Bethel University history major Michael Williams recently completed a summer internship with the Henry County Archive.
by Bethel University
Bethel University student Michael Williams spent his summer break working as an intern at the Henry County Archive. Williams, a history major, received hands-on experience in analyzing and archiving historical documents, including difficult artifacts like an acid-burned, faded last will and testament from 1852.
“Michael is one of a few of our students who have worked at the Henry County Archive,” explained Dr. Dan Dalrymple, Bethel University Professor of History and Williams’ faculty advisor. “Students really enjoy working there because it gives them an opportunity to work in the historical field in the same way they would if they were employed at historical sites around the country. In Michael's case, he got to do a great deal of archival work, meaning he was reading through, sorting and classifying historical documents and artifacts.”
“This experience showed me a lot about the workings of the archive and how to treat historical documents,” said Williams. “These documents are very fragile and require quick and careful examination to ensure that they are not damaged any further than they already are.”
In addition to reviewing and archiving documents, another important part of Williams’ job was to log important data about each historical document electronically. This helps researchers locate specific artifacts more easily. Documents are stored with primary names, and also with aliases to make it simpler to find and retrieve related materials. Over the course of his internship, Williams archived roughly 500 files, 4,000 names, and 2,000 historical documents.
“Historians and archivists engage in this type of work frequently to provide finding aids for their collections so that future scholars, historians, and really anyone can access the collections in the most efficient ways possible,” explained Dalrymple. “This is quite literally ‘hands-on’ historical work that benefits students professionally as they enter the job market or seek to further their education in graduate programs.”
“Through this work, I learned a new appreciation for the dedicated work of archivists, as well as an appreciation of local history,” added Williams. “Without archives around the world taking special care of documents like the one in which I worked, historical research would be much more difficult, or even impossible in many instances.”
Dalrymple says this is why he recommends internships for all students. “Internships allow students to really get into the work they seek to do upon graduation,” he explained. “In my experience, internships help students to really focus on what they want as a result of their work in the field.”
Other Bethel University history students have completed internships locally at the West Tennessee Heritage Center, Fort Donelson, and the Gordon Browning Center. However, the flexibility in Bethel’s program also offers opportunities for students to complete internships at historical sites close to their homes.
“We are very proud of the history program at Bethel because we feel like it really serves individual students and their own personal goals first and foremost,” said Dalrymple. “From day one, history students are advised based on their own personal career goals, which can include careers such as teaching, archivists, public history, law, or further graduate study. We strive to tailor their experiences to exactly what they want to do professionally. Students who want to go to law school will take courses and accumulate professional development experiences that make them compelling candidates for their target schools. Students interested in graduate study will be pushed to present papers at regional conferences or even publish their works in undergraduate journals. Prospective teachers will be constantly challenged to place the study of history in perspective for the high school level.”
Williams graduated from Bethel University at the end of the summer term with a Bachelor of Science degree in History in the secondary education pathway. He began work as a middle school social studies teacher at Clarksburg School in August and is currently enrolling in Bethel’s Master of Arts in Education degree program in Leadership Excellence.
Williams says he enrolled at Bethel after several years of career exploration. He was drawn to Bethel because of the small school environment with great programs in both history and education. Williams and his wife Gloria, who is also a Bethel graduate, are both furthering their education with plans to continue to live, work, and raise a family in northwest Tennessee.
“Bethel has a great community with professors and staff that are always available and willing to help you with anything you need,” said Williams. “This opportunity has taught me very much, and I am pleased that Bethel University, the History Department, and the Henry County Archive were able to help me acquire and succeed at this internship. My mentors, Dr. Dan Dalrymple and Dr. Sarah Kidd of Bethel, and Mrs. Linda Dunlap of the Henry County Archive, helped to give me an experience I will carry with me into my career and further education.”