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Summer Internships

Posted On August 08, 2013 | 09:33 am | by sarahbo | Permalink

We are about to bid farewell to our wonderful 2013 cohort of summer interns, who have been contributing to a number of vital projects. Their presence has been energizing, and their commitment to making the most of Dumbarton Oaks’ resources has been exemplary.

In the gardens, Kate Hayes, a landscape architecture intern, explored the concept of the urban wilderness and found that ‘Dumbarton Oaks’ relationship to corridors, topography, water, and proximity and integration with Rock Creek Park, make it a particularly interesting case study within a “Wild Washington.”’ Matthew O’Donnell used GIS to plot every Dumbarton Oaks tree on a digital map while researching the number of bee species in the gardens; while garden conservation intern Rosabella Alvarez-Calderón concluded an excavation project, while engaging with the historic gardens ‘as a dynamic, flexible cultural landscape …  that is simultaneously historic and contemporary, …. where the contributions, ideas and designs of many people are subtly layered.

Over in the Main House, Sasha Benov, an editorial intern for the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, spent the summer ‘solving Anglo-Latin riddles, creating vivid mental pictures of hideous devils based on the life of St. Guthlac, and delving into beautiful poems of love.’ James Curtis found his oral history internship ‘a perfect primer for the amateur historian’ and realized that his lack of ‘formal training’ in the fields of study at Dumbarton Oaks was no impediment to his picking up ‘by osmosis’ more than he would from a textbook on the subjects. As one of two rare book curatorial interns scouring the collections in preparation for an exhibit to accompany an upcoming symposium on the botany of empire, Jasmine Casart felt ‘like an eighteenth century naturalist-explorer, bound for exciting adventures.’

The Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library

Sasha Benov and Elliot Wilson are the interns in The Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML).

Sasha Benov

My job this summer has been to edit future volumes for grammar and readability. DOML is meant to be not just for professional scholars, which makes it very engaging to edit. We want the translation to flow. The volume should be a book that people enjoy reading. I am not just looking at the translation as a direct interpretation of the Latin, but as a medieval poem that I could casually pick up and read for pleasure.

As a result, there are no translations of boring Latin works—I’ve spent my summer solving Anglo-Latin riddles, creating vivid mental pictures of hideous devils based on the life of St. Guthlac, and delving into beautiful poems of love. I feel like my internship makes me the perfect promotion for the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library. This summer I’ve had the pleasurable job of reading wonderful literature all summer, and I would encourage you to pick up one of the volumes and see DOML’s value for yourself. Thank you to everyone at Dumbarton Oaks for your warm welcome and guidance!


Garden and Landscape Studies and Dumbarton Oaks Gardens

Rosabella Alvarez-Calderón is the Garden Conservation Intern, Kate Hayes is the Landscape Architecture Intern and Matthew O’Donnell is the GIS/GPS Intern.

Kate Hayes

The words “wilderness” and “wild” are oftentimes used interchangeably, yet centuries of social, political, and environmental influences have resulted in very different ideas of what is “wild.” In response to these evolving definitions, the “wild” has driven innovative design and various theories about the landscape. Yet aspects of the word have also led to misconceptions, encouraging nostalgia focused more on the past than on the future. If we want to move forward in a “sustainably”-minded manner, we must reevaluate and hone in on definitions of the “wild,” particularly in our urban public realms.

I have directed my summer research towards envisioning an alternative perspective of Washington D.C., a “Wild Washington,” articulated through the recognition and expression of the urban wild. It’s a wild that can be discovered across scales and modes: from a fox crossing Rock Creek Parkway to the Great Falls on the Potomac to a dandelion growing from a crack in the pavement. It is a wild that is not only found in plants and animals, but in stormwater, topography, and social behavior. And it is a wild that can be discovered and recognized in aspects of our everyday lives. Dumbarton Oaks’ relationship to corridors, topography, water, and proximity and integration with Rock Creek Park, make it a particularly interesting case study within a “Wild Washington.” A hybrid, at the edge of a social and ecological spectrum, Dumbarton Oaks is an integral part of this wild network.

Coming from the perspective of a landscape architect, I view research as a design tool to help the public better understand the ever-changing dynamics in their own cities. My goal this summer has been how to relate and condense the different aspects and qualities of a “Wild Washington” into a form or concept that can be more easily understood by people living in and visiting DC. Overall, I hope to raise awareness, influence the design of public space, and ultimately, affect our behavior.


Matthew O’Donnell

As this summer's shared garden and GIS/GPS intern, I've been busy doing many things around Dumbarton Oaks. About twice a week I work with the gardeners, helping them with pruning, weeding, and watering. I've worked on smaller GIS tasks like updating some garden and property maps and trying to analyze water flow across the surface of the property. My main task this summer was to complete an inventory of all trees on the grounds of Dumbarton Oaks. Within a GIS database, the gardeners keep track of the health of each tree and record any maintenance work, such as applying pesticides or trimming branches. I made sure that all the trees in the non-public garden areas were plotted correctly on the digital map and measured the diameter of each tree.

I also spent part of my time trying to analyze how native bees use the garden landscape. My plan was to document the plants in each garden zone that the various bee species were using, but the kinds of observations necessary for this kind of study would be difficult to complete with my other GIS duties. I was able to determine what types of bees were moving in and out of the garden, finding about 25 species out of an estimated 100 in DC.

I'm grateful for the wonderful experience of working and learning at Dumbarton Oaks this summer.


Rosabella Alvarez-Calderón

What is conservation and what makes it different from historic preservation? Conservation is about curating the landscape: preserving the past, while engaging with the present and future in interesting ways. Conservation is about creating multilayered places and spaces, where there is not one but many periods of significance, and where the continuity of design and layout is valued as much as the continuity of the materials. Conservation also values change, something that has always characterized the gardens of Dumbarton Oaks in spite of the sense of permanence and continuity any visitor perceives. Change has always been part of the Dumbarton Oaks gardens, the most dramatic example being the ultra-modern glass pre-Columbian museum wing, which in the 1960’s replaced the fountain that now sits in the ellipse.

My work at Dumbarton Oaks as the Garden Conservation intern has focused on helping to develop an approach that perceives and manages the gardens as a dynamic, flexible cultural landscape, as a place that is simultaneously historic and contemporary, as a place where the contributions, ideas and designs of many people are subtly layered. A place that is changing and evolving as constantly as the plants, animals and insects that inhabit it, and yet there is a sense of continuity and history.

My internship has also had a more practical aspect, which involved finishing the excavation of the pit greenhouse located in the Kitchen Gardens, a project that was started in summer 2012 and involved a structure demolished many decades ago. The objective is to document the remains of this structure, in anticipation of a potential greenhouse reconstruction project.


The Oral History Project

James Curtin and Joshua Wilson are the interns in the Dumbarton Oaks Oral History Project.

James Curtin

It is hard to believe that the other interns and I only have a week left at Dumbarton Oaks.  It has become a time to reflect on the wonderful experience it is to live and work at Dumbarton Oaks, all framed by the serenity of the gardens.  To wrap up my time here, I wanted to share a brief explanation of the Oral History Project, on which I’ve been working for the summer, as well as some photographs, which were taken in the superbly beautiful garden.

The interns working on the Oral History Project begin by identifying individuals of significance to Dumbarton Oaks who can provide important insights into the workings of the institution.  Interviewees for the project generally speak for about an hour on their experience and time at Dumbarton Oaks. It is important to note that we do NOT conduct interviews in the traditional sense; instead of a strict question and answer format, the ideal oral history interview has a few guiding questions that lead the interviewee to follow their stream of consciousness.  In this way, they independently identify what they view as most important without the interviewer guiding the conversation.

Thus, oral history interviews are bits of super concentrated history—the most salient memories from an entire career (sometimes spanning more than a fifty-year period) condensed into an hour.  It does not take long to peruse a transcript, and I highly encourage you to do so.  A reader will quickly discover that names, places, and themes reoccur with great frequency. The overlap of content between interviews allows one to create a coherent picture of what it was like to live and work at Dumbarton Oaks in the earlier days of the institution. Countless men and women—the brightest minds in their fields—have devoted great amounts of time and energy to study at Dumbarton Oaks. The magnitude of the knowledge that has accumulated here and its resultant impact on the scholarly community is almost too staggering in magnitude for the curious observer to even begin to comprehend.  Fortunately, though, the Oral History project is a perfect primer for the amateur historian; it covers many of the most important institutional and scholarly developments, all of which are discussed casually and in plain language.

As an individual with no formal training (and very little informal training) in Byzantine, pre-Columbian, or Garden and Landscape Studies, being a part of this project has been extraordinarily informative, and I find I have picked up much more information through osmosis than I would have by casually reading a textbook on one of the subjects.  The concentration of knowledge and the commitment to scholastic excellence makes Dumbarton Oaks one of the most exciting places for someone with a curious mind to spend time, even if he or she does not have background in the areas that are studied here.

The job is never boring. Though some might think the study of ancient civilizations may be dry, many of the scholars showcase their sense of humor in the interviews. More than that, we have diversified from just interviewing and transcribing; we created a blog, did some entry-level archival processing [with the platform we worked on expected to go live in the fall], and even dabbled in some basic web editing. Bottom line: I have developed a respect for Dumbarton Oaks, its mission, and the people who work here far deeper than I would have expected before arriving here this summer. In the last week I will be spending here, I fully intend to make the most of the garden, the museum, and all the other things that Dumbarton Oaks has to offer, fully aware of how lucky I am to be here.


Rare Books

Jasmine Casart and Deirdre Moore are the interns in Rare Books.

Jasmine Casart

Buzzing bumblebees and colorful flowers outside, rare old books and friendly faces inside, Dumbarton Oaks is a scholar (and intern)’s dream. This summer marks my very first visit to Washington D.C. and I am thrilled to spend it at Dumbarton Oaks. On the weekends I visit museums (almost all the Smithsonians!), and during the week I am enjoying myself, learning, and seeing as many, if not more, historical treasures than on my weekend adventures. As one of the two Rare Book summer interns, I am working on the creation of on-site and online exhibits for the Botany of Empire symposium here at Dumbarton Oaks on October 4-5th this fall. This is the first year Dumbarton Oaks has had Rare Book interns so it is an especially exciting development and a fitting way to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Rare Book Room at Dumbarton Oaks.

In preparation for the symposium, I am researching the history of botanical exploration in the eighteenth century. From the origins of binomial nomenclature and the Jardin du Roi to the history of cacao or European expeditions through the South American flora, I am also scouring the Rare Book collection for images to showcase these stories in the symposium exhibits. My internship is a sort of ongoing treasure hunt for primary sources and rare books to include. Amazing primary sources await, yet if you do not know the exact title, author, or date of an item, chances are you will not be able to find it or have a challenging time doing so.

However, even if you know which rare book you want to examine, locating the picture or text you want to analyze can also be an adventure. Many of the books in the collection are not digitized so there is no Ctrl+F keyboard shortcut for pinpointing a desired excerpt or image. Often, you must delicately turn each page of a three-centuries old document and hope you come across that passage or illustration you just know is in there somewhere. But that’s part of the fun of this opportunity, the quest for knowledge and chance to share amazing historical stories with the public. I’ve already experienced the thrill of realizing a book or facsimile from the 1700s is in the collection and another thrill when I turn a page and spot the exact picture or passage I was looking for—or, better yet, a description, plant naming story, or illustration I never knew would be perfect for the exhibits until I laid eyes on it. Between researching and gathering primary sources on amazing topics and being in this new town, I feel like an eighteenth century naturalist-explorer, bound for exciting adventures.


The Byzantine Seals Project

Joe Glynias is the intern in the Byzantine Seals Project.