Back in 2014 I thought I was going to be a public historian, archivist to be exact. Within the public history field, internships are not only considered a good idea they are almost a mandate to move your career forward. No matter if you are going to graduate school (as I did) or straight into a career having an internship on your resume offers real-world experience implementing skills you theorized in the classroom.
For me those real-world skills came from the Alice Paul Institute (API), a National Historic Landmark and former home of Alice Paul, working on the archival collection. Throughout the course of the internship I lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania while interning just across the river in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. My undergraduate thesis focused on the National Woman’s Party and I used my time at the archives to gain some background information to propel my thesis forward come senior year.
For those of you unfamiliar, a quick history lesson: Alice Paul was the president of the National Woman’s Party, a radical group of suffragists whose silent sentinels, prisoned hunger strikes, and burning of President Wilson’s speeches propelled the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote throughout the entire United States. Though Paul is most known for her suffragist work, she later wrote the Equal Rights Amendment, which in 1977 fell just a few states shy of ratification.
Unfortunately for those of us in the public history field, finding a paid internship is challenging. So instead of saying, “I can’t” I decided to find a way to Philadelphia by crowdsourcing money and resources for my internship at API. Below are three ways, and advice I learned from it, to find the funding for an unpaid internship:
- GoFundMe.com My GoFundMe page had almost $1,500 when I withdrew it from the account. What made it work wasn’t just creating one but how I managed the page. Instead of the usual “share” without adding detailed information, I took the time to write very specific blurbs about the internship, the experience I was gaining, and how it was going to help me academically. The GoFundMe became a voice for my future, sharing my experiences in a very open format.
- Internship Scholarship The Career Center at Morehead State University offered a small scholarship for students interning outside of Eastern Kentucky. I was thankful to have an internship that met all of the criteria included in the award and received $500 towards any of my living expenses. My advice here would be to check your resources just because the internship says “unpaid” doesn’t mean there are not resources available to you.
- Personal Connections Networking isn’t just for internship and career searches. I just so happened to have met someone who lived just outside of Philadelphia at a conference the previous fall. She happened to work in the theatre community and knew a company with an empty apartment for the month I was there, offering a fully-furnished apartment at the fraction of the cost. With that, it’s important to reach out to those in your network; do you have a distant cousin who lives in the city you’re interning in? Send out a Facebook message asking if anyone knows anyone—we’re lucky to live in such a global society after all!
So what did this internship offer me? For one, I returned my senior year and was immediately offered a position in the archives making much more money than many student positions because of my skills. Additionally the History Department at Morehead State decided to begin a Public History minor for students like me. Most importantly, I leveraged that internship to get a paid internship the following summer and was accepted to the Museum Studies graduate program at the University of Kansas. Now, three and a half years later, I’m not an archivist (and changed my mind about that career!) but those skills propelled me from one position to the next, leading me to where I am today.