History internships provide students with exciting, hands-on look at the past
Rachel Laufer, who graduated with her bachelor's degree this past May, serves as bosun's mate aboard a replica of Half Moon, Henry Hudson's ship, during her internship which ended in late November.
Julie Powers, a junior majoring in history, works at an excavation site as part of her internship with the Lost Towns Project in Annapolis, Md.
During his summer internship, Brett Truitt (left) portrayed Union soldier A. J. Hamilton in the interpretive history program at Fort Delaware, which was a prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.

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2:33 p.m., Dec. 4, 2009----Imagine serving as a bosun's mate sailing aboard explorer Henry Hudson's vessel, Half Moon. Or being in the shoes of Union private A.J. Hamilton as he guarded Confederate prisoners at Fort Delaware during the Civil War.

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These are among the intriguing scenarios that brought the past to life for University of Delaware students engaged in history internships over the past several months. The students write about their experiences in the briefs linked below.

Ironically, Rachel Laufer, who graduated with her bachelor's degree in history from UD in May, wrote that she “hated history” growing up. But her experiences sailing aboard the Half Moon, a full-scale, operating replica of Henry Hudson's vessel from 1609, taught her to “love history” and now she enjoys sharing her knowledge of the past with others. A veteran volunteer aboard the vessel, her most recent internship as a bosun's mate concluded in late November, and now she is applying to graduate school in history.

“Today, the full-sized replica of the Half Moon is a floating museum and a sailing classroom. But it is also more. It is a unique, life-changing experience,” Laufer said.

As an intern at the Lost Towns Project at Historic London Town and Gardens in Annapolis over the summer, UD junior Julie Powers unearthed native ceramics, a stone pipe, a tiny colander, and other fascinating artifacts at sites ranging from what may be the oldest wigwam in Maryland, to a mansion built in the late 17th century.

“I love being an archaeologist because I enjoy being hands-on with history,” Powers wrote. “When I find an artifact, I love knowing that I am the first person to hold this object in hundreds of years and now it is in my hands to take care of.”

Senior Brett Truitt's internship gave him the opportunity to portray private A. J. Hamilton during the Civil War, as the Union soldier guarded Confederate prisoners at Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island off Delaware City. Truitt's preparations included poring over Hamilton's personal diaries and other materials and learning how to load and fire a 32-pound seacoast gun-an activity that he enjoyed teaching visitors about.

“The procedure for loading and firing the artillery piece is derived straight from the artillery handbook issued for Union soldiers,” Truitt noted.

“Rachel, Julie, and Brett demonstrated lots of initiative in securing and planning their internships. We're very proud of them,” said Anne Boylan, professor of history and chair of undergraduate studies in the Department of History. “Their stories provide concrete examples of how internships offer 'hands on' experience with historical research and interpretation.”

While the students arranged these internships at various living history museums, Boylan notes that the Department of History also offers the E. Lyman Stewart Internship, which focuses exclusively on Delaware locations and is funded through a bequest of the late Helen Black Stewart (Delaware '24, '40M), who taught American history at Wilmington High School for more than 20 years. Mrs. Stewart bequeathed $1.3 million to the Department of History in 1992 to further her life's work and to honor her late husband, E. Lyman Stewart (Delaware '23).

Applicants for the Stewart internship must hold a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Successful applicants will receive a stipend of $3,000 and work for 10 weeks during the summer of 2010 in Delaware. For more information and the downloadable application, visit this Web page. The application deadline is Feb. 19, 2010.

Article by Tracey Bryant

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