Introducing: Public History Intern Blog

Welcome to the first in a series of blogposts by participants in our Internship in Public History program!  Ten students who served as volunteers in public history during Summer or Fall of 2019 earned credit for their internship experiences by participating in a workshop featuring readings, blog writing and a panel presentation on their experiences.  In the first of our blog series, Jensen Rehn describes her motivation for and experience as an intern at the Abraham Lincoln Lincoln Presidential Library during the summer.

Jensen and Grandpa Memorial StadiumHistory has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I gravitated towards my grandparents at family gatherings to hear stories from their childhoods. 

Jensen and PapPap 1In fact, on a shelf in my apartment, I still have a floral print notebook from 2010 where I wrote down stories my PapPap and Grandpa Rehn told me about growing up during the Second World War.

When I applied for a research and collections internship at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, I anticipated focusing on the nineteenth century. However, during my first few days in Springfield, I helped install “In This Great Struggle: The Greatest Generation Remembers WWII.”  Rather than focusing on famous figures, this exhibit revolved around everyday experiences during the 1940s. Seeing correspondence between a young soldier and his wife reminded me of letters my PapPap received from his older brother who served in Europe.Rehn, Jensen (ALPLM)

Although most people associate the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum with the sixteenth president, “In This Great Struggle” highlighted other strengths of the collection. Building upon a sizable amount of 1940s propaganda posters, the exhibit took on a life of its own once oral history interviews recorded with Dr. Mark DePue entered the equation. Visitors to the finished exhibit could watch oral history interviews with individuals who lived through World War Two and whose items filled many of the gallery’s cases. 

In order to prepare for opening day on the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day, the museum’s registrar and exhibit designers taught me about exhibit installation through participation. I helped photograph items we received on loan from other institutions, vacuum sealed labels, and even spent an afternoon positioning items in the “Communication” and “Sweethearts” cases. The exhibit included amazing artifacts such as a still functioning 1942 U.S. Army motorcycle, Kenneth Hagan’s forged French identity papers, and a commemorative collar for Duke, a dog who died on Iwo Jima. However, I loved the sound booth in the back of the gallery where visitors could record their own memories. This area exemplified the exhibit’s intention to expand the experiences included in the story of World War Two. 

Later on in the summer, I helped plan an exhibit about the impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Whereas working on “In This Great Struggle” exposed me to the final stages of exhibit installation, I got to help brainstorm the design and layout of the Stowe display. Researching Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northrup and southern pro-slavery reactions fulfilled my expectations for the type of research my internship would entail. Nonetheless, I am thankful for the unexpected opportunity to reconnect with the type of stories that initially ignited my passion for the past by helping with “In This Great Struggle.”

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

Mapping Places | Telling Stories In Review

Thank you all for attending our spring symposium, “Mapping Places | Telling Stories.” Our Friday evening keynote by Prof. Ted Gordon (UT-Austin) was engaging – reminding us all that debates over public history, public space, and social memory are vital to the future of every university. Saturday’s community and student panels revealed the forgotten and marginalized stories within the Champaign-Urbana community. We want to thank the 5th and Hill Association and Illinois Nurses Association members for their time, stories, and activism. Also, we are incredibly proud of our students for all their hard work this semester. Their presentations were both historically engaging and personally moving. Thank you all.

Stay tuned for more histories from UIUC and Champaign-Urbana. Our students our anxious to get back into the archive, record more oral histories, and bring hidden histories to light.

We would love to hear from you. Do you have a local story or historical documents you want to share? Reminisces from your time at the University of Illinois? Let us know! Email us at or message us @PubHistoryUIUC

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Research group tells the stories of hidden histories on the University of Illinois campus

“A public history project at the University of Illinois is exploring the hidden and forgotten stories of social movements on campus and in the community. Students are creating a map highlighting buildings or areas that were the sites of protest movements, and they are writing narratives about the significance of those places.

“We’re thinking about how we can collectively understand and interpret our past beyond the traditional academic ways we do on campus,” said Daniel Gilbert, a professor of labor and employment relations and a co-director of the project.

The project is part of a research cluster – Public History and Student Research – supported by the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities. Gilbert and history professor Kathryn Oberdeck are co-directors of the research cluster, which includes a total of about a dozen people, including faculty, five undergraduate students enrolled in an independent study history course, and community members and organizations, including the Champaign County Historical Archives.

One goal of the project is to look at how the shared histories of campus and community are linked. So far, the research has focused largely on campus social movements, such as Project 500, an effort by the U. of I. in the late 1960s to enroll more African-American students; the establishment of cultural houses on campus; and the opposition to Chief Illiniwek. It will also include community events, including a labor strike by nurses at the old Burnham Hospital and the organizing of residents in the Fifth and Hill neighborhood around environmental issues and high-rise development in the area.”

Learn more about our work here.