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Internships for Hands-On History

A silver lining of the pandemic was the ability to engage a whole cohort of interns, spread across the country, in the effort of documenting the many aspects of Stanford history.

Eleven students, sponsored by the Stanford Historical Society (SHS) and the Centers for Equity, Community, and Leadership (CECL), spent the summer as interns in oral history fieldwork and archival processing. “A silver lining of the pandemic was the ability to engage a whole cohort of interns, spread across the United States, in the effort of documenting the many aspects of Stanford history,” said SHS Oral History Program Manager Natalie Marine-Street. “Each student took their basic assignment in really interesting directions and what we ended up with was like magic--a new way of thinking about how to approach the amazing, multi-faceted history of Stanford.”

2021 summer interns and staff

Staff and summer interns, top row (L to R): Natalie Marine-Street, Emma Frothingham, Josh Schneider, Jordan Gray; Middle row (L to R): Hanna Ahn, Sol Martinez, Keoni Rodriguez, Jan Barker-Alexander; Bottom row (L to R): Benjamin Bronkema-Bekker, Grace Carter, Faith Kazmi, Norris Johnson.

The summer intern program supported efforts by the University Archives to expand the range of voices and materials in its collections representing Stanford’s history. Many of the interns conducted and processed interviews for the Stanford, COVID-19, and the Crises of 2020-21 Oral History Project. “These interviews are extraordinary gifts to the Stanford of the future,” said Marine-Street. “Decades from now, people will want to understand how we lived through this time, how we adapted, and how the university changed.”

Sol Martinez at work

Sol Martinez processing the John J. Johnson Papers.

Eight interns, featured here, gave virtual presentations in August about their summer projects.
Undergraduates Norris Johnson ’23, Liz Lindqwister ’21, and Eli Waldman ’24 concentrated on conducting interviews for the Stanford, COVID-19, and the Crises of 2020-21 Oral History Project and getting other interviews ready for the archives.

Johnson, who is interested in documenting Black voices and racial justice movements, gathered stories of how Black students and staff experienced the past eighteen months, especially the anger, protest, and despair surrounding the killing of George Floyd.

Lindqwister, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in history, became intrigued by the nature of historical memory when conducting interviews with student leaders and community center staff about the recent, and still unprocessed, past. “Doing these oral histories felt like collecting the rough drafts of history. It was the first opportunity for people to take a step back and start to grapple with memories from the crazy year they lived through. Their memories are raw, unpolished, and visceral because they haven't really had the chance to disentangle everything yet,” she said.

In addition to documenting what 2020-21 meant for a student athlete, a new faculty member, and a student journalist, Waldman edited video files from the Movement Oral History Project on 1960-70s anti-Vietnam War activism at Stanford, and found himself highly absorbed by the stories of these Stanford alumni who worked to bring about change as students and in their later careers.

Materials from the John J. Johnson Papers.

Materials from the John J. Johnson Papers.

Grace Carter ’24 (Cherokee Nation) and Caelin Marum ’21 (Nueta and Hidatsa [MHA]; Nihîthaw [Woodland Cree]) documented the momentous changes of the past fifty years for Native Americans at Stanford, including student efforts that led to the renaming of university buildings and streets and the founding of the Stanford American Indian Organization (SAIO), the Stanford Powwow, and the Native American Community Center (NACC).

Carter contributed to a forthcoming Spotlight digital exhibition with the working title of Native at Stanford: A Celebration of Native American Community, Culture, and Activism at Stanford. She wrestled with how to properly describe and contextualize some of the materials in the archives, including images of the university’s former mascot, the Stanford Indian. “I am trying to limit the visual display of offensive imagery and language while fully presenting the historical record,” she said.

Marum collected oral histories and produced timelines of events related to Native Americans at Stanford. Her work filled notable gaps in the archive, such as information about Native Hawaiian students, and will contribute to an upcoming documentary about NACC.

Keoni Rodriguez ’22 and Sol Martinez ’22 focused on Latinx and Latin American history. Rodriguez assembled a guide of 1,400 historical sources and added to exhibits and resources about El Centro Chicano y Latino. Rodriguez also surveyed the history of contentious debates about ethnic-themed dorms.

Martinez processed the Urban Studies at 50 oral history interviews as well as the papers of John J. Johnson, a pioneering historian in the field of Latin American Studies and a former faculty member in the Stanford Department of History. Living locally, Martinez unpacked the boxes herself, uncovering an unpublished manuscript, 98 folders of political cartoons about Latin America that Professor Johnson collected for it, and his pipe! “The takeaway for me was a sense of agency, empowering to me as an aspiring historian, in organizing hastily boxed materials.” Martinez also developed a detailed finding aid for the collection.
Graduate student Ben Bronkema-Bekker contributed to the CECL Timeline Project, an overview of community centers and campus events in connection with national events, for example the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. “I am looking forward to seeing Stanford myself soon!” said Bronkema-Bekker, one of several interns yet to reside on campus. Teiana Gonsalves, Emily Nichols, and Melody Yang also participated in the summer intern program, working with the Women's Community Center, Black Community Services Center (BCSC), and Asian American Activities Center (A3C).

Sol Martinez and Hanna Ahn

Intern Sol Martinez (left) and Assistant University Archivist Hanna Ahn.

Oral History Program Assistant Emma Frothingham taught interns the complexities involved in processing and archiving oral histories and worked to form community among the cohort by organizing group activities such as virtual coffee breaks, Stanford trivia games, and talks by library specialists.

Assistant University Archivist Hanna Ahn, who guided Martinez’s work, waxed enthusiastic about the summer program: “This experience provided our interns with a better understanding of the relationship between the archives and the historical record, as well as a sense of agency in that they can be active contributors to the historical record for future generations. Textbooks discuss historical events at a high-level overview. They got to experience the building blocks of that history, putting their hands on the records, and recording and preserving the nuances of individual experiences and perspectives.”
Marine-Street concluded, “The skills that our interns learned by doing oral history and archival work are bound to benefit them in their future lives and careers. Listening with empathy and curiosity and developing ways to draw people out and help them give voice to their experiences are important skills.”

Originally published in Remix, a monthly newsletter of the Stanford Libraries.

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