BA in Art History

Sierra Medellin, 2016

Sierra Medellin

So what are you up to now professionally?

I'm currently employed within the Department of Historic Preservation at George Washington's Mount Vernon as their Digital Preservation Specialist. With what started out as an internship and turned into a paid position, I have been at Mount Vernon for almost 2 years now.

My work primarily involves the digitization of our archaeological collections which contain tens of thousands of artifacts from excavations conducted over the past several decades. Digitizing the collections will allow us to understand how different objects are contextually connected and how different sites relate to each other within the landscape of Mount Vernon and beyond. I research and photograph a variety of interesting artifacts that are chosen by a curator either for their uniqueness or for their quality as good representations of commonly found typologies. Each artifact image I produce is properly titled, provided metadata, edited, and finally uploaded and attached to its online catalog record. Though technical and at times tedious work, it is also a heavily creative process as I have to decide the right camera angles, lighting positions, and aperture to capture the best representation of an object.

In addition to all the lab work, I also get to spend time outside photographing our archaeologists at work in the field, which can involve anything from me climbing atop roof scaffolding to get an overhead perspective of a site or lying on my belly in the dirt to snap a good action shot. Most recently, I have rebooted our social media presence (Historic Preservation at Mount Vernon on Facebook and @mvhistoricpreservation on Instagram) to engage with the historic preservation community online and to reach a wider audience.

How do you think your art history major at Mason prepared you for your career?

While I don’t handle the kind of material I specifically studied while at Mason, I still approach the research I am conducting on an artifact using the same principles I learned to analyze artwork. The professors who mentored me trained me to have a discerning eye, to carefully consider form, recognize patterns, and to more broadly consider possible social and historical connotations. With these skills, I am able to paint a story from a singular, seemingly mundane object that contributes to our perception of Mount Vernon’s history.  

Why did you choose art history as a major in the first place?

I have always preferred to study history through a more anthropological investigation of the art left behind by past peoples. I knew going in to college that I wanted to be involved in some capacity of museum work but due to the economic stigma attached to careers in the humanities, I resisted actually pursuing my interests directly in art history. However, after one class, I was hooked. I decided that I would likely never receive another opportunity to learn from such wonder professors and that I would do whatever it took to turn my passion into a profession. Turns out hard work really pays off!