Southeast Missouri State University historic preservation major Kelsey Barnett is traveling back in time this summer as a curatorial intern at the Eisenhower National Historic Site, the home of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower and wife, Mamie Eisenhower.
Barnett of Annapolis, Maryland, was drawn to work at the historic site dedicated to Eisenhower.
“I have always been interested in Cold War history and Eisenhower had a large role in how it all played out,” Barnett said. “He was a general and a president, and just an all-around interesting individual.”
The Eisenhower National Historic Site preserves and interprets the home and farms of the Eisenhower family as a fitting and enduring memorial to the life, work and times of Gen. Eisenhower, 34th president of the United States, and to the events of far-reaching importance that occurred on the property.
Barnett’s internship is an opportunity to gain hands-on experience working in a museum and learning how a curator manages a collection as large as the Eisenhower National Historic Site, she said.
“As part of Southeast’s Historic Preservation program, I’ve focused mainly on the archival pathway, and I’ve been working in the Kent Library’s Special Collections and Archives where I’ve gained a good deal of practical experience,” she said. “But I have only taken one class that directly relates to museums and curation, so this internship gives me hands-on experience working with museum collections as well as being able to see the day to day life in a historic site.”
Every day as a curatorial intern brings new and different responsibilities and experiences, Barnett said.
“In my first week, I toured the site, completed background readings, helped to clean two storage barns and preserve the materials held within, and assist a videographer around the site,” Barnett said. “Next month, I will assist in setting up a new storage cabinet and moving parts of the collection into safer housing. By the end of the summer, I will have created an exhibit for the Reception Center on site. There really isn’t ever a boring day at the Eisenhower National Historic Site.
“I have something new to do each day, and I get to share it with wonderful people,” Barnett added. “Everyone that I have met at the site has been extremely welcoming and eager to impart knowledge both about the site and about the National Park System.”
Each day, Barnett works with interpretation and maintenance staff, and volunteers. Though she’s been on the job just a short time, she’s already observed how essential it is for all parts of the historic site to work together.
“If everyone isn’t on the same page things can go awry,” she said. “I have also seen how important it is to be able to multitask. The Eisenhower National Historic Site has many things happening all at once, and you need to be prepared to work any number of things at any given time.”
She is looking forward to the site’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day with special programs and events planned through June 8.
Her interest in history began in Annapolis where she as a child was surrounded by national history and historic architecture and where she once worked in the downtown historic district, she said.
Southeast’s Historic Preservation program was a perfect fit for her.
“The multidisciplinary approach to the program opens up a lot of avenues to work from, new ways to think about a problem,” she said. “The program is very hands on and you really learn practical skills as opposed to just sitting and listening to lecture after lecture. The professors are passionate about what they teach, and you leave the classroom genuinely feeling like you learned something that you will carry forward with you in life.”
Barnett hopes the knowledge and skills she gains at Southeast combined with her experiences as a curatorial intern will prepare her to complete a Master of Library and Information Science and to launch her dream career as a professional archivist.
“The Eisenhower National Historic Site has over 49,000 items within their collection and the Eisenhower home is almost 98% original materials,” she said. “There are unique challenges faced here that will give me transferrable skills no matter where I go in life. I also hope to make lasting contacts within the National Park Service who can help me find my future career path.”
For now during the summer, history is coming alive at her fingertips, and she’s confident in her future path.
“There is so much history in this area, and it has been preserved wonderfully,” Barnett said. “Every once in a while I just have to stop and take it all in. The home in which I am staying is located directly next to where Pickett’s Charge took place, and I can see Little Round Top from my living room window. It is kind of wild.”