03 February 2014

State of the internship

I may or may not have mentioned it at some point, but I'm getting on halfway through an internship stint with the National Trust for Scotland and I just have to say... wow, is it exhausting! It's incredible the amount of work and time and teamwork and planning and organizing and so on that goes into something like the Trust, and what I get to see is just one small slice of the pizza-pie.

I've been shadowing a curator there, which is pretty much what it sounds like: shadowing. Quite a bit of standing/following around, a lot of listening, a little bit of doing--but a lot of learning. The days I help out are rarely spent in the office, and usually involve driving to one (or some) of the properties under the Trust's care in order to assess specific issues or work on projects particular to those places. It's a conservation charity, but it's so much more than that. Aside from collections and archives, there are entire estates to manage, holiday lets, historic house restoration projects, wilderness conservation, and archaeology. There's a wold heritage site!

St. Kilda World Heritage Area // via //

Glencoe // via //

Leith Hall // via //

Gladstone's Land interior // via //

Falkland Palace // via //

Inverewe Garden & Estate // via //

It's an enormous volunteer-driven organization (3000+) with a staff of several hundred to do the steering. It's an incredible amount of work, and like any other cultural/ artistic/ heritage institution, it's got its fair share of financial woes and restraints. In spite of this--or because of this--I feel, more and more, that the work this organization does is imperative to preserving the history and natural environment of Scotland for generations to come. Where I am from in Wisconsin, there is no heritage organization that remotely compares in scale or scope, so volunteering with NTS has been an eye-opening experience. Not to mention that it drives home the notion that I really have chosen to pursue something I love.

I may not be with the NTS for more than a few months, but like my museum experience before this, it's teaching me loads about every part of the museum and heritage business. Universally, big organizations can seem a little bureaucratic, they can feel disorganized, staff might not agree with one another's viewpoints, the public can be critical, problems of storage and finances arise, membership needs to be maintained, and so on... but the history (the artwork, furniture, ephemera, etc.) is priceless and the preservation work is paramount. One may learn something practical about how to properly carry a chair (not by the arms or back!) but what's more is where that chair came from, who used it, what its significance is, where it might go... History is an endless, unfathomable well. So in a day's work one learns to communicate with different departments that might have different needs. You begin to piece together what it means to have these properties open to the public, and the challenges that presents. You might move a bunch of paintings one day and sit in front of a computer doing data entry the next.

So it may be exhausting, but the reward is knowing that little by little, even if it feels like there's Just Too Much, history is recorded, preserved and presented to the public.

I encourage you to check out the NTS website where you can search their latest news and also search by location or map for all of their properties and projects. It's a fantastic resource for information on things to do all over Scotland.

Have you ever volunteered your time? Museum or cultural institution? Education? Maybe a community garden? What was the most rewarding part?

Kate xx


  1. What a cool organization to work with! I worked at a small history museum in Boston last summer, and it was impressive to see just how much work and thought went in to putting together each exhibit and keeping everything running. I like your example of the chair - it made me think how museums are a bit like theaters, where something the audience might not think twice about has actually been very intentionally designed to create a mood or offer a perspective.


    1. It's really astounding how much work/planning/staffing/thought goes into museum exhibitions, and then just keeping the permanent collection going, etc.! I bet a history museum in Boston would be really wonderful! It's also interesting to see the difference between working in small museums and huge organizations that are essentially networks of many small museums/properties.


  2. It sounds like you are having an experience for a life time!! I would've loved to do something like this while studying in University, as it was my two small museum internships weren't nearly as in depth or exciting- although educational. Beautiful pictures xx

    1. Thank you! It's awesome that you were able to intern at museums! My experience at museums up to this point was quite different from this experience as well. There are certainly things that I've learned previously, though, that I can apply here even if the circumstances are different. If I didn't have a built-in internship, I'd probably be volunteering somewhere - it's really interesting to see how different institutions do things.