Intern: Kye Farrow
“Hands On History” Profile: Preserving African American Film History at the National Museum of African American History
Where was your internship and how did you find it?
I had the opportunity to intern at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. I spent half the time at my internship working in one of museum’s offices at L’Enfant Plaza and the other half working at the museum’s collections and storage facility in Landover, Maryland. I first learned about this opportunity from an email sent out by Dr. Smith.
What were your main responsibilities on the job?
I was hired as a digitization intern. My primary responsibilities included cataloging items from a special collection of African American film memorabilia. In the internship, I learned the entire process of digitization including how to photograph artifacts for digital preservation, how to create metadata on each item, and the rules about rights and reproduction. I worked on an incredibly fascinating series of artifacts including autographed photos, lobby cards, and movie stills of famous African American film stars such as Paul Robeson, Lena Horne, and Eartha Kitt. Doing the research behind the images really made it seem as though I had traveled back in time and was witnessing the amazing things these individuals were able to accomplish in their careers.
What were the most rewarding aspects of your internship?
The most rewarding aspect of my internship was having the opportunity to be exposed to so many facets of the museum industry. I had always loved museums, but it wasn’t until I started working for the Smithsonian did I see how many moving parts there are to make an institution successful. While I enjoyed cataloging, photography was by far my favorite aspect of the job. I loved working with all of the high-tech equipment. I was working with an extremely expensive $45,000 Hasselblad camera. I had the camera attached to an adjustable mount, and photographed objects from the collection from a computer screen while the camera was suspended in the air. The process was pretty repetitive, but it was something about working to get the perfect shots with the best lighting that intrigued me. With the large posters, instead of taking one shot of the front and back, I had to take several shots in sections and then stitch each section together in Photoshop. Photography was fun and interesting because the field was completely new to me.
What was your biggest accomplishment?
In my internship, I was assigned the job of writing a collection story, which is a report on a particular aspect of a collection that I was processing. I decided to write about the film collection and focus on the topic of “Colorism and Identity in Early Hollywood Films.” Colorism is the bias against darker-skinned actors in the film industry, which was major theme that I had noticed throughout the objects in the collection. I was inspired to move forward with this story
not only because I was so intrigued by my collection and also because colorism was a topic discussed in the after the release of the Black Panther film in Spring 2018. My collection story is now complete and is currently going through the process of getting approved by the museum’s curators so that it can be accessible on the museum’s website with all the other collection stories.
What did your internship teach you about being a professional historian? Did anything surprise you?
Before my internship at NMAAHC, I had never realized how varying a professional historian’s day can be, especially in the museum field. I love I could look forward to a new experience almost every day I worked. I got to travel all over the Washington D.C. area and got to interact with Smithsonian professionals within and outside of NMAAHC.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your internship experience?
I am extremely grateful for everything I learned during this internship. My professional development has grown more than I could’ve hoped for. I look forward to future opportunities that I may come across with the help and support of the history department.
December 17, 2018