Study Away Reflections: Julie Herbert ’11 (National Archives, Washington, DC)
Third-year history major and studio art minor, Julie Herbert, was fortunate to spend the past summer interning at the National Archives – every history major’s dream job!
Where to begin? This past summer has been one of the best I have ever had! My experience working at the National Archives as an archivist aide for the past three months proved to be more beneficial to my growth as a history major and an independent young woman than I could have ever imagined! Living down in Washington DC for the summer, far away from the rocky coasts and salty refreshing breezes of Maine and the slow paced world I am used to, was challenging, especially since I had not made such a leap of independence since my move to the University of Maine in the fall of 2007. This campus, it’s friendly people, and it’s relaxing, comfortable atmosphere, has been my home and such a great fit for me. I was surprised to find that by my second month, Washington felt like home, albeit different in every way imaginable to living in Maine.
My first week was filled with all the nervousness and anxiety of adjusting to a new environment at a new job and navigating a fast paced city. Thankfully I lived within walking distance of the National Archives in a townhouse on Maryland Avenue with other female interns and student temporaries who were just as clueless as I was. All my housemates, except for one, a fellow UMaine Honors student and my roommate, where not from Maine, in fact, many of them were from states and schools from Washington to North Carolina to Indiana. It was so nice to come home from an awesome day at work to a bunch of girls who would grow to be to me more like sisters than just nine other college students with which I shared a house. We were able to help each other tackle the day-to-day struggles of acclimating ourselves to our new surroundings and had some exciting adventures exploring the city.
I also had the good fortune of having wonderful, friendly, helpful coworkers at the National Archives. What did I do exactly? Well, besides getting to touch and handle documents and records from as far back and even predating the birth of our nation, I was also able to have one-on-one interaction with the many researchers, historians, and genealogists who visit the Archives on a regular basis. From finding and touching Abraham Lincoln’s signature, to being able to handle, hold, and photocopy Joshua Chamberlain’s pension, to viewing the Louisiana Purchase and Napoleon Bonaparte’s signature in the Treasure Room, this summer has been a non-stop joy ride of exciting historical findings.
My daily duties consisted of pulling and furnishing the records requested by researchers to the holding room and refilling them, responding to emails or written requests for information concerning military pensions, enlistments, assignments, and general service records, as well as helping the Textual Archives Services Division with general organization. I worked under the archivists in the Old Civil and Military Records Division who were ever patient with me as I attempted to not get lost in the stacks and always available to help me when I was not able to find a record or reference for a researcher. More than anything, I enjoyed my special project, responding to researchers written requests, which allowed me to search through the stacks for relevant information concerning their subjects. It was like being given one clue and then being sent on a scavenger hunt, in which most times, you would find an “almost match” or hit a dead end. Though it could get frustrating sometimes, mostly because I always wanted to be able to answer the researchers questions or find record of their ancestor’s service for them, it helped me to realize just how much patience historians have when conducting their research. It can take months for them to go through the records they request to find the facts or information they need.
The most rewarding aspect of my experience was being surrounded by such wonderful history-enthused people, and getting to feel like I was a part of an organization that really cares about making our nation’s history something everyone can appreciate and have access to. It’s my hope to return to NARA next summer and continue to help them organize and digitize records. I am deeply grateful for the extraordinary opportunity to experience what it’s like to be a historian and archivist in Washington DC.
Our nation’s Capitol is an extremely upbeat and exciting place to live, especially in the summer. With its professional atmosphere and clean, well kept public places, free museums, outside weekend markets, and its endless calendar of bands, plays, and shows that come through, made for a most eventful summer. A few extracurricular highlights included being able to go to two Washington Nationals games (including one against the Boston Red Sox), watch the National Memorial Day Celebration Concert put on by PBS at the Capitol, and of course spend the 4th of July with my family watching the parade and the enjoying the spectacular fireworks presentation!
I’m a Maine girl, born and bred, and although it has always been my home, and will be my place of residency for my next two years, I know Washington DC holds a big piece of my heart and a prominent role in my future. Thank you all so much for believing in me and providing wisdom and guidance as I study and grow here. I can only hope to make you proud. Who knows, maybe I could be the next Head Archivist of the United States?