component of my work. This research involves the letters I had worked with earlier in the Orphan Society Collection. The goal of this assignment is to analyze some of the letters, tying them together with a common theme. The aspect of these documents that proved most engaging to me was the different ideas of the definition of family.  The first documents I worked with in this collection were internal Visiting Committee Reports, that painted life in the Asylum as “one big happy family.” The documents didn’t exactly put it in those words, but the reports did often refer to the children and the Matron as a “family.” Once I read through so many letters from desperate parents it changed my perceptions of the organization. Now, through more reading I found that, like most things, this is not a clear cut narrative. Some children later in life remembered their time in the Asylum fondly in letters, and one letter from a child’s aunt praised the Asylum for instilling a work ethic in her nephew. Though some of their policies could be strict,  the Asylum did return children to relatives, this was not very common as evident by numerous letters I transcribed.

Another aspect I touched on was through these documents, it is easy to trace the different opportunities for women that opened up over time. Early on girls in the Orphanage had more traditional domestic work training in housewifery. Two girls in the Visiting Committee Reports actually left the Asylum to work as a mantua-maker (dressmaker) and seamstress respectively, revealing other options for women. However in a letter from 1920’s (no specific date other than January 19 it’s frustrating) a mother asks if her daughter can be released from the Asylum early so she can be enrolled in Business School! I was so struck by the forward-thinking in the letter I knew I wanted to include it somewhere.

Another major portion of my work this week was spent on summarizing pages in the Admission Book, this can be a slow process as only one person can work on the Excel Sheet at a time. Another intern is working on the second half of the admission book and it is all on one document, so we talked it out and cycled through working on it. What makes the Admission book so interesting is that it provides a lot of background information on the orphans and family details. It really fleshes out these people from the past, which is incredibly interesting.

In other work news, I missed the ice cream social, honestly I misread the time on the email and left early, it all worked out though!

Picture by me of Admission Book in Cradle to protect the book from damage when paging through it

A Solemn and Sweet Week: Practicum Field Blog Week 5

This week I completed my fifth week at my internship at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I worked a total of 15 hours and 15 minutes this week. As a whole I had a really great time the past couple days, and got to do some really interesting things.
The major piece of my work this week was working with the Admittance Book for the Orphan Society of Philadelphia records (from 1864-1903). This book has been a neat object to examine and transcribe, as many times it provides lots of details on a child’s family history. Given one of my projects is to work on a promotional piece for these records, I’ve been thinking of them in more ways. There’s still the practical “I have to transcribe this page” mindset, but also I’ve focused on a more public approach. As I’ve been working with these records more I’ve been thinking how to present them. It’s very easy to spin these records as a great resource for family researchers, when often the Admittance Book provides the names and details of family members of these now orphaned children.

Another aspect of my work is analyzing themes within the letters to and from the Orphanage that I’ve been transcribing. I wrote a draft of this paper, and will probably officially finish it next time I’m at work.  One of the interesting opportunities I got to examine was the different ideas of “family” that are revealed through these letters. In official documents like the Visiting Committee Reports the Managers refer to the children and the matron at the Orphanage as a happy “Family.” However, countless letters to the Asylum from the children’s biological parents challenge this notion.

Another task I got to do was compare the Orphan Society of Philadelphia to other Philadelphia institutions that were also up in running at the same time. I got to access the Encounters database and read the historical essays of other institutions’ records that were a part of their collection. Some organizations I learned about were the Philadelphia Home for Infants, the Philadelphia Placement Office, the Home Missionary Society, and the Public School records. This gave me an opportunity to really get a sense of what Philadelphia was like at the time.

During this week I got positive feedback from my supervisor about my transcription skills. This was great to hear because I am really enjoying my work, and it’s a skill I didn’t know I’d be good at when I first started working.

One thing I’ve been thinking about recently is the history of organized child welfare in the context of the Orphan Society. There are numerous examples of the poor conditions, diseases, and malnutrition in the Visiting Committee records. These poor conditions add context for the later foundation of public services such DHS. These can be pretty thought-provoking topics, I may or may not find a way to engage them more thoroughly with research at some point.

In much lighter news I also got a free travel mug from work AND the first week of July there’s an ice cream social for all the interns and volunteers! It’s really been a great experience overall, working with interesting documents and also dessert!





Letters, So much More than 26 of them! Practicum blog week 4

Today I finished my fourth week at my internship at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. From Monday till Thursday I worked a total of 20 hours divided evenly between those days. Overall I had a really great time this week and accomplished a lot of things, while also setting up more tasks to work on later.

Most of the hours I spent this week was focused solely on transcribing more letters from the Orphan Society of Philadelphia records. I didn’t think this was a task that I would enjoy as much as I have! Things can become pretty formulaic after a while, but it was so satisfying to read through and practically decipher some of these incredibly old documents. Especially when at first a sample of handwriting would confuse to no end, and then when I’d come back to that page I’d realize instantly exactly what word or phrase I had trouble with before!

Beyond this technical work, I was also tasked with more responsibilities as part of my internship. My supervisor went over the research and writing component of my work this week. My research will analyze certain themes that I notice reading through these letters and write a 3-5 page paper on the subject.I have such a wide sample of information with this collections of letters, so I am still brainstorming the right theme to really do the collection justice.

I spent a huge chunk of time going back and really reading through my transcriptions not just to edit them but really process the material I had been working with. It’s one thing to read through a letter to try and get all the details right, but examining them again and seeing how all the very truly human situations and themes tied them together was really rewarding work.

Another task I am to do is create a promotional piece, only something one to two pages long detailing the announcement that the Orphan Society of Philadelphia records are going to be open to the public! It’s really exciting stuff, and since that is a major thing I really want to do a great job with it! The specifics of this I haven’t truly planned out, that I will save for next week.

I also as per the suggestion of my supervisor, examined HSP’s historical essays on other organizations that were running at the same time as the Orphan Society of Philadelphia such as the Home Missionary Society. I looked into other charitable institutions in Philadelphia as well such as the Home for Infants and other organizations. It was a fun exercise to learn more about other institutions and see how they compared and differed from what I already knew about the Orphan Society.

I’ve been really enjoying the kind of work and opportunities I’ve had at HSP so far. This week gave me the chance to continue all the interesting work I’ve been doing. It also gave me an opportunity to step back and look at the big picture. At the same time reading through all these different articles for the next assignment has helped me focus on big picture aspects too! The opportunity to not just complete tasks, but to really think about the stories and human aspect behind a piece was an interesting experience.

I forgot to take a picture of things at work so please enjoy this photo of an old timey pen, really adds to the Letter-Writing Aesthetic of my research material

Photo credit Google Images-






“You’ve Got Mail!” Letters, Records, and So Much More: Practicum Field Blog Week 3

I completed my third week at my internship at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania this week. I worked a total of 22 hours this week. I really  enjoyed the work I had to this week, that involved more practice in acquired skills and learning new ones day by day.

Most of my week was spent transcribing handwritten letters, some them as early as the 1870’s going to the mid-1920’s. There are eight folders of correspondence in the Orphan Society records. Each folder had a different amount of letters for folder, for example one had 16 the other had 21. The folder I worked mainly with today had letters that related to financial information regarding the Orphanage. I also received volumes of the Admissions book for the Orphan Society to work with, some of these pages were very detailed on family history which was interesting to examine. Working with these letters provided a unique perspective of the material I worked with. My work with the Visiting Committee records was very interesting, however there was a formulaic pattern with the reports. With my work this week, each letter was unique this was interesting to examine. Also, unlike the reports, the style of handwriting was not consistent so some letters were easier to transcribe than others.

Like the past few weeks the more time I had to work with the letters as days went by the better I got at reading the handwriting. I established a routine where I would work on transcriptions in the morning, break for lunch, and then edit all my previous work in the afternoon. Like I imagined reading these letters offered a different perspective, a more human aspect to the Orphan Society of Philadelphia. The Committee reports also referred to the children and matron at the Asylum as a “family.” However, in the letters I found there were countless of them written by parents begging for their children to be returned to them. One such was a woman who’s children Verle and Mary Gracey were at the Orphanage. Mrs. Gracey wrote to the administrators on three separate occasions begging for her children back. On the last letter I found of hers, in a different set of handwriting (most likely from one of the Orphanage committee members) simply says “refused.” The single line at first seems anti-climatic of a reaction, but when I read it, it was almost heartbreaking given the sheer desperation of the mother.

The letters such as this added to my understanding of the records I was working with, almost on the same level as the finding aids. It recenter my work into focusing on the human experience within these documents. This made my work going through them a more rewarding experience. It is important to have a kind of balanced perspective with any work, so looking at the Orphan Society from both an insider and outsider perspective was very rewarding. This idea of perspectives, is an important aspect to consider in public history work. Examining a subject from multiple perspectives can allow more audiences, whether in this case it be researchers or other figures to connect with the past in a new way.

Photo by me close up of the admissions book for the Orphan Society of Philadelphia Admission Book

Papers, Practical Perspectives, and Patio Lunches! Practicum Blog Week 2

As of today, (May 31st for the record,) I completed my second week at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I worked for a total of 21 hours over the course of four days. The institution was off Memorial Day so I worked Tuesday through Friday, and plan on just working an extra hour on Monday and Tuesday to catch up on slight miscalculations from last week. There’s a reason I study history and not mathematics!

Over the course of these four days I got to do a lot of varied work, not just sitting in an office all day. Though office work did take up a large portion of my week, it was still a very rewarding experience. My office work was literally a continuation of the work I had started last week, working with reading through and summarizing volumes of Orphan Society records. As the days progressed I got so much better at reading the handwriting in the notes. Such as fun fact some handwriting styles, people wrote so fancy “s” characters, they look like “f”s that is a thing. Is there a reason for this other than The Aesthetic, that would be an interesting research question. Part of my work will also cover letter transcribing, work with the Admissions book for the Orphanage, as well as a research component. I very narrowly focused on these Visiting Committee records the past two weeks,  so I am excited to work with other materials in the next coming weeks.

When I wasn’t in my work space or eating lunch, I worked to really ingratiate myself with the people there and other aspects of the Historical Society. This was really easy, because the staff there is so nice and friendly! I got to attend a Library Staff meeting with a fellow intern and got here all the projects and discussions everyone else was working on and it was so informative and interesting. The meeting also made clear to me how much budgets can effect literally the access to an institution, (the other day the building had to close early due to short staffing). This was something that I was already aware of, but it brought that discussion in a whole new perspective. Another thing I did, that took place today, was go on a safety tour of the building led by Lee Arnold. On the surface, that might sounds very mundane, but the tour was honestly both educational and entertaining, which could be the subtitle of my entire internship experience so far!

I’ve continued to think about my experiences in terms of a public history context. Especially as I flesh out and get a new perspective of these women and children from the 1820’s-1840’s by reading through their material. I’ve also just been really enjoying archival work and learning all the different behind the scenes aspects of everything through my week here. The work I’ve been doing has been incredibly interesting in ways I didn’t expect, but the community that makes up the Historical Society and interactions have really added depth to my internship experience. I’m serious excited to back to work next week, and that’s a good sign in my book!

Photo by me: The image of the personal copy of safety contract I got to sign is only a fraction of how entertaining the actual tour was!

First Week Done! And it’s just getting started! Practicum Blog 4

Today was my fourth day at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I worked today from 9:15 to 2:15 for a total of five hours. I could move around quite seamlessly because I had my official badge on me today! Overall I had a really fun day and a really good first week! I’m certain the rest of my work will be a great time!

The first thing I did once I got settled in my work space was go right back to work on the second volume of records I was working on yesterday. This was Volume 14 of the Orphan Society of Philadelphia records, which dates from 1837-1840. Yesterday I had a lot of difficulty with physically reading the records, the shift in style from one volume to another was very dramatic. However, this morning I found some of the pages I had skipped over yesterday I had so much trouble reading them, so much easier to read today which was great!

I was able to get a decent chunk of work done in that book, reading over and making notes in Excel of a couple months of records took up a majority of my morning. I also met with my supervisor informally to basically touch base on internship things and updates on a revised version of my contract for the Practicum. I also asked if I could switch around my hours and work Tuesday to Friday next week, because The Historical Society would be closed for Memorial Day and I didn’t want to lose a chance to get hours and what not. It was all good, and I worked out a bunch of things, while also getting a lot of my records work done.

Another thing that happened today was my supervisor showed me the box that contains the folders of letters I’ll be working with during my internship. This was interesting, and I got really excited to start working with transcribing and my other duties. I just think it’s neat to be able to work with all these primary documents and especially after looking at all these records, gain a better perspective of this Philadelphia institution.

After all the discussions with my supervisor I went right back to work on the records and did that for the rest of the morning till I took a break for lunch. I was really worried I was going to get rained on because I didn’t pack an umbrella, but it all worked out. After I finished lunch, I decided to change things up and started reading through some of the letters to better familiarize myself with. I figured this was be just plain interesting, and it was also make them easier to transcribe once I got to that. It was really neat stuff, and I had a good time overall.

I’ve been having a fun time familiarizing myself and working with these documents. I know that my work here will have long term benefits for the institution and help out fellow researchers down the line in terms of connecting work to public history ideas. The process of my work with these materials will provide greater access to this information about a Philadelphia organization and shed light on charitable practices in the city.



Photo by Me: A post first week of internship treat!

“Record-Breaking Amount of Records to look into” Practicum Field Blog 3

Today was my third day at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I worked today from 9:30 to 1:20. I may shift my starting hours from 9:15 to 9:30 let’s see how the rest of the week goes. I really don’t need to arrive as early as I do, it’s more like I’m excited to get going kind of getting there early.
Today I got my official work badge, with my picture on it and everything. That’s great on like a lot of levels, but mainly I don’t have to worry about accidentally locking myself out when I eat lunch anymore, yay! That took up the first part of my morning, and that was a fun time.

I did a huge chunk of editing on the first volume of Orphan Society records I had to work on yesterday. So, I decided it might be a good idea to start looking at the next volume on the list, and that was a good idea. The first volume I had to work with was a very large book, and the next one is more like a normal sized book, maybe a little smaller. However, there is much more information and years span of records in the second volume despite its small size. With the first volume I had maybe like 20 names, roughly speaking, this one I had +40, it’ll take awhile basically, so it was good to get a head start.

Another issue I had this morning working with the next volume, which was records from 1837-1840, was that it was a totally different person keeping tracking of the Visiting Committee records. I had gotten so used to and comfortable reading the handwriting in the last book, now I had to learn a whole new set of patterns all over again. This formal handwriting was even more “so neat its messy” style, it almost gave me a headache. Though headache probably came about more from a black blazer and pants in 70 degree weather than anything else!

I had fun doing all my work, and definitely getting into the rhythm of things now that I’ve had a couple days under my belt. Reading up on the context of the Orphan Society of Philadelphia and the finding aid material definitely helped me out a bit doing work today. It gave significance to some of the names of the caretakers and administrators I was reading about in the records.

In terms of tying things into public history theory I worked on paying attention to other aspects of the organization today as well as hyper-focusing on my work. I looked through some of their material for spring and summer programming to see how the organization literally interacts with the public. A way to reinforce this to actually attend some of the events going on, especially now that I am aware of them. For example, one event the Historical Society is hosting is a free documentary screening of students from a Philadelphia high school and their involvement in the Vietnam War. If I can figure out scheduling things I’d definitely want to go cause that’d be fun, and it literally be engaging in public history things.

How to “Excel” at Day 2 of Internship Practicum Field Blog 2

Today was my second day at my internship at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I shouldn’t have been surprised but today was really fun, and I enjoyed my time there a lot! I worked today from 9:15 to 1:15 for a total of 4 hours. Because of trains I actually got there like a half hour earlier, and discovered a cool coffee shop right by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and I know I’ll have to check it out again another time!

The first thing I did today was get feedback from my supervisor on my work from yesterday. Overall, he thought my work was good and his feedback was really helpful! One thing I made note of my revisions to my edited material was to focus less on dates and repeating the phrase “according to the Visiting Committee records…” as this information would already be present to a researcher when looking at the finished product. So I spent a large chunk of my time today revising my work on Excel, but it was still a very rewarding process.

Another technical aspect of my work involved my running list of the caretakers as part of my material. I had originally just listed these names out, however my supervisor preferred between names I add a “|” to split up names. He explained this would make it easier to code names when that process will officially take place. While I did that I double checked my work, making sure which person visited when, and also made sure I had titles right. Sometimes with the handwriting it was difficult to differentiate a “Mrs. ” from a “Miss.” This was especially difficult as some of the “s” characters looked like “f” as was the style of the time.

Another part of my day was spent looking through materials my supervisor gave me on different aspects of how things work at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. These documents were really interesting and gave a behind-the-scenes- look on how an archive internally goes about handling collections. Many of these subjects were simply informative, and didn’t per say have to do with the documents I’d be working with. One thing that was particularly informative was simply through the fact that the document had a very readable font and a wealth of pictures!

The other packet of documents I got was the finding aid for the Orphan Society of Philadelphia. This document provided  a lot of context for the organization itself and its long history. This material was incredibly helpful to me on a personal level as I was able to get more information on an organization I had just read such detail on yesterday and today. The context reinforced my first impressions of the Orphan Society, such as the strict behavior policies that was enacted there.

The documents also provided some of the first names of the female administrators of the Orphan Society. This is such a small detail, but I really appreciated it. Through a simple action it fleshed out the significance of the actions these women did to maintain the Orphan Society. My work today further reinforced the themes of labor and public history that I started to realize yesterday. My findings today only broadened my understanding of this topic, by focusing with more detail on not only the Orphan Society but also the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

This kind of context and research I gained today I look forward to continuing. Soon, I will be able to examine letters and other material written by the Orphans themselves, and I am eager to gain new perspectives.