A Night at the Museum: Internship Opportunities in Applied Anthropology

Finding internship opportunities in applied anthropology is easier than one thinks. Simply typing ‘applied anthropology internships’ into a web search-engine brings up countless opportunities. The different options available present endless possibilities to gaining experience in applied anthropology careers. Have you ever seen that movie where a man becomes a night security guard at the National History Museum in New York City and all the exhibits come to life?! Well, I personally can say I have never seen an exhibit actually come to ‘life;’ however, I can say that while creating exhibits as an intern at Wilson’s Creek Museum, I was excited to tell someone’s story and bring back their voice.
Museums, in particular, offer many internship opportunities. A museum’s scope of collection can span anywhere from the Archaic era to modern times; and if there is a certain area that interests you, then apply for an internship at that particular museum. There are over 18,000 museums in the United States alone and they offer many opportunities (check out http://www.aam.org for more information about museums and the different programs they offer).

Doing an internship at a museum will increase hands-on experience, knowledge on how a museum operates, and skills for managing a collection. Getting a chance to learn about museums can be quite an experience. Many museum internships will have specific jobs that need to be completed, such as building new exhibits, organizing collections, using conservation techniques on certain objects, and preserving and storing objects properly. Throughout an internship, learning the collection is the hardest part, since many collections have objects that number in the tens of thousands. Becoming familiar with a collection just takes a little time and some hard work.

If interning isn’t something you have time to do or you’re not quite sure what career-path to pursue, try volunteering. Many, if not all museums are suffering from budget cuts and cannot afford to pay for a full staff, so they rely on volunteers to assist with most of the work. Volunteering at a museum can be just as educational as doing an internship and you still gain the hands-on experience. A great attribute to volunteering at a museum is that after many hours it doesn’t have to end like an internship does. A benefit to volunteering at the museum you did your internship at is that you already have a rapport with the staff and they might assist you in finding a job after you finish your degree.
Museum internships can open a large array of job opportunities. Even if the particular museum you completed your internship at isn’t hiring, this doesn’t mean the curator doesn’t know of another museum looking for someone to fill a position. This type of communication is common among museums, especially with museums affiliated within the National Park Service, the Department of Conservation, and even museums within the Department of Defense.

In and around Springfield, Missouri there are quite a few museums. In Springfield alone, there are at least five large museums, including the Springfield Art Museum, History Museum on the Square, the Discovery Center, Air and Military Museum, and the Sports Hall of Fame. In the surrounding areas, the museums consist of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Museum, the Nathan Boone Homestead, and many local town Historical Museums.

It is never boring working with a collection, because looking at objects from the past can allow you to discover something new. Here are some questions to ask yourself: “Are you the type of person to give life to a figure from the past by telling their story of their existence? Are you the kind of person that believes that the possibilities of learning and discovering new things are endless?” If you answered ‘yes’ to both of these questions, then pursuing an internship or career in museums might be the right path for you.

Contributor Shauna Lee is a graduate student in the MSU Applied Anthropology Graduate Program. She is currently working on a research project in coordination with Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield where she has served as both an intern and volunteer.

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