Andra Kidwell

Experience as a student worker in the Freed-Hardeman University archives led senior Andra Kidwell to an internship with Historic New England and a possible direction for her future career. Kidwell, a history major from Neosho, Mo., spent the summer of 2010 as a collections management intern at the Phillips House in Salem, Mass.

Historic New England is a museum of cultural history. Its purpose is to preserve buildings and objects from the 17th century to the present and to foster a better appreciation for New England life. Currently, the museum maintains 22 houses.

The Phillips House, acquired by the museum in 2006, is the newest of Historic New England’s properties. Its first four rooms were built in 1800 in South Danvers, Mass., as part of a grand country estate. After a bitter public divorce, the original owner  eventually inherited one-third of the estate, equaling four rooms of the house, from his daughter. In 1820 he took his four rooms and moved them, using oxen and a log sled, to the house’s present location in Salem.

Through the years and under various owners, the house was renovated and remodeled. A combination of Federal style and early 20th century Colonial Revival style with a touch of the Georgian period, the house contains layers of architectural history.

Kidwell’s job was to catalog pieces and enter the data into the computer. She worked particularly with items from the kitchen and laundry room and with books. She classified, described and numbered the items. Her job, actually, was very similar to what she does as a student worker in the FHU Archives. The difference, according to Kidwell, is in the size of the collection. “At Freed-Hardeman, I can catalog fairly quickly.  At the Phillips House, you had to be dedicated to a big task,” she said. “I came to realize the work I was doing would benefit others to come after me.”

Kidwell describes herself as “ecstatic” when she was accepted for the internship. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could work with Historic New England,” she said. She credits her experience with FHU Archivist Erin Adams with helping her secure the position. “Most of the students they accept are graduate students,” she said, “so I definitely feel my work in the FHU archives was a factor in my being selected.”

Kidwell isn’t sure what the future holds for her, but she knows it will be tied to the past. Her dream job would be in the museum world; if that isn’t possible, she might try another internship and then grad school. “I just love seeing and getting to touch things from the past, learning how individuals lived their lives and contributed to the world,” she said.