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Chuck Welsko: "A Summer at Ford's Theatre"

This summer I spent six weeks as the Digital Projects Intern with the Ford’s Theatre Society in Washington, D.C. Responsible for helping maintain and interpret the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln and his assassination at Ford’s Theatre, as well as conducting theatrical performances at the still functioning theatre, the Society rests comfortably at the intersection of public and academic history. Throughout my short time at Ford’s Theatre this summer I had two primary (and plenty of secondary) responsibilities.

As the Digital Projects Intern one of the key requirements of my internship centered on helping my boss and mentor David Patrick McKenzie develop several web-based projects. The first is the Society’s outstanding Remembering Lincoln project. This digital collection weaves together over 500 images, newspapers, and correspondences that highlight the various ways in which people around the world responded to the Lincoln Assassination. I contributed to Remembering Lincoln in a small way by uploading some of sources, including transcribing letters, creating the meta data for the items information, and doings some light coding. David also had me reach out to institutions across the country that had (or we thought had) items relating to the assassination. I reached out to approximately forty-five different historical societies, university archives, and public libraries, shepherding about ten of them through the process of sharing their resources with Remembering Lincoln. 

I also worked extensively on the Society’s Learn the Story webpage. In my six weeks I rewrote this entire flash interactive. The revisions are still in the editing stage, but my main responsibility was to take the separate sections that dealt with Lincoln’s Presidency, wartime Washington D.C., and the assassination, and produce a streamlined narrative. To supplement this information I also edited and produced timelines to complement the text as well as created a digital map that tracked the movements of President Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth on the day of the assassination. 

A second major responsibility of mine this summer was to work with David and the rest of the Education Department Staff on a series of different teacher workshops about Washington D.C. and the Civil War Era. For the past eight years, the Education Department hosted two annual summer workshops on Civil War Washington, but for this year they also earned a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Landmarks grant to hold two additional workshops. Although I assisted with several of their annual workshops, I spent two of my six weeks working with the staff members and visiting teachers (thirty-six in each session) for the NEH workshop. This “Washington D.C.: A Seat of War and Peace” workshop introduced teachers of all grade levels to historians from around the country (including David Blight, Martha Hodes, and Terry Alford) as well as different historical sites throughout D.C. During the workshop I helped lead reflection sessions, work with the teachers, attend the sites, and sat in on planning meetings.

I thoroughly enjoyed my internship at the Ford’s Theatre Society. The most rewarding experience for me was the opportunity to spend time with the NEH workshop. One of my goals as a historian is to help bridge the divide between academic history taught and researched in universities and bring that information into dialogue with elementary and secondary teachers. This workshop certainly accomplished that goal. Furthermore, it highlighted different ways academia can interact with the public, in what I think is a positive and beneficial way.