Imagine virtually going back in time to the 18th century to complete an internship. Did you know Colonial Williamsburg utilizes many interns each year to assist in our historic trades? In a partnership with the College of William & Mary, the National Institute of American History and Democracy (NIAHD) Program allows students to attend William & Mary for a semester and take courses that are dedicated to their passion for history. Along with classes, students are given the opportunity to intern with our historic trades for about ten hours a week.
We sat down with three NIAHD interns—Alison, Sarah, and Emma—to find out what it’s really like to work for Colonial Williamsburg.
Alison: Discovering a Passion for Science at the Apothecary
Alison is a junior at Rhode Island College majoring in history with a concentration in early American history. Her lifetime passion for the past led her to apply for the NIAHD program after she saw a poster for it on one of her professor’s doors. Prior to applying, she admits she didn’t even know Colonial Williamsburg existed!
Alison loves dressing up in costume and feels that it aids in interpreting the character and helps to put her in the right mindset to interpret to the public. The costume at the Apothecary consists of four different layers, which took Alison a good 10-15 minutes to put on the first few times she tried.
When Alison learned a position at the Apothecary was available, she thought it would be interesting and would allow her to also learn more about her passion for science. Her first few days on the job were full of observations of the apothecary workers Sharon and Robin. They also gave her books to read, but the majority of learning was done on the job.
Alison is a huge Thomas Jefferson fan, and her favorite experience was on the day they were studying whooping cough and a gentleman came in asking about Jefferson’s family line. Alison was more than excited to outline it for him and utilize her passion for and knowledge of the founding father in her interpreting.
Sarah: Embracing the Role of the 18th-Century Woman through Fashion
Sarah is a senior at Goucher College, majoring in History and Art History. She has always had a love for Colonial Williamsburg. As a child she would persuade her parents to make Williamsburg their vacation destination. When her professor told her about the NIAHD internship program, she knew right away it would be the perfect opportunity for her.
As a guest, Sarah loved visiting the milliner to learn about the 18th-century trade including sewing styles and how to create the beautiful clothing. The apprentices working at the time are who Sarah credits with helping ignite her current passion for sewing by suggesting resources. She is excited to take the skills she is learning and utilize them in the future to expand her closet with more historically accurate pieces. Sarah’s passion for history shines through in her interpreting. She especially enjoys studying the 18th century and the day-to-day living. She believes the role of women, and women studies in general folds right into that passion.
Next up for Sarah is looking at graduate schools, but her dream is to return here one day. She would love to become a full-time interpreter, historian, or researcher.
Emma: Interpreting the Past with an Eye to the Future
Emma is a full-time student at William & Mary in her sophomore year. She signed up for the NIAHD program her fourth day at school and knew right away she wanted to major in History.
Emma first visited Colonial Williamsburg when she was in second grade with her parents. She immediately became hooked, and at age eight her childhood dream of working for Colonial Williamsburg was born. Emma immediately began reading about the 18th century and playing with the colonial American Girl Felicity doll. She constantly begged her parents to bring her back. As she got older, she began studying history academically and then at the ripe old age of 12, began interpreting.
Emma is also a self-taught sewer and plans to take what she learns at milliner to add her first hand-stitched gown to her collection. Once her internship is over, she plans to continue at the milliner shop as a volunteer. In the future she hopes to attend graduate school for museum studies and would love a career working in a museum.
If you could have participated in this program in college, which trade would you have chosen to learn more about?