Interning at the Milwaukee Public Museum

By Cara Caputo

Our latest blog post is by history major (and student employee extraordinaire!) Cara Caputo.

MPMThis past semester, I worked as an intern for the Milwaukee Public Museum’s Anthropology Department. With my majors of History and Anthropology, my minor in Public History, and my career goals of working in the museum field, this internship was an unparalleled experience that allowed me to expand my knowledge of museum studies. Along with the opportunity to work closely with the curator of the museum’s Anthropology Collections, Dawn Scher Thomae, this internship exposed me to the day-to-day operations of a large natural history museum through the variety of tasks I performed during the semester.

My internship coincided with the opening of MPM’s latest temporary exhibition, Weapons: Beyond the Blade. This exhibit, which ran from October 2017-January 2018, featured over 180 weapons from various cultures and time periods, including a sword made from crocodile skin and a full suit of armor. Many interns from Marquette contributed to the development of this exhibit by conducting research on the provenance and historical context of the museum’s vast collection of weapons and assisting Dawn in the process of determining which objects made it into the exhibit.

My primary responsibility during my internship was selecting ten objects from MPM’s collections that were not chosen to be displayed in the Weapons exhibit and researching these objects in order to present them to visitors. Following the opening of the exhibit in October, I presented my objects in the exhibit space every Monday morning to provide visitors with a closer look at various weapons in MPM’s collections, including armored socks worn by samurai and a sword used during the Napoleonic Wars. Many visitors are appreciative of interns’ enthusiasm to share information with them and it is always rewarding to see visitors enjoying their experience in the exhibit.

I was also tasked with developing programs that I would present during two of the museum’s largest events, Halloween Hauntings and Archeology Day. For Halloween Hauntings, my colleague and I developed a program on Egyptian Mummification and examined various objects in storage to determine which artifacts we wished to research Cara 2and interpret. After researching the provenance and history of our chosen objects, we presented our objects, which included an authentic mummified head, to visitors of all ages at the event. Our presentation also featured an interactive aspect, as visitors were able to smell various oils and incense utilized during the mummification process. For Archeology Day, I helped developed a presentation on weapons utilized by warriors from various cultures, including a shark-tooth club from the Gilbert Islands. Developing these collections-based programs and participating in two of the museum’s special events led me to discover how much I enjoy interacting and engaging with museum visitors. It was also gratifying to witness museum visitors’ curiosity and eagerness to learn about the history behind various artifacts within MPM’s collections.

My final project of the semester was performing a summative evaluation of the Weapons: Beyond the Blade exhibit. This project consisted of two main components: unobtrusive visitor observations and exit interviews. For the observations, I recorded the ways that visitors utilized the exhibit space, including whether or not they read the labels and the amount of time they spent in the exhibit. In addition, I conducted exit interviews as visitors left the exhibit, which consisted of asking them a few questions about their opinions of and experience in the exhibit. I was interested in learning more about how museum professionals measure the effectiveness of exhibitions based on the public’s reactions and opinions, and this project effectively provided me with insight into this process and essential aspect of museum studies.

In addition to these larger projects, I also performed various tasks to assist the department, such as moving objects to and from storage and aiding researchers. For instance, a Ph.D. candidate came to the museum to conduct research on the museum’s collection of Phoenician and Punic ceramics from Malta, and I helped him streamline the process of taking 3D digital scans of the objects. I was even able to utilize this technology to scan a few objects, and I really enjoyed learning more about the development of 3D scanning in the fields of archeology and collections research.

Ultimately, this internship was a fulfilling experience that exposed me to various aspects of the public history field and reinforced my career aspirations of working in a museum. Make sure to visit the Milwaukee Public Museum and check out the upcoming special exhibition, Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed, which opens on February 10!

Scroll down to view gallery of photos from the weapons exhibit.

Cara Caputo is a history major who has studied abroad in London and participated in a number of public and digital history projects. Last fall she was part of the public history class that created an exhibit for the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear (see more at https://medium.com/@MUArtsSciences/class-at-the-museum-25267710f5b). 

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