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A Summer Internship During the Pandemic

August 21, 2020

If you’ve been mostly stuck in your house as I have for the past six-ish months, I’m sure that this summer has not been as exciting as you hoped. Trying to stay home as much as possible has, for me, created a type of slow-burning, lingering anxiety about the pandemic—everything seems fine when I’m in my house, but at the same time, I don’t know how long life will be like this, what the ‘new normal’ will look like, or how many people will die before coronavirus is corralled. Still, I wanted to share my experience interning this summer, because I thought it would be helpful to know that you can still gain work experience as a young college student even with the pandemic and an uncertain future.

As a soon-to-be History major, I started looking for internship opportunities in my hometown that were related to the study of history and found one at a grassroots historic preservation organization. Luckily, this part-time internship would have been more-or-less remote even without the pandemic, so coronavirus didn’t change my plans that much in regards to summer jobs/experience. In fact, I actually interviewed for this internship during Oberlin students’ last week on campus in mid-March, right when the school was deciding how to respond to the pandemic.

Because the internship was remote and part-time, I had to be very structured with my time to make sure that I was actually getting work done. After the internship coordinator sent me a few possible projects and I chose the one I wanted to work on, I would typically spend at least 2-3 hours every day working on it. By working steadily on each project, I managed to finish 3 separate projects over the summer, all of which required different skills. 

The first project was converting a National Historic Register Nomination form for a local park into a local Historic Register Nomination form. Having a site listed on the National Register is a huge accomplishment, but (at least where I live) only local listings gain protection from development or demolition. After the site is nominated locally, it goes through various channels of city government before it is hopefully approved (another great thing about this internship—I learned more about how city government and commissions work!). I actually live right next to this park, so working on this project was a fantastic way to learn about the history of a place I use almost every day. Converting the National nomination into a local nomination meant that most of my work was editing down the information in the National form, which was great practice for condensing and synthesizing writing. 

My second project was writing Wikipedia articles about various buildings the historic preservation organization has nominated. Like the park project, Wikipedia articles integrate lots of information into a few paragraphs, so this challenged me to determine which information was most important to include. Moreover, Wikipedia articles also have to use a lot of diverse and reputable sources, meaning that this project also allowed me to do some more of my own research in order to find enough sources. I learned a lot about different historic buildings in Pittsburgh, most of which have super interesting stories! 

My third and final project for the remote internship—researching Pittsburgh properties listed in Green Books—was my favorite. For readers who don’t know what the Green Book is, it was a book published annually from 1936-1966, during the years of Jim Crow and segregation in the United States. Black travelers (and residents of cities across the country) could use the Green Book as a roadmap to find businesses, such as hotels or restaurants, that would accommodate and serve Black people. (If you’re interested in what was listed under your city in Green Books, the New York Public Library has a collection of them that you can access for free.) By researching Green Book sites that still stand today in Pittsburgh, I learned a lot about the history of de-facto segregation in this city, as well as how Black communities here created their own spaces to share food, music, and hospitality. This final project also allowed me to do my own research rather than just condensing already-written material. 

Overall, I greatly enjoyed my remote internship this summer, as it gave me valuable insight into historic preservation, my city’s history, and doing relatively independent research. Even though I could not go to physical archives to do research, I was still able to access relevant information online, and I had a lot of help from my internship coordinator. Hopefully, remote internships like this one will become more accessible in the future, especially if the pandemic continues!

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