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My summer internship at the VHS

08/26/2011
Asya Simons

Asya Simons, digitization intern, Summer 2011

The following blog was written by Asya Simons who just completed her summer internship with the web and digital resources department at the VHS.  This is the second in a series of entries that she has written about her internship and specifically on her experience working on Unknown No Longer: A Database of Virginia Slave Names, which launches in September 2011.  The VHS is always looking for good volunteers.  If you are interested in serving as a docent, gardener, behind-the-scenes assistant or student intern, please contact our volunteer coordinator, Dana Fariss, at 804.342.9643.

Enjoy! 

~Meg M. Eastman, digital collections manager

Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff. The Virginia Historical Society encourages discussion; however, we reserve the right to remove posts that are offensive, threatening, or insulting.

When I first interviewed for an internship position at the Virginia Historical Society, I had no idea what experiences the summer would hold for me. All I wanted was something unique to put on my résumé, a chance to meet individuals I could learn from, and something to fill those long hours of inevitable summer boredom. I could never have imagined the impact those three months would have on me.

I showed up the first day not quite sure what to expect, but it didn’t take long to figure out that there is no average day-to-day work at the VHS. Although my internship revolved around editing content for the new Unknown No Longer database, I worked with images from two other large collections, and I helped my supervisor, Meg Eastman, photograph documents that had nothing to do with the UNL project—including a medical book signed by Queen Elizabeth I’s general surgeon! More than once, we paused in the middle of photographing documents to complete other urgent projects for departments around the building, and it was always exciting to find out how our work would be used.

Asya Simons

Asya placing a manuscript under the camera for the Unknown No Longer slave name database project

As for working on the UNL web site, I was amazed to see just how much work went into every name we added to the database. Each document went through at least four people, with stages ranging from reading the document to photography to data entry, before it could be declared “ready for launch.” And just when I thought we were starting to make a dent in our pile of things to do, a new stack would arrive. Some days it didn’t feel like I had accomplished anything at all.

Now, looking at everything I’ve done this summer—all the progress that has been made toward UNL’s launch—I am overwhelmed with how far everything has come. The group goal was to have 1,000 slave names ready for the September launch; we have almost reached 1,500. Personally, my goal was to photograph 250 documents for the web site before my internship was over, and although it was difficult, my final number stands at 252. The one thing I am most proud of is my ability to say that every day I worked on the project, I learned something new. Most importantly, I gained an appreciation for behind-the-scenes work. So much effort goes into every resource maintained by the VHS, and I am honored to be able to say that I helped with a small portion of that work.

Mss1 L3295 a 6

One of the 252 documents that Asya helped make "ready for launch" this summer. (Virginia Historical Society, Mss1 L3295 a 6, a letter from James William Shirley to his uncle John Billups Larue concerning a request that Larue approve of a marriage between Shirley's slave Harrison and Larue's slave Mary.)

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