It’s been a busy year in the Public History Intern Workshop. History students have continued to seek out varied intern experiences on and off campus. Their efforts, as these blogs attest, were complicated by COVID-19, as access to archival materials and sometimes even museums themselves evaporated. But they rose to the challenge and learned to use on-line resources to construct new histories for the Illinois Distributed Museum, local history museums in Champaign-Urbana and other Illinois cities, and even a local Refugee Center. In this set of blog-posts, we feature reflections on this experience from seniors who participated in the workshop in the Spring and Fall of 2020. (the workshop each participated in is indicated after the title). There are also seniors in the Spring 2021 workshop who are constructing their blog posts now. Look for those just after graduation! Then, we’ll also feature the blogs of those 2020-2021 interns who we will be fortunate enough to still see around for a year or two. Congratulations all on their work in, and insights into, the field of public history!

Mary Danner: Immigrant Histories and the Refugee Center (Sp 20)

Mary’s Grandfather, mother and mother’s twin at family home in Ireland

My mother is one of the many immigrants to have made their home in Champaign-Urbana, and knowing where you came from has always been an important landmark for my family. My mother, as part of the post-war Irish diaspora, came to America on one of the last boats through Ellis Island. This has been a source of great pride but also sorrow for my mother. I was raised on stories of her time both in rural Ireland and in Chicago–how as a toddler, never having seen so many people, cars, and lights, she broke away from my grandparents and ran across Time Square. These personal histories are integral to me and my worldview and, as I grew up, easily transformed into a broader love of and dedication to history.

In 2018, I began working for the Refugee Center as their administrative assistant.  As a history undergrad participating in the Public History Internship Program and a member of the Refugee Center staff has offered me a unique opportunity. Looking at the history and workings of a local nonprofit from the inside, and examining how public history intersects with other public services has been eye opening. Public history has an important role to play beyond the walls of museums and archives. My original project, to research and write a history page for the Refugee Center’s new website, was interrupted by COVID-19. Many nonprofits, big and small, are in charge of writing and preserving their own histories, as well as the histories of the communities they serve. There are many people who have been involved in the center’s history at one point or another that are still active members of the Champaign-Urbana community. You may have heard about the Refugee Center from one of them. Word of mouth has long been a powerful tool in non-profit work generally, and it has always been especially vital for immigrant services. The Refugee Center was founded in a time when newspapers and physical newsletters were the primary means of communicating to the wider community. But we have moved into a new age of information sharing and it is important the Refugee Center establish itself with these new lines of communication.

There is a lot to learn about local, immigrant, and local immigrant history from the Refugee Center. The center was founded in 1980 by a pair of Vietnamese refugee women, and since that time has opened its doors wide to the ever more diverse and thriving community of immigrants and their families in Champaign County. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the Refugee Center has worked hard to continue supporting immigrants in Champaign County (as well as the wider East Central Illinois Area) by providing relief to many clients through direct financial assistance, continuing services, and other outreach. The role the Refugee Center (alongside many other similarly dedicated agencies) is filling during this crisis reaffirms the need to recognize and record the role agencies like this play in their communities.

Much of my research was to be done in the local Champaign County Historical Archives, which got put on hold when the lockdown went into effect. However, our local archive offers a great online catalog to peruse, and through that and other online resources, I was able to put together a project proposal and bibliography, which I will act on once the opportunity is afforded to me.

Learning and Labor: Thursday Oct. 18 Panel at the Spurlock coordinated by Daniel Gilbert

Learning and Labor Event2018-10-18-third-thursday_1920

Talk: “Learning and Labor: How Workers and their Unions Have Shaped the University of Illinois”

Featuring comments from longtime University of Illinois workers and labor activists, as well as labor historians, this discussion will examine the history of labor on the University campus. The panel is coordinated by Daniel Gilbert, Assistant Professor in the School of Labor and Employment Relations.   This talk is part of the Third Thursday Series and is held in conjunction with the Spurlock Museum’s temporary exhibit Knowledge at Work: The University of Illinois at 150. This exhibit explores the history of campus as a community of educators, researchers, and students engaged in learning, research, and public service. Learn about the contributions of a wide variety of people and groups to campus history and ways the University has changed how it relates to the people it serves. The exhibit runs through December 21, 2018.


Please see below for Champaign County History Museum’s flyer on its Fall 2018 internships for interested students!  And keep coming back for other news.  We have been a little quiet while hatching new projects, including plans for a History Harvest course at UIUC connected to a History Without Walls grant joining scholars at UIUC, Michigan State, and University of Nebraska focussed on The Classroom and the Future of the Historical Record.  Public History’s part will be looking at how our classrooms can facilitate local and regional community-generated archives.  Stay tuned!Intern Flyer-page-0Intern Flyer-page-1