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Undergraduate Summer Jobs

Gettysburg National Military Park, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Deadline:  Monday, January 29, 2018

(Call for applications for summer 2018 internships)

Do you have an interest in preserving our nation’s history and sharing it with the public? Do you want to put your knowledge of history to good use this summer?

The Richards Civil War Era Center at Penn State invites applications from qualified Penn State undergraduate students for four paid positions at historic sites during the summer of 2018: two at Gettysburg National Military Park and two at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The internships provide students hands-on experience in the work of public history. These non-credit internships come with a $3,500 stipend and free housing at the national parks.

Gettysburg National Military Park

  • Interpretive operations: The interpretive operations intern designs historical presentations for the public and puts on programs for park visitors that interpret the history of the town and the battle. This intern also periodically designs and participates in living history programs that educate the public on life in the 19th century.
  • Museum services: The museum services intern will learn fundamental skills of archival and museum management. He or she also will assist with the conservation and preservation of the park’s vast historical collections, which include diaries and letter collections from soldiers and civilians who experienced the battle, as well as material objects from the battle itself, such as flags and banners, uniforms and weapons, and paintings and prints, among other items.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

  • Education division internship: This internship is especially useful for future teachers, though you do not need to be an Education major to apply. The intern develops and leads Civil War-themed educational programs for middle school students participating in the prestigious Washington, D.C.-based National Youth Leadership Council.

The intern also presents living history programs, while clothed in period dress, for park visitors. This is a physically active internship, where the intern uses the outdoor environment as their classroom.

  • Visitor services: The visitor services intern develops public presentations on any one of a variety of topics from Harpers Ferry’s unique history, such as Thomas Jefferson’s survey of the area, John Brown’s raid, the founding of Storer College (one of the nation’s first colleges to admit African Americans), and the birth of the Niagara Movement, the forerunner to the NAACP. The internship also involves working at the park’s visitor center, the John Brown Museum, and other locations in the park and town of Harpers Ferry.

Each year, Richards Center interns play a crucial role in the National Park Service’s mission to preserve the nation’s history and help connect Americans to their shared past. If you would like the opportunity to support this mission and gain valuable skills in historical interpretation and public education, we encourage you to apply, following the directions below.

Application Process: Applicants must have at least a 3.0 grade point average at University Park and have not graduated by the time of the internship. Applicants should submit a one-page statement of interest detailing why they would like to work at one of these National Parks and how they think the experience will further their education. They must also provide a résumé, one letter of recommendation from a faculty member (email is acceptable), and an unofficial transcript (it is not necessary to provide a certified official Penn State transcript).  Statements of interest and transcripts must be received by Monday, January 29, 2018. The letter of recommendation can follow.

Direct all application materials to Matt Isham, Richards Center Managing Director at For more information, see the Richards Center Web site:, or contact Dr. Isham directly.

Funding is made possible through the generous support of Larry and Lynne Brown and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Richards Center Interns Return to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Over the Columbus Day weekend, Penn State undergraduate students Mary “Katie” Belonus and Anelia Slavoff returned to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, where they had spent this past summer as Richards Center interns with the National Park Service. Belonus and Slavoff were back in Harpers Ferry to volunteer at the park’s celebration of the sesquicentennial of the founding of Storer College, which was one of the earliest institutions of higher education in the South that admitted students without regard to “race”, sex, or religion. Storer College played a crucial role in freedpeople’s pursuit of higher education in the aftermath of the Civil War. The college’s venerable status inspired W.E.B. Du Bois to hold the second national conference of the Niagara Movement, the forerunner to the NAACP, at the college in 1906. The college closed in 1956. You can learn more about its history at the National Park Service’s Harpers Ferry website.

During the sesquicentennial celebration Slavoff greeted tour buses, providing riders with an overview of Harpers Ferry’s rich history. She also roved around the park, answering visitors’ questions and directing them to some of the sites where special sesquicentennial events were being held. Belonus participated in some of those special events, volunteering with the park’s Education division staff staging educational events for visiting children and families to teach them about the history of Storer College and its significance in the post-Civil War freedom struggle. In this role, Belonus worked under the direction of Samantha "Sam" Sarsfield, a Penn State graduate and currently a seasonal ranger at Harpers Ferry. Like Belonus, Sarsfield had been a Richards Center summer intern in the Education division at Harpers Ferry, when she was an undergraduate student. She immediately fell in love with the park and completed a second internship there before graduating from Penn State. She teaches social studies at Millbrook High School in Winchester, Virginia. During the summers she works as a seasonal ranger and a supervisor of interns in Harpers Ferry’s Education unit.

Katie Belonus and Sam Sarsfield Storer College sesquicentennial
Former Richards Center interns Katie Belonus (second from left) and Sam Sarsfield (right) at the Storer College sesquicentennial in Harpers Ferry
Sarsfield is one of more than half a dozen former Richards Center interns who have gone on to full-time or seasonal employment with the National Park Service after graduation. They play an important role in helping the Park Service pursue its mission to preserve the nation’s “natural and cultural resources” for the “enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” Slavoff hopes to follow in their footsteps. She called her Richards Center internship at Harpers Ferry “one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” and it convinced her to pursue a career with the National Park Service. With the support of her Harpers Ferry internship supervisor, she is applying for a seasonal ranger position with the NPS for this summer. Likewise, Belonus described her Richards Center internship as “the most amazing summer I have ever experienced.” She will graduate in May with a B.A. in English Literature and Political Science and is exploring potential careers in public history. They have joined a growing group of Penn State students who have discovered a lifelong love of public history through the Richards Center internships.

Teaching Reconstruction: Some Strategies That Work by Hilary N. Green

Teaching Reconstruction: Some Strategies That Work by Hilary N. Green

“Carolina Singers,” Hovey, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, carte de visite, c. 1870s. Courtesy of the author.

This week we share our first Field Dispatch from Dr. Hilary Green, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama. Her research and teaching interests include the intersections of race, class, and gender in African American history, the American Civil War, Reconstruction, as well as Civil War memory, African American education, and the Black Atlantic. She is the author of Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890 (Fordham, 2016).

Teaching Reconstruction is hard. This is a difficult admission, especially for someone who has written about the period. Before launching into possible strategies, there are two caveats to the advice provided below. First, I teach in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama. My department and often my classes are located in a postwar campus building named after Basil Manly, the minister who delivered a prayer at Jefferson Davis’s inauguration.[1] As a result, my students deeply understand his role in slavery at the university and how the memory of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction shapes both their understanding of the past and current campus experiences. Second, I do not teach the United States survey, but instead an upper-level undergraduate, nineteenth-century black history course. Some of this advice may be adaptable to different levels and programs, depending on your student population. My students are typically well versed in Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality and Michelle Alexander’s the New Jim Crow.[2] Yet, even these more-socially aware students have difficulties with Reconstruction. The strategies I suggest have been tested and refined. I believe they work for teaching across a spectrum of students.

First, center your initial lecture on the newly emancipated. Since I am fortunate to teach Reconstruction over a series of lectures, I have developed an opening exercise that untethers students from any misconceptions and centers them on the major feature of Reconstruction–the newly emancipated African Americans. Students are divided into small groups of recently emancipated individuals who have been given twenty-four hours to decide between staying on the plantation or leaving. After selecting a last name, students address a series of considerations for survival if they decide to leave, or provisions to include in a contract with their former owner if they remain. Students have ten to fifteen minutes to complete the exercise.

Following the opening exercise, I use photography to discuss how African Americans defined their new identities. Thanks to a personal collection of early African American photography, students are able to view and hold several examples and reflect on the opening exercise. In reading these historic photographs, students bear witness to the Carolina Singers, a group of newly emancipated men and women engaged in a fundraising tour for the Fairfield Institute in Winnsboro, South Carolina. They also grapple with the contrasting depictions of the postwar black Mississippi community through images of John Roy Lynch and an unidentified Mississippian dressed in worn clothing while his eyes beaming with the joys of freedom. These visual texts give voice to the many unidentified individuals who left little to no written records but celebrated their new status and existence through photographic technology. For those without such collections, digital examples from the Library of Congress will suffice. The Black Codes, reunification, education, and political achievements also garner special attention before we launch into frank discussions over Reconstruction’s failed economic policies.

The entire article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

Gone with the Land: Environmental History in Civil War and Reconstruction Classes by Erin Stewart Mauldin

 Gone with the Land: Environmental History in Civil War and Reconstruction Classes by Erin Stewart Mauldin

"Confederate Fortifications in Atlanta, Georgia,” 1864. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Whenever I introduce myself in conversation as an “environmental historian,” many non-academics assume I write about environmentalism as a political movement or the history of environmental policy. It almost never helps to use the full title of my field of study by saying, “I’m an environmental historian of the Civil War and Reconstruction in the U.S. South,” because inevitably the follow-up is: “Was there an environmental movement during the Civil War?” Brief explanations of the ecological impacts of the Civil War and its relation to the agricultural context of Reconstruction are usually met with nods and smiles, and then always, “But how do you do that?”

I have a lot of practice answering these questions, since this is a discussion I have with my own mother at least once a month.

While environmental history is too well established for these sorts of conversations to happen at conferences, there is still a sense of confusion about the mechanics of that field, its sources, and most importantly, its usefulness to what historians do in the classroom. Just as debates about class, race, and gender infuse our pedagogical approaches to teaching material, so too should “environment.” Whether frogs or fluorocarbons, climate or cholera, soils or sows—considering the larger context of the human experience provides fuller, more nuanced depictions of well-known events in U.S. history.

Environment is particularly salient in Civil War and Reconstruction classes, for by reminding students of the omnipresence of the natural world, we reinforce the intimacy soldiers had with the non-human environment; the effects of disease, terrain, and weather on battle outcomes and questions of military logistics; enslaved people’s necessity for the war effort on both homefront and battlefield; and of course, that issues about labor after emancipation and much of Reconstruction legislation were about labor on the land.

The full article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

Congratulations to Crystal Sanders!

Congratulations to Crystal Sanders, Associate Professor of History and African American Studies, who was a finalist for the 2016 Hooks National Book Award for A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi's Black Freedom Struggle!

The Hooks Institute's National Book Award honors outstanding work on the American Civil Rights Movement and Its Legacy. Each calendar year, the Hooks Institute's National Book Award is given to the book that best furthers understanding of the American Civil Rights Movement and its legacy.

States’ Rights and Antislavery Activism by Michael E. Woods

Michael E. Woods, associate professor of history at Marshall University, has joined our team of Mustercorrespondents. He is the author of two books and several articles about politics in the antebellum period. Here he offers his first Field Dispatch. Let us know what you think in the comments!

The “states’ rights!” refrain is echoing in American politics, often coming from unexpected directions. California has crafted an independent climate change policy. Dozens of states have challenged the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Prospective “sanctuary states” from New York to Nevada might limit their collaboration with federal immigration authorities. There is ample evidence supporting columnist Charles Lane’s remark that, in 2017, “liberals are learning to love states’ rights.”[1]

Is this trend significant? Definitely, although its full influence will not be known until confrontations between state and federal authorities unfold. Is it surprising, ironic, or unprecedented? No. Americans across the political spectrum have leveraged state power against federal might. States’ rights appeals, as battle cries or as blueprints for political action, are neither distinctively Southern nor intrinsically reactionary. Secessionists in the nineteenth century and segregationists in the twentieth claimed ownership states’ rights in the name of white supremacy. But other historical cases are starkly different – and quite pertinent. Take the foundational texts of many states’ rights doctrines, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s Kentucky (1799) and Virginia (1798) Resolutions. They assert that a state government may interpose to protect the civil rights of its citizens against unconstitutional federal usurpation.[2] They were also written in response to federal efforts to suppress journalistic dissent and expedite the deportation of foreigners. States’ rights have been wielded both to attack and to defend the values of liberty and equality that the United States, at its best, has championed.

Among the most important, but commonly forgotten, advocates of states’ rights were the antislavery activists who launched the Republican Party in the 1850s. As I explored more thoroughly in a recent Journal of the Civil War Era article, early Republicans used states’ rights to win voter support and to challenge proslavery federal policies.[3] For Northerners who feared that federal officeholders served an insidious southern “slave power,” states’ rights offered a desperately needed basis for resistance.

The full article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.