During the summer of my freshman year, I had the wonderful opportunity of volunteering at the York County History Center in York, PA. Located almost in my backyard, I had been going there since I was a kid. My time was divided between the Colonial Complex and the Agriculture & Industrial Museum. Before diving into the story of my adventures from the summer, let me share the story of the origins of my involvement at the Center.
Caption: The History Center and I go back a long way! Here’s a photo of me on my fifth-grade school field trip to the Center. I’m second from the left.
Trips such as the one I made in the 5th grade (pictured above) helped foster my love of history and historical places. My class toured both the Colonial Complex (four 18th century buildings in downtown York) and the Agriculture and Industrial Museum (two floors containing over 20 exhibits now located in a former factory complex). For a young student, the History Center was an exciting place to learn more about the colonial history that made up the majority of my curriculum in school. Years later, I found it still a fascinating place to which I could return as an adult. Now, I could be involved "behind the scenes" as a volunteer representing the Stevenson University Public History major helping to foster a love of history in the school children of today.
My summer internship engaged me in a wide variety of experiences. I was a tour guide for large groups at the Colonial Complex and Agriculture and Industrial Museum. I now know more about York County history than I could have ever imagined. Each tour experience was different from the last because the dynamics and interests of the visitor groups varied. I was able to meet visitors from as far away as the United Kingdom. These British visitors offered a unique perspective on the portion of my tour focusing on York’s involvement in the American Revolution!
I also volunteered in the Museum Education Department. Those staff members are some of the nicest and most dedicated public history professionals I have ever met. They allowed me to create activities for the capital campaign fundraising event this past June. The theme was WWII. As part of that event, I made a simple matching game to showcase the variety of military insignias. As another activity, we had soldier and Rosie the Riveter "dress-ups" for children to wear for role playing. I also explained the importance of ration stamps during the war while showing examples of the stamps and even allowing children to sample cookies that I made from a 1943 recipe. This fundraising event taught me the importance of being flexible and altering activities to flow with the way the children responded to them.
Caption: A young "soldier" learns about WWII through role playing.
Later in the summer, I was able to organize activities for the once a month pre-school event. The theme was fiber and colonial clothing. For the event, I made paper dolls to show the type of clothing girls and boys would have worn
Since it is important to engage as many of the senses of our visitors as possible, we made sure the children were able to handle various textiles as they played and were given the opportunity to compare wool with other natural fibers. We included a flax break, spinning wheel, and a weasel in order to explain the process of making clothing. The children enjoyed trying on colonial garb to close out our activities for the morning. Even I got to dress up! In my role that day, I dressed in colonial garb for the first time since I was a child. Here is a peek at that outfit!
When my summer volunteer experience came to an end, I had an exit interview with my supervisor. During the interview, I shared what I learned from my experiences as well as my favorite parts of the summer. I really enjoyed the educational programing and realized that I want my required public History internship experience to focus on education. I have nothing but wonderful memories of my time at the York County History Center.
Caroline Smith is a Sophomore Public History major and volunteers as the Stevenson University Public History program’s Student Marketing and Communication Assistant with responsibilities that include producing content for this blog.