Dear all, the summer is just heating up and so is the new academic year. Look for lots of news coming from Friends soon including more information on our 2022 Celebration!
This week, a contribution from one of our summer GMNH interns, Ben Frick!
What did our interns do this summer? An inside look by Ben Frick, working with John Wares
I spent my summer with the crayfish – that is to say among their preserved remains – in the aquatic invertebrates collection of the Georgia Museum of Natural History Annex. My overarching task for this summer was to renumber, reorder, and relabel approximately 740 individual jars of crayfish specimens, a mission which at the time of my acceptance seemed deceptively simple and straightforward. It so turned out that I was incorrect in my initial assessment of the collection’s misleading façade, and I ultimately spent about 8 weeks trying to interpret the cryptic handwriting of one Dr. Chris Skelton and his colleague BD Bennett, both men whom in my mind have become notorious for their tendency to cram as much information as humanly possible into the smallest space available on their labels.
Please do not be misled, I wholeheartedly enjoyed my time at the Annex this summer, and my work in the collections became a weekly routine that allowed me some time to contemplate my existence or catch up on podcasts if I so chose. Though my task may have been tedious, I found myself often looking forward to my time at the Annex not only for that time to think, but to see my fellow interns, Claire and Bella, whom I had the pleasure of coming to know throughout the course of the summer. Though initially I only interacted with them sparingly due to my collection’s isolated location, I soon found that tedious work is often more fun in the company of others who might share in that tedium. Thus, I often found myself hauling my cart of ethanol-saturated invertebrates to the loading deck, where the two girls could usually be found scrubbing whale bones and recording data. I enjoyed the conversations that we had, though they may not have been entirely curation-related, and I especially enjoyed occasional input from curator Nikki Castleberry, who seems to have a never-ending supply of stories to tell. I think that If I had to choose highlights from my time at the Annex, the relationships I helped to build and the stories I heard would certainly be at the top of the list.
Of course, this isn’t to say that my internship with GMNH was non-educational or boring in any way, quite the contrary in fact. If anything, my time at the Annex was incredibly demonstrative of the need for programs like curation internships, especially within the realm of natural history. The reality of the situation is that for collections like those housed at the Annex, care and personal attention are scarce at best. Though they certainly do try with all of their might, the existing curation staff at the Annex are woefully short for time to spend on tedious work like mine, an unfortunate side effect of which is that many collections go untouched and uncatalogued for years at a time. Extensive collections like those at the Annex require careful and specific curation, both which for the moment only interns and volunteers have the capacity to spare. Moving forward, I will make every attempt to persuade my fellow life- sciences majors to help at the Annex, and I myself will likely still offer assistance when asked on account of my affiliation with John Wares outside of the Annex.
I am writing this having just concluded my curation assignment, and I find myself looking back on this summer with a feeling of satisfaction. I value the experience in curation I’ve gained from this internship immensely, and I feel that I have a newfound respect for the time, effort, and dedication that museum curation can require of a person. I will likely pursue similar internships in the future – perhaps even in a different GMNH collection – and may even consider pursuing an actual position with GMNH or another museum further along down the line. I feel that if more people shared an experience similar to mine we might collectively better see the value in the preservation of natural history, through both lenses of future research and preservation for its own sake – a form of respect for the natural world in my view. The proliferation of that sense of respect and interest in the natural world are, in my mind, critical to the health of our planet now more than ever before, and I know no way better than experiential learning to foster such a long-lasting appreciation. At the very least, I know that the museum certainly always could use extra hands, minds, and aspirations, especially those belonging to someone who would like to make a difference.