Hands on History Profile: Maari Weiss

Hands on History Profile: Maari Weiss

In this post, undergraduate history major Maari Weiss talks about her internship at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration.

1) Where was your internship and how did you find it?

I was the Veterans Legacy intern for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration. I found this internship on HireMason, and I got in touch with the people running the program to learn more about it.
2) What were your main responsibilities on the job?

I had one main project that I worked on all semester, but it involved a few different stages. First, I went through a spreadsheet to compile a diverse list of veterans who have collections with the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project and who have been laid to rest in national cemeteries. Once I had the list, I got in touch with the Veterans History Project staff at the Library of Congress and arranged a visit, during which I sorted through and copied relevant materials from the collections of many of the people on my list. I spent the rest of my internship using the materials that I had gathered, along with Veterans History Project materials available online, to research and write blog posts about individual veterans. Each post was supposed to feature pictures and direct quotes from an interview or memoir of the veteran being highlighted.
3) What were the most rewarding aspects of your internship? 

There were a few rewarding aspects of my internship. Getting to use primary source materials to research and write about regular people who contributed to our country and witnessed/took part in events that shaped history was often both interesting and rewarding. Additionally, having my own project to work on every week and being trusted to do the work at my own pace was rewarding.
4) What was your biggest accomplishment?

My biggest accomplishment was probably creating blog posts that people can read to learn more about individual veterans. Many people know the names of important battles and generals, but, through the blog posts that I wrote, I got to shine a small light on ordinary individuals who participated in historical events.
5) What did your internship teach you about being a professional historian?  Did anything surprise you?

This internship taught me about the importance of considering your audience when writing about history. After my first content-driven blog post was edited, I reached out to the blog supervisor to ask for an explanation and advice for my future drafts. His feedback made it clear that public institutions are invested in how stories get told and want to avoid having blog posts that could be misconstrued. This Veterans Affairs blog paid homage to veterans for their service and sacrifices. My goal was to accurately represent the veterans whose stories I was telling, but I learned that I had to be careful about what details I included. For the rest of my internship, I applied this lesson as I wrote my drafts.

I also learned about doing research that relies on interviews and memoirs and became acquainted with some of the challenges that this kind of research can pose. With interviews and memoirs, you are relying on individuals’ memories, which may not always be entirely accurate. Additionally, all people have their own unique perspective, focus, and opinions, and these can affect their recollections and the stories they choose to tell.
6) Is there anything else you would like to share about your internship experience?

For most of the semester, I worked remotely, but, at the end of my internship, a historian with the National Cemetery Administration took me on a tour of Alexandria National Cemetery. I was not familiar with this cemetery going into the tour, and I learned a lot about its history, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, and the superintendent's lodge, as well as other features of the cemetery.