Why Berks History Matters to Me: A Letter from a Former Intern

 

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Dear Fellow Members and Friends of the Berks History Center,

Admiration. Curiosity. Gratitude. These are the feelings that capture the essence of my experience with the Berks History Center. In the fall of 2016, I had the pleasure of working alongside seasoned museum professionals at the Berks History Center (BHC) museum. As a junior at Albright College, I interned at the BHC and helped with their collections management initiative, which involved inventorying more than 28,000 items in the collection. From textiles to furniture, to posters and machinery, my eyes were exposed to more curiosities than I ever could have imagined. Some days I felt like Abigail Chase from the film National Treasure, holding the Declaration of Independence and eager to uncover the detailed history woven into its fabrication.

Despite being a South Jersey native, I developed a sincere admiration for the Berks County artifacts we inventoried. Each had a place in the museum and I wanted to know how and why all of these items were collected, and how they contributed to preserving the legacy of Berks County.

On one of my first days at the museum, I learned about the mystery of the Chippendale chairs. There was a rumor that the chairs belonged to the former Pennsylvania governor, Joseph Hiester. My supervisor, BHC Curator Brad Smith, said that he wanted to find out if the legend was true. So we began our quest with several visits to the BHC Research Library and the Berks County Courthouse.

It was from those visits that we discovered the legend was true!

Thanks to the curiosity of our team, we located the original acquisition documentation for the chairs, which traced the lineage to the former governor. I felt like a museum detective and only wanted to explore more mysteries!

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Photo: Mackenzie inventorying items in the BHC Museum Collection.

After getting a taste of curatorial research, my admiration for Berks County history grew exponentially. I wanted to know things like: why the collection held so many fire company artifacts; how a Conestoga wagon got into the basement; and how so many valuable things had been acquired.

I discovered the answers to these questions and more through persistent research and constant support from the BHC’s talented and supportive staff.

As more information was uncovered, I realized that I was beginning to help preserve the legacy of Berks County. It wasn’t until my last few weeks at the BHC that I noticed how much gratitude I felt for the collection, its keepers and its scholars.

In the winter of 2017, Brad asked me and fellow intern, Erin Benz, to present our findings at a community event at the BHC. Through this experience I understood that I had the potential to grow as a museum professional.

After presenting some of my favorite paintings from the collection, I was told by an attendee that one of the works was improperly labeled. I was grateful to this community member because I learned that historical organizations like the BHC rely on input from the local community to accurately preserve and interpret local history.

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Photo: (left to right) BHC Intern, Erin Benz; BHC Curator, Brad Smith, BHC Intern, Mackenzie Tansey; Executive Director, Sime Bertolet

When I left my internship at the BHC, I knew it wouldn’t be a final farewell.

The BHC is a place I admire for both its collection of artifacts and its dedicated staff and volunteers. It’s also a place where curiosity is welcomed and shared among scholars and a place I’m grateful for because it’s where I discovered my passion for collections management.

The BHC has the power to ignite a fire of curiosity in community members of all ages and backgrounds. That fire found its way into the heart of this Albright Lion from New Jersey and I believe it can touch the hearts and minds of many more to come!

This year I’m giving back to the place that supported me by making a $100 donation.

Please join me today and share your gratitude to the BHC by donating any amount you can to support this vital community treasure. Click here to donate online or you can mail your support to 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA 19601.

The BHC continues to find innovative ways to preserve history while educating and inspiring the citizens of Berks County and beyond. Your strong financial support is vital to ensuring that it can continue to do just that. Thank you for your help.

With gratitude,

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Mackenzie Tansey
2016 Berks History Center Intern

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