Done By Volunteers & Interns

Done By Volunteers and Interns Blog

Activities and accomplishments of Minnesota Historical Society volunteers and interns


The Minnesota Historical Society's volunteer and intern programs welcome people from all communities to engage in mission-related projects. Over 2,660 volunteers and interns contribute 53,400 hours hours annually. This diverse volunteer corps helps to achieve the MNHS mission — Using the Power of History to Transform Lives.

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Reflections from a MNHS Volunteer

By: Rebekah Bjork | November 4, 2019

Kseniia is a volunteer at the Minnesota Historical Society in the Business Intelligence and Process Improvement department. Below is a transcript of an interview with her.

Why did you start volunteering at the Minnesota Historical Society?

I made a decision to join the Minnesota Historical Society in July, 2019. Becoming a part of the local community is one of the most exciting parts of my life! I like history, and by looking back to the past in our history, I think we can better understand the present moment and predict our future. History helps us to track our origins and compare past patterns with present and future patterns. Modern technology teaches us new ways to do things. Minnesota Historical Society gave me a great opportunity to join the Business Intelligence and Process Improvement department as a volunteer! I am very grateful for this opportunity! 

Why have you continued to volunteer at MNHS? 

I would like to make an impact! Volunteering gives me a chance to be a part of something bigger than myself and use my knowledge and experience to make a positive result for a whole team. It’s a great possibility in my life and an invaluable experience. Another reason to be a volunteer is to learn new things. By taking the time to learn a new software-program or get more experience in the SCRUM approach, I am opening myself up to new career opportunities.

What do you enjoy most about your volunteer position?

To be a volunteer with Business Intelligence and Process Improvement team is a good way to make business relationships by working together on projects. Volunteering gives me the opportunity to practice important skills used in the workplace, such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and organization!

A Meaningful Summer at Home in Little Falls

By: Rebekah Bjork | September 12, 2019

Madeline was a summer intern at the Charles Lindbergh House and Museum in Little Falls. She spent half of her time conducting guided tours and the other half of her time conducting research that will be used to build a future public history program. 

Madeline grew up in Little Falls and visited the house many times over the course of her childhood and always wanted to work there. Interning at the Charles Lindbergh House and Museum has been a dream come true for her. Below is a transcript of an interview with her.

Can you share 1 or 2 projects you worked on during your internship that you are proud of?

I split my time as an intern between giving tours and conducting research. The first major project I did was writing my own tour script. I spent a lot of time at first following other interpreters on their tours and reading the book that the majority of the Lindbergh tour is based off of, Boyhood on the Upper Mississippi. It's a collection of letters written by Charles Lindbergh later in his life about his experience growing up in Little Falls. It was really cool to hear directly from Charles about the town I grew up in too. I took a lot of notes on that and also noted things I liked from other interpreters' tours and then fit all of that into the outline of MNHS' vision treatment for tours at the site. I had expected to sort of just be given a script and told to memorize it, so I was excited to find out how much originality and creativity are encouraged. I have loved becoming a storyteller this summer and feeling like the tours I give are a piece of myself as well as of the history I love. My ultimate goal when I take guests into the house is to get them to the point where they can almost see a young Charles standing in the room with them, and I think that at least with some of them I've managed it.

My research project this summer involved creating a source compendium of information on Charles Lindbergh's conservation and environmental efforts in the 1960s and 70s. Eventually this information will be formatted into a public presentation. I like to think I'm sort of laying the foundations. I've compiled a list of all the primary and secondary sources relevant to this topic and have also provided a summary of content for each one, in addition to also  gathering key points, supporting information, and citations. Eventually, all of the most important information on Charles' environmentalism will be contained in this one document I'm working on, so it will be easy to find and access later. I've gone through sections of several books, articles, newspaper clippings, websites, MNHS event project documents from the 90s, and a 1964 edition of Reader's Digest that I found on Ebay. That was one of the most fun parts. 

What did you enjoy most about your internship experience?

My favorite part of my internship has been developing my skills in viewing and sharing history as a story rather than facts. I've learned so much about how to make history real and alive for people of all ages and backgrounds, both through writing and giving my tour and through the direction of my research. The experience has made a huge impact on me and changed the way I think for the better. I study Social Sciences Education in college. Whether I decide to teach in a traditional classroom later or use my degree in other ways, maybe more so in the field of public history, I think I have really learned how to help people form connections with the past and how to sort of turn myself into a facilitator who can help them do that rather than just an instructor. I really feel that I'll be able to do history justice now, wherever I end up in my career. That means a lot to me.

Contributing to Long Term Preservation at the Hill House

By: Rebekah Bjork | September 9, 2019

Cordelia worked at the Hill House as a summer Collections Assistant Intern. She created an inventory of architectural detail and building fragments.This work supports the overall inventory of program use materials. Cordelia identified over 222 unique items which are now cataloged with descriptions, quantities, and locations. Cordelia, learned artifact handling skills, and best practices for inventory through hands on experience. This project is an essential part of long term preservation of the site. Knowledge of the resources we have for research and replication of original architectural and building parts will allow MNHS to continue to learn more about the house itself, and maintain its authenticity now and for generations to come. 

A thank you from Cordelia’s supervisor: The work that Cordelia completed over the summer will have a long term impact on the preservation work at the site and will be an invaluable tool for many years into the future. We are also so grateful Cordelia not only was able to do incredibly detailed work but also had an excellent sense of humor and was willing to work her internship hours where the objects were located which meant many hours working in closets and moving around tour groups. The site is better positioned for the future because of Cordelia! Thank you, Cordelia!

Exploring Family Genealogy

By: Rebekah Bjork | September 6, 2019

Pam is a volunteer at the Gale Family Library at the Minnesota History Center working in the Hubbs Microfilm Room. To date, Pam has contributed 6 years of service and reached more than 1,000 volunteer service hours. 

As someone who used to work in family history, volunteering at MNHS allowed Pam to continue what she loves to do, research and helping others explore family genealogy. Recently, Pam helped a library patron find a newspaper article about her biological mother. This individual was separated from her parents at a young age and came to the Gale Family Library hoping to find more information about her family.

Every week when Pam comes in to volunteer, she is able to help patrons discover new information. Sharing the excitement of finding new information with patrons makes Pam happy. She also enjoys helping patrons think out of the box and directing them to new resources. Pam finds it rewarding to help individuals explore genealogy and discover new information, that is why she continues to volunteer with MNHS.

Thank you, Pam, for your dedication to MNHS as a volunteer!


Military and Citizen Service Day at Fort Snelling

By: Rebekah Bjork | September 6, 2019

On Saturday, August 3 four special events volunteers spent their facilitating activities at Fort Snelling’s Military and Citizen Service Day. The event was aimed to help visitors learn about the meaning of citizenship and service and how it has transformed over time. Service-focused tours were offered throughout the day, highlighting those who served at Fort Snelling and how the fort has changed from 1820 to 1946. 

Our wonderful volunteers managed the “make-it take it” activity table and showed visitors how to make soldier garrison hats. MNHS has a variety of special events throughout the year, and these events would not be a success without the help of dedicated volunteers.


Reflections from a MNHS Intern

By: Rebekah Bjork | August 2, 2019

Kyle was the Evaluation Intern for 3 semesters at the Minnesota Historical Society. Below is a transcript of an interview with him.

Why did you apply for an internship at MNHS?

I applied for this internship for a few reasons, both professional and personal. Professionally, I have a lot of appreciation for MNHS as one of the most-respected state history institutions in the country and for its recent initiatives to tell a broad range of stories that have previously gone unrecognized. As a student of public history who would like to remain in Minnesota in my career, MNHS was a perfect fit. Specific to evaluation, I had experience on the front end of public history in archives, exhibits, and interpretation, but wanted to learn more about how exhibit, program, and site management staff determine the success of their initiatives and adjust accordingly.

Can you share 1 or 2 projects you worked on during your internship that you are proud of?

I am quite proud of all the work I did at Historic Fort Snelling last summer and into the fall. I conducted visitor intercept surveys for their general visitor program, a special event with Michael Twitty, and a prototype exhibit on soldiers' day-to-day lives at the fort. I also cleaned, coded, and analyzed that data a created reports which I presented before several of the staff members at the Fort and central MNHS. I've had the opportunity to do similar things for a few programs, create reports for nearly all the sites, and have presented for the staff at the Lindbergh House and the Mille Lacs Indian Museum as well as the staff and volunteers who contributed to Somalis + Minnesota. I've really learned a lot, both about evaluation and about what visitors value in their experiences. I also did a near total rework of the evaluation site on Fletcher, which was a completely different and valuable experience for me.

Where do you work now and how did your internship prepare you for this job?

I am currently working as a contractor for the MNHS evaluation team and am stationed at the Oliver Kelley Farm and the Charles Lindbergh House and Museum (where I actually had my first experience working for MNHS leading tours of the home three years ago). My internship directly prepared me for me current role, as I'm doing similar work to what I did as an intern. They've given me experience working in several museum settings, helped me develop a strong network, and given me the opportunity to see exhibits and programs through the eyes of thousands of visitors.

Praise from Kyle’s supervisor:

“Kyle became an indispensable part of the evaluation team, helping with whatever task at hand was. He was a quick learner, had excellent attention to detail and did exemplary work. He had excellent rapport with visitors and staff alike. He even helped provide training to the new Fort Snelling intern at the end of his final semester. His willingness to commute from St. Cloud for all 3 semesters of his internship speaks to his professionalism, dedication and passion for the field. He will undoubtedly make a huge contribution in his career.” 

Internships Designed for Learning

By: Rebekah Bjork | July 24, 2019

MNHS Press Design Interns Pader (MCAD class of 2018) and Amelia (Gustavus class of 2020) got a chance to assist MNHS Press staff with editorial support and print production, and learned about the marketing and design of publications. Both also created quality spot illustrations for upcoming MNHS Press title _Closing Time_ during their spring 2019 internships. Both interns created portfolio-worthy pieces while they worked on a variety of projects for the department. 

Weekend Farmer

By: Rebekah Bjork | July 18, 2019

Volunteer Gopal has been working hard during this hot Minnesota summer at the Oliver Kelley Farm in Elk River. With his skills in gardening and trail management he is a wonderful asset to the team at the farm!

Gopal moved to Minnesota during the summer of 2017 from San Diego. He wanted to learn more about the history of a place he would soon call home, leading him to the Minnesota Historical Society. What seemed like a one-time summer volunteer opportunity, to learn more about Minnesota, actually turned into something more valuable. The friendships Gopal has built on the farm and the enjoyment of doing some outdoor labor brought Gopal back for another season of volunteering on the farm. 

Another thing Gopal enjoys is going home and telling his 4-year-old son tales about what the animals did and what other kids said at the farm. With such fascinating stories, without a doubt, Gopal’s son believes his dad is a weekend farmer. 


137 Boxes and 13,000 Envelopes

By: Rebekah Bjork | April 19, 2019

This month State Archives volunteers completed the re-housing of 137 boxes of Ramsey County District Court criminal case files dated 1858-1930. The documents were contained in over 13,000 file envelopes, and housed in boxes. The records were received many years ago, and were difficult for our researchers use. Starting in August 2017 our volunteers removed the documents from the envelopes, unfolded the documents, and cut from the envelopes any relevant information. Each case file's documents were placed in bond folder, and then several bond folders were housed in an archival quality folder. The old boxes were discarded with the documents then housed in our boxes.  

Now that the Ramsey County District Court criminal case files are unfolded and housed in archival quality folders their preservation is prolonged. And researchers can now easily use the documents without opening a dirty envelope and unfolding the documents to view. The unfolding and unfolding of the documents eventually would damage even the high quality paper documents. Early in the project our volunteers found 3D objects like wallets, coins, bullets and more that were evidence in the criminal cases. The practice of including evidence in the case files was eventually discontinued, and only a few 3D objects were found.

The case files are accessed using a name index that was created by the court at the time the case files were created. We have two groups of State Archives volunteers. The first group of 8-10 volunteers work two mornings a month. The other group of 10 volunteers are from the Women's Organization of the Minnesota Historical Society (WOMNHS) and work one morning a month. We're very grateful to our volunteers as they help us better preserve and provide improved access to the collections in the State Archives. Next project? A mere 92 boxes of Fergus Falls State Hospital commitment papers dated 1890-1967 which are tri-folded in envelopes. Stay tuned for updates!

Our Volunteers are Stars

By: Rebekah Bjork | April 19, 2019

Earlier last week, a group of 3M employees from their Native American network volunteered their time for MNHS. They put together 2,000 bandolier bags in just 30 minutes! These bags will be mailed out to teachers across the country.

They also painted lettering on 70 stars that will be used for the First Avenue Exhibit opening. The Women's Organization of MNHS finished painting the stars yesterday! One of our long-time volunteers, Skip, cut and whitewashed the stars himself.

Thank you, 3M employees and Skip!