Erin Willard is an undergraduate intern in the Department of Public Affairs. She is a senior majoring in history with plans to become a book conservator after graduating. In Erin’s specific role as an intern, she has interviewed conservators and gained a taste of different aspects of working in an archive. Erin loves speciality coffee, especially Ethiopian blends, and works at the nearby Caffé Medici which is where she met Andi Gustavson, Instructional Services Coordinator, who runs the undergraduate internship program. Through small talk over the counter, Andi learned about Erin’s interests and told her about the program, which led Erin to apply.
What does a typical day of work look like for you?
On a normal day I come in and conduct research on different people and programs. I usually check in with my supervisor to make sure my work is to Ransom Center’s standards as I continue to work on long-term projects like writing articles and conducting interviews.
What are some projects you’ve completed, and of those, which is the most important to you?
I’ve worked on a couple of Fellows Finds, which require me to coordinate and do some editing. I was able to conduct interviews with people in and out of the Ransom Center such as Maggie Gilburg, the director of development, and different artists and authors, such as Martin Doblmeier. My favorite project is one about the digitization of the movie poster archive. I really liked working on it, not only because it was interesting, but because I did a lot of different types of research. I interviewed people, did online research, and worked with the archivist to pick out photos to digitize. It got a lot of traction online after it was published.
How do you research and generate questions about the people you interview?
It’s everything from looking at their areas of interest or any prior work they did at the Ransom Center to looking at interviews that they’ve done or examining their resumes or CVs. Generating questions comes when I step back from what I know and think about what will be pertinent to the story. I have to take into account that the audience will not know everything I know, so I try to provide context for the questions.
What skills will you take away from this role?
Definitely interview skills—that was not something I’d done before. Prior to this I’d never done nonacademic writing, so I’ve also learned how to write in a way that is non-academic, but still professional. Research skills—whether it’s working on an article itself or doing research online—were skills I already had, but honed through this role.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned through your research?
I did a lot of research on early occult objects, and I got to work hands-on with the materials and handle the pieces myself. I corresponded with Aaron Pratt, Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts, about the books, which was amazing because he has such a wealth of knowledge. There was one book I learned about by Ludwig Lavater called De spectris, lemuribus et magnis written in 1569, and just being able to learn about the book itself and the context around it—what made it rare and special—was something I really enjoyed.
How has this internship influenced your academic interests or future career?
I knew going into this that I wanted to study conservation and work in an archive. My time in Public Affairs has solidified my interest in archives as a whole and gave me a taste—because I did projects and articles involving different departments—of the functions of different parts of an archival institution. I really enjoyed those experiences and talking to those experts about their fields.
Photo: Erin Willard, center, with her undergraduate intern cohort.