Katharine Klein

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Interviewee: Katharine Klein
Interviewer: Olivia Brown
Date: October 13, 2016
Accession #: PHP 017
Length of Recording: 
Sound Recording

Katharine Klein grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. In 2009, she received a Bachelor’s degree in both History and Greek and Roman Studies from Illinois Wesleyan University. In 2012, she received a Master’s degree in Public History from the University of South Carolina. Her thesis was entitled “The Sacrifices of the American Textile Industry and the Common Good.” She has spent her post-graduate career working a few assorted jobs before accepting her current position as a Museum Specialist for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. Interview includes discussion of her graduate assistantship at the South Carolina Political Collection, working with professors on thesis advising and editing, the resources available for research at USC, inter-personal friendships within the cohort class and the Cultural Resources Certificate offered through the Anthropology Department. She also discussed skills from the certificate program, internship, and coursework that have translated into the career world and working as a Museum Specialist for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.



American Textile Industry | Bulgarian Heritage Sites | Chicago, Illinois | Illinois Wesleyan University | Internships | Museum Studies | National Museum of American History | National Postal Museum | Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) | Smithsonian Institution | Study Abroad Programs | UNESCO



Olivia Brown: We’re going to get started. This is Olivia Brown, it’s October 13, 2016. I’m interviewing Katharine Klein for USC’s Public History Program Archive, and we are conducting this interview in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, correct?

Katharine Klein: National Museum of American History, mhmm.

OB: Great. Why don’t we get started—why don’t you just tell me a little about where you’re from originally?

KK: Born and raised outside of Chicago, Southwest suburbs. Raised up in the suburbs until I was entering junior year of high school, moved down to Peoria, Illinois where I finished up and then went to college at Illinois Wesleyan University. Graduated a semester early thanks to AP classes in high school, (laughter) studied abroad in Ireland and then did field work in Bulgaria. By that time, I knew I wanted to work with museums and cultural property in some aspect. At the time, I thought I wanted to be an archaeologist and wanted to find the objects that go in the museum, Indiana Jones-style, but then, after working with UNESCO at the World Heritage Site in Bulgaria, I had more of an interest in the policy aspect and what the museums were doing. So, I pursued working in museums, and about a year after graduation, I went to graduate school at the University of South Carolina, which we are talking about, and then miscellaneous jobs, contracting, ended up here in 2013.

OB: Do you want to tell me a little more about what you were doing in Bulgaria?

KK: Sure! It’s the Bulgarian Heritage—oh gosh, they changed the name so now I’m like—it’s the National Foundation Works with the National Museum there. It’s a field school that they offer several varieties of work that you can do. Some catered to specifically archaeologists, some to art majors, some to just a generic idea of what they want to do in museums. The one that I did was Medieval Fresco Hunting. (Laughter) For about four weeks, I traveled around with a group of eight people. Some were in graduate school, some were undergrad, majority were professors or were professionals and we— sorry, if that’s loud —so we traveled around. We were stationed in Sofia, went up to different sites. Some were known churches that got regular visitors from the villages, some were remote.

There’s one in particular memory it took me an hour and a half of hiking to get up there, and we found a hermit. The gentleman was repainting all of the frescoes. He was painting over them because he thought that they were too fat. He himself was practically starving to death because he had been living up there for a year without any human contact. Really creepy, really scary. (Laughter) There was only three of us that day, including one of the directors for the program and it raised into a good point of obviously what this person was doing is history of itself, and so, what do you do? Some higher-up from UNESCO got involved, we wrote a white paper for it, submitted it, the National Museum went out I was told like three days after I left, checked it out, they were surveying it also to remove pieces of it to go to the museum.

It got into the whole cultural heritage question of, do you leave it and (unintelligible) and is it more valuable, or is it better to move it to a larger museum where it’s seen by more people? No one’s going to hike up an hour and a half up a hill—and the worst part is 45 minutes on the way back we saw an access road, so we didn’t even have to do the full hour and a half, (laughter) we could’ve just done—oh gosh it was so annoying, got a great workout. Yeah so, tested my ability to catalog, to document a scene, a situation, photography, sketching, communications with officials and UNESCO, all around just a great experience on introducing me to all of that and then afterwards I backpacked through Paris, so that’s about it.

OB: That’s a nice addition to it, right? (Laughter)

KK: Yeah, yeah, well it turns out a lot of friends were studying abroad in Paris. One actually was studying with—had an internship with the Louvre. I went there, spent another two weeks, and then met some people who were doing a pilgrimage down to Spain, went with them for like 10 hours, realized it was not for me and went back and got on a plane. (Laughter)

OB: A nice trip through Europe, right?

KK: A nice trip through Europe. (Laughter)

OB: So, coming from Chicago, Illinois area, how did you end up in South Carolina?

KK: That’s an interesting story. I wanted to do museums, I realized that after Bulgaria, that it wasn’t just field work for me. And I started talking to a lot of professionals. Barbara Becker, runs CMEG, the Chicago Museum Exhibitor Group, still in operation still going strong. Beverly Serrell, who does the writing label book, you may—it’s a green book, everyone pretty much gets it—she’s part of it. We were in a conversation one time when I was in my internship my sophomore year of college at the Chicago Children’s Museum. I went to a meeting with them, we were talking about it, and ultimately it became apparent to me that every person they were hiring or all the job descriptions they were mentioning had a Master’s degree mentioned, or a really significant amount of experience.

No matter what I did there was no way I was going to get a job right after undergrad because that’s not enough experience, I would’ve had to start when I was like 10. So, I identified museums that I really liked. I thoroughly enjoyed DC museums, the Smithsonian of course, I liked international museums, the British Library even, and was exploring field museum and museum science in industry, nothing out West. I was reaching out to those people while I was still in my internship, kept in contact with them after Bulgaria when I was graduating. Tried to get kind of an internship that would get me a job and I realized it wasn’t working.

I was looking for graduate programs and my approach to education is more so of who do I have the strongest connections with, because I don’t do well in giant lecture halls. I’m better one-on-one, and it’s really important that I had a mentor. I didn’t get to go down to South Carolina to meet everyone during their invite, but I had researched Dr. Marsh and Bob Weyeneth, and I knew that I liked what they offered through the program and there was a recent paper that got released with NCPH that I read that I thought I really liked, and I liked how Allison was with the National Postal Museum previously. So I went down there, took a chance, and it worked out really well, and it really for me comes down to the people, the connections.

Dr. Nancy Sultan at Illinois Wesleyan University was the individual who really encouraged me to do cultural property and explore how are museums designed, how are they built, where do their collections come from? She’s the one who sent me the paperwork for Bulgaria, so I knew I wanted a person who’s just as involved and interested in my career, and I found that in Dr. Marsh. She really took a strong interest, and I probably harassed her a lot. Her office hours were mostly me, standing and sitting there waiting and talking for hours. She probably has—I have fond memories of our thesis conversations, but I’m pretty sure she hates them because it was like, I had nine drafts I think of my thesis, and constantly having new ideas. And she’s like, “That’d be great for a dissertation” or, “That’s like a ten-year study, let’s scale this back.” (Laughter)

OB: Make it more manageable for yourself.

KK: Yes! Pretty much, because it’s, yeah—I just had way too many ideas and without a person like that to talk to me and be like, “That’s a great idea, let’s table it and focus on this one,” I probably would be still in grad school. Or floating somewhere, I don’t know. (Laughter)

OB: When you were doing your research on graduate programs, did you consider programs besides Public History? Museum Studies, Library Science, maybe something like that? What led you to Public History itself?

KK: I was looking for one that had an internship or a connection with a museum. So an early contender, for example, was the University of Chicago because of the Oriental Institute which has strong connections in cultural heritage and the Smart Museum. University of South Carolina got flagged early because of McKissick, and I really like the connection that they had and the influences they had on the local history areas as well, including Historic Columbia Foundation. It was mostly programs that had a history focus, that offered museum certificates or museum classes or incorporated the local museums or non-profits into their program. Some library schools, but really those got knocked out almost immediately. (Laughter) I love libraries but that’s—and I worked in one, I was at South Carolina Political Collection at their archives, but I like handling the objects more.

OB: So let’s talk about your thesis you were just mentioning, right? How did you come to your topic, I think I have correctly, about the American Textile Industry?

KK: Correct. The exhibition that’s currently located on the first floor West Wing is called “American Enterprise.” That was my internship here when I came in 2011. I got really involved in the idea of textiles because of South Carolina. Olympia Mills, just down the street from the campus, is an old textile factory and that whole area actually was the community. We started this “Foundation L” at the University of South Carolina through the program—I don’t know if it’s still in existence—I actually cannot even remember what “L” stood for, (laughter) but we used the Mill as the symbol. There was something about it that I thoroughly enjoyed and I liked the idea of researching the fact that so many individuals have this massive hatred for the South because of slavery and cotton production, et cetera, but the North had just as many manufacturers, actually more.

It was a simple fact, in my opinion, that the North had the mass printing ability to spread, not propaganda, but to disseminate this information that the South was more corrupt, because they had the laborers directly connected to the mills rather than the Northern mills and that’s something that Dr. Smith and I had talked about early on, but there’s no preliminary research on that and again, it was one of those moments where it’s like, “That could be a really good dissertation (laughter) or a five-year thesis if it was scaled back.”

In researching textiles for American Enterprise, then I moved it to the idea of protection legislation because American Enterprise goes from 1770s essentially up to 2015, so we covered WTO and NAFTA in the exhibition and I have the greatest interest in textiles so I was  researching all of it and I realized that from my experiences at South Carolina Political Collection as part of my graduate assistantship study, the collections I was handling, which included Butler Derrick and Hollings, had all of these files and these letters from their constituents with comments about the textile industry and about those legislations.

For Hollings, who’s involved as early as Kennedy, for him it was more or less, “I am not doing this for the mass consumer, I am doing this for my constituents, like all of these people who are writing me on a day-to-day basis asking for help because their mill is going to close and they’re going to lose their jobs.” Butler Derrick had the same issues. So in knowing those collections and what I was finding up here, it kind of made the connection. That’s kind of where it started, and then Allison sort of helped me reign it in. Previously it was like a 500-page paper, (laughter) and we slowly got it down to 96 pages I think at the end of it.

OB: How did that process work for you?

KK: I think for me it was okay. I’m pretty sure for Allison and Dr. Glickman it was a nightmare because again it was drafts that were—as with most writing, you overwrite, you write tons of pages and you can whittle it down to one—so that was my hardest part. I found myself getting on these—not necessarily tangents, but this moment of clarity in my mind where you’re reading all these letters of these people, who from Cone Mills. Cone Mills, 120 years I believe, my memory’s sticking together—120 years they were in operations. After the passing of NAFTA, which they supported because they were under the impression that they would increase production, closed down. 120 years. Yeah. So you have all of these letters, all of these people begging, begging Butler Derrick to help them and it’s like, “Oh my gosh, this is heartbreaking.” Then it went back years, and then it went back to the ‘50s, to the ‘40s, even Coolidge talked about industry, especially the textile industry carrying America through the wars. So you have all this legislation about it, all these people’s community comments about it, it was very much like a social history.

Breaking it down to the numbers, I was able to really emphasize what was happening and that of course doesn’t always convey well to individuals who are like, “What’s 87% of the—(laughter) like what is that?” It was hard, but at the same time I think more so for them because they weren’t reading it as much as I was or they didn’t have that close relationship to the material that I was finding. I probably have—and I still have it—probably about like two cubic feet at least of primary research still left that I was like, “I can’t get rid of it. It’s too good. There’s no way.” (Laughter)

OB: You mentioned the political papers at South Carolina that you were using. Were there other resources available with USC that you used to write your thesis?

KK: Well USC itself has a massive collection and its own research library—previous students researching on slavery, pretty much mention the textile industry overall. The State Museum had some materials and artifacts that I referenced. Olympia Mills is just down the street from the University was a good example as well. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Olympia Mills Community School for the manufacturers or for the employees. The school there was actually the model for South Carolina’s—Columbia’s—Public School. They are actually doing a lot better and you find this with a lot of corporate communities, like even Facebook and Google have their own, Microsoft. They bring amenities to the location to improve the lives of their employees but also keep them on site and work longer, so it’s a model that has been prevailing and is repeated against multiple industries.

Pretty much, also the journals that USC subscribes to, there’s a number that I used. Also I guess the connections just from being in South Carolina, with McKissick, Lana and Jill Coberman had given me some names to people up in even Spartanburg, through SEMC, and so we talked about what was in their historical collections. I’m trying to think what else. Also the proximity. I used the papers at the library to kind of jump off points for what had recently closed or what mills were still operating and then I was able to travel to them. Fun fact: I was at the Hunger Games scene at the set because that is an abandoned textile community that they used to do District 12?

OB: I know exactly what you’re talking about.

KK: Yeah. I actually went up there probably about six months before they started filming, and it’s just like, “Oh my god I know that place!” and it’s so sad—

OB: —you see it on the big screen.

KK: Yeah, and it’s like wow. I don’t think people realize that’s a textile community that’s something that got abandoned because our industry wasn’t necessarily protected, and it left, but at the same time consumers were placed first so, it just happens. Yeah.

OB: What were some of the classes that are memorable as you look back—anything that stands out to you?

KK: Any class with Mark Smith. He really intimidated me, and I think his history classes—I want to say it was like history 7-something—really got my ability to do reviews, to really not just read the book and know it by heart, but to consider the sources that they used, the people that reviewed it themselves, what they were saying—to really cultivate and create this argument for either in support or against someone else’s work in two pages. (Laughter) He was a really great professor in regards to, he caught like the weirdest sentences and be like, “What do you mean here? This should have been expanded or like compress this.” I guess what I’m trying to say is not only did he improve my research, he really improved my writing and everyone was terrified of him. So it was always scary about who would go first or who he would call.

Any class with Jill at McKissick, you did not have the pleasure of meeting her I’m assuming, she was really great. Lana, of course, always fun, and McKissick is a jewel box of learning opportunities. Allison had a theory class that was really good. Myself and one other student were pretty much arguing against each other almost every class. Sometimes it was just because no one else was talking and we were even in agreement one time, and our argument ended with him being like, “And I agree!” And I was like, “Why were we doing this then?” It was just because no one else was talking. Yeah those kind of stand out the most.

I also—I was doing the cultural certificate with Dr. Kenny—Dr. Ken—I hope I’m getting these names by the way. (Laughter) If you’re like, “Ah that’s not Mark’s last name now, stop.” Yeah that’s about it. It’s more the people that stand out to me rather than the classes themselves. They were all discussion-based classes which is great, you always walk away with great memories of those, but it’s also affiliated to a specific person. I even remember when Kat was telling me, Kat Stein now Kat Allen, that the archives version of our program was no longer going to be, she was going to be the last graduate.

Her talking to me about that and then—oh my gosh, I can’t remember his name—(unintelligible whispering) one of the professors called us out for it, and they were like, “We started ten minutes ago, stop talking,” but both of us were able to jump in right away with the conversation and just be like, “Oh yeah and we disagreed with that person because of this,” or like, “I liked that reading” or, “That person was full of it,” or we were able to just pick right up. It was a very comfortable environment, the entire program.

OB: Do you want to elaborate a little on the certificate program that you went through too?

KK: Sure. So I decided after the first semester that I wasn’t going to do the additional museum studies program certificate, instead I was going to do the cultural one; however—and it was really interesting, I think the most memorable class was—not really course, class—was when we were discussing NAGPRA and how to review that law and really examine what collections are participating, which ones aren’t, looking at all of that. The cultural aspect of your collection is so important and it really tied in with Allison’s theory class and Jill’s management class in regards to you know—an object comes into the possession of a museum collection that’s a question in provenance or through NAGPRA it needs to be returned, but it’s like that history of the object once it enters the building, is it of itself a history? I’m trying to think of a good example.

So, we have a red river cart in our collection. It’s 1881, first mode of transportation collected by the Smithsonian. It came to the Smithsonian and then it went out, there was a special request to Congress to take the red river cart to the World’s Fair in Chicago, and they approved it, it left, it traveled there—actually rolled, I guess—got there, was on display, sent back, and is part of our collection. So of itself, the red river cart has this history prior to becoming a part of the Smithsonian collection, and then there’s that little history of it in our collection and it’s now on display on the first floor if you want to go see it.

That museum or that certificate program really helped me think about all of that and that these items are not just aesthetically pleasing, they all have their history. Unfortunately, I could not finish it. There was one class I was missing and it wasn’t going to be offered until the Spring of the following year. I was not going to hang around for a year and decided to graduate on time. So, saved myself a couple grand and a headache of staying in South Carolina, you know, trying to find jobs with my friends who were living in South Carolina, we were all kind of competing for the same jobs. It was a decision I made not to finish, but I think the lessons I learned from Ken and my colleagues was that the material is out there and sometimes it is more useful to sit down in a discussion-based class and talk about what the heck NAGPRA means, and do you really have to do that and there’s this whole procedure and protocols involved with it, and it gets really complicated. It was a good course for me, but wasn’t really worth finishing, I guess. Yeah. It hasn’t hurt me, I guess. (Laughter)

OB: How have the skills kind of translated into your later career?

KK: Oh a lot, actually. So as part of my position here as a Museum Specialist, I do special projects­—in particular exhibitions—and I have eight exhibitions under my belt right now. It’s not so much as just acting as a Collection Manager, I also am trained and with the skills to do the copyright legal checks for graphics. My understanding of the law in regards to the objects that I was learning at South Carolina has let me to understand kind of the legal jargon for when it comes to copyrights. That has really been instrumental. There’s only about four people in this entire museum who are trained to do that. It kind of makes me valuable—always a plus—and also from those classes and USC’s program overall is the fact that we do loans and we have legacies. So the loans themselves have a lot of legal rights associated to them even with this release I signed over the rights and copyrights to this interview, so that is very similar language in a loan. Of course, some companies don’t do that and so you have to go back and forth and negotiate.

There is one class, I think it was one of Lana’s classes in McKissick—it’s a blue book “Legal Matters” or something like that, and there’s all these examples from it, examples of stolen property that are recovered but the original heir has passed so who does it go to, and things like that. We ourselves have that problem—we’ve been a collecting institution since the 1880s—and some material does not, in today’s light or today’s opinion, legal—legal acquisition or legal right to it because, it’s like someone signs an IOU in 1880, is that still valid today if it was never paid out or is it like, “Ehhh that’s not really, no.” We have those problems today. Every object that gets put online is legal title checked and for all the exhibitions, I participate in that. It’s a long process, a lot of language to go through, but I think because of the courses and talking through cases with everyone at the program, I’ve kind of got the necessary background to do it at an efficient speed that has included not only objects now and loans, but graphics. A long story short, yeah?

OB: Yeah (laughter). You were saying that Kat Allen was on the archives track and that was the last time it was offered—

KK: Yep—

OB: —so which tracks were offered while you were there and which one were you on?

KK: There was a preservation track, a museum track, and an archives track, I’m pretty sure those were their titles. I was on the museum track. Most individuals in the museum track got that collections certificate or museum collections certificate offered through McKissick. The archives were typically with the Caroliniana, USC—or SCPC—or with another library institution, because there was an MLIS program. And the preservation folks were with Ken in the Anthropology Department doing the cultural certificate and also working with Historic Columbia Foundation, doing things like that. They had a lot of focus with Bob and his preservation classes. Ultimately, individuals could—I think you had to pick—but I can’t remember specifically for those who did the dual program, who did the Masters’ and then went into the PhD, I don’t know if they had to pick. I think they did because Evan Kutzler was in preservation and he did the Master’s with us and then he went on for the PhD.

OB: And continued to get his PhD after that?

KK: Yeah, yeah, I’m pretty sure you had to pick no matter what, but not immediately. Oh no, you did, yeah you did have to pick immediately, but I think Kat switched hers, I can’t remember to be honest. It wasn’t that long ago, but it was that long ago, you know? I have graphic panel numbers in my head now, chemistry is gone, I don’t know anything about chemistry.

OB: I’ve never known anything about chemistry, so you’re ahead of me on that one. (Laughter)

KK: Well, be prepared. If you’re anything like majority of people here, you’ll start remembering odd, obscured things like that catalog number for Abraham Lincoln’s hat, rather than your parents phone number. Something’s got to go in order to make room for all this information.

OB: There’s only so much space in your head, right?

KK: Exactly, yep.

OB: Did you have a graduate assistantship?

KK: Yes—

OB: What did you do for that?

KK: South Carolina Political Collections. I was there ultimately for two and a half years. I was able to stay on and I worked through a summer, too. I think the first summer—no, I didn’t, no. I’m trying to think, there was some capacity where the assistantship more or less for me wasn’t necessary, they gave it to another individual, but I was able to still stay on and continue working and getting them the funds to pay for everything. And they through South Carolina Political Collection, gave me the connections for the thesis but also connections for my contracting position afterwards, which was also with a USC alum. I guess I should be saying South Carolina. (Laughter) Every time I say USC people are like, “California?” and I’m like, “No.”

OB: No, the real USC.

KK: Yes! The real one (laughter) and then if you just say Carolina, they’re like, “Which one?”

OB: Do you want to talk a little more about what you did for your internship?

KK: Sure. I was brought on as the Project Assistant for the American Enterprise exhibition team. American Enterprise was first thought up in 2006, it was supposed to open in 2014, or 2012. There was some year issues—it was supposed to be in the East Wing, then the renovations for West Wing were underway and it was determined that the exhibition should be part of the new West Wing, so it moved over and got pushed to 2015. When I came on board, the project was at about between 35 and 65%. We divide our exhibitions by these milestones. So 10% is that you have the generic scope of work planned out that the exhibition is going to be chronological or thematic, you know those details, you know who your team is, you have an idea of how many objects or loans that you want, how many graphics, and a budget.

At 35%, you’re working on your script, you got your objects narrowed down, you’ve got all of that figured out. 65% through 100 is finagling the fine details. So I was brought on in between 35 and 65 and as a project assistant, I more or less acted as the Collection Manager because they didn’t need it at the time. So I researched objects—I researched the textile objects in the collection and carried that through the first and second section. I didn’t write any labels, but I did the groundwork for a lot of the cases on textiles and the corporate era and then when I was hired after graduating, I was still Project Assistant, I was just being paid, and took on the role of being the Assistant Collections Manager, so it was much more detailed into the care of the objects, with conservation, photography, mounting, and installation, and a few of the cases have a lot of my touches on them.

In particular, there’s a WTO case, which none of them made it in, but the NAFTA background information I did helped and then there’s a prohibition case—you’ll notice a lot of things are from Chicago, so yeah that’s pretty much it. 

OB: The biases you know about that the normal visitor doesn’t pick up on. 

KK: Yes—You’ll also notice there’s the model for Marshall Fields, also Chicago State Street so it helps, it helps to be a strong voice. The internship was a lot of database work, a lot of research in the catalog, some object handling, conference—I went to a conference too—and graphic research. It was actually through this internship that I went to the Library of Congress for the first time and I got a carrel all to myself and I did research for my thesis simultaneously, so it worked out wonderful.

OB: That’s good.

KK: Yeah.

OB: Get the overlap of your research with your internship.

KK: Yes, oh yes. Part of me wonders if it was the internship that encouraged my thesis or if my thesis encouraged parts of the exhibition. (Laughter) It kind of goes hand-in-hand, but it was definitely with the internship I got to meet Pietra Rivoli, who wrote The Traveling T-shirt book, I think it’s like the Global Travels of the T-shirt, or something like that. I got to meet her, I got to talk to her, and hearing her talk about her personal experiences with people in the industry as well as reading her book and her sources on traveling.

So what she did was examine cotton manufacturers—or cotton farmers in Lubbock, Texas—and how his cotton went to about six other countries before coming back to the United States as a t-shirt, and how do you determine origin of “Made in…”? Ultimately, do you take it back—there’s a whole law about it—you really take it back one. So even though the cotton is American and the t-shirt is sold in America, it says like, “Made in China.”

OB: Interesting.

KK: Yes, it’s a really fascinating topic. So I got to talk with her and look at some of her sources, then really learn her aspect of it and just even her stories of talking with the farmer in Lubbock, Texas and how they see the subsidies as keeping their family going and they’re essentially clothing the entire world in some cases, but at the same time, they get these critics who are like, “That’s protection legislation, you can’t help them blah blah blah, you know that’s not fair.” It’s like, “Is it? I mean let’s break it down,” so, yeah, it was fun. Definitely useful and is something I even today explore on my own time.

We have a wonderful textile collection downstairs on the fourth floor. Madeline Shaw—who actually I read some of her papers for my sources—she has infinite amount of wisdom when it comes to her subject and expertise in identifying different weaves and patterns and equipment, and I swear she put together like an entire loom because of her knowledge, it’s really impressive. Every now and then I’ll get to go and help her, or be involved in some movement of a giant loom and I’ll just be like, “Aw this is so cool!” (Laughter)

OB: A lot of people it seems did their internships in the South Carolina area, around Columbia itself—what led you to want to explore further? Come up to DC?

KK: So with Allison and one of the classes and a few other folks, we came up with the L program—I want to say it was like early learning something—but American History here through the American Enterprise exhibition was looking for partnerships with the universities. Peter Leopold was one of the lead curators on this exhibition, knew Allison from her fellowship here at American History before she got her job over at Postal Museum and reached out to her and said, “We’re working with (unintelligible) American University and we want to work with South Carolina.” So got a group together of students, put together this organization, and flew up here to talk about grants for funding. We got to meet Peter and the team and we talked about how we can contribute or collaborate on topics.

One University of Wisconsin-Madison put together the interactive for the Ramsay Ledger downstairs in the exhibition. American University did a kiosk as well, but I can’t remember what the subject was about. That’s pretty much how I met Peter Leopold and the folks on the team, and I made a point to keep in touch with them because I knew I wanted to work in a larger institution, I really liked the idea of the Smithsonian. It was one of the reasons I picked University of South Carolina because of Allison and her experience working at the Smithsonian, so I didn’t let it go and in our many office hours talks with Allison, I talked about how I really wanted to continue that relationship and to be a part of it and explore that environment because although I loved McKissick and the local museums, I just felt they were a little too small that there wasn’t a really strong project for me to focus on and so she reached out again to Peter, convinced him to give me a chance to apply and I did, and I got it, so—

OB: Nice.

KK: Yeah. So I came up here and I stayed in Connie Schulz’s apartment up in Cleveland Park, and hung out there for a little while, and it was really nice and easy. She was so, so nice about that, I don’t know if she still rents out her apartments to students. Does she?

OB: I know that the South Carolina History Advocates oftentimes stay in her apartment when they come up for Museum Advocacy Day. That’s all I’ve heard about it though. (Laughter)

KK: Yeah, so that was actually the second time that I interacted I think with Peter and the team here, because we came up for Museum Advocacy Day. We were actually the first group of students from the program to do that. Caitlin Podas and Jill Coberman and Lana Burgess were really specific about participating, and Caitlin is still a really good friend of mine and convinced a group of us to get involved and we all came up, and I know I want to say two other people made interviews around the area or they were hoping to make connections with people and it helped. Allison hosted a happy hour so we all got to meet tons of people working in the area, so it’s always a great opportunity to take everything that they offer, because you never know what you’ll find.

OB: What else did you do with the South Carolina History Advocates?

KK: Ultimately, just participate in MAD and then—I wasn’t big on Twitter, I still am not—so I—

OB: I think it’s an acquired skill. (Laughter)

KK: It is, it is! Caitlin Podas—I hope you do talk with her—she got interviewed by a AAM and they really reached out to her and they were retweeting her tweets and all that stuff. I more or less was her support, I played the supportive friend role with the History Advocates and just if there was an opportunity to volunteer or something like that, I went. I think it’s always important to give back to the community, even as part of a federal employee here at the Smithsonian, we’re—it’s not really mandated, it just happens. We do at least 16 hours of service to the public outside of our jobs. Sometimes you’ll see me on the floor just giving directions to people, or talking about the objects more, or behind a cart, or we’re out on the Mall just doing parts of tours for the overall Smithsonian too. It’s just something that naturally happens and the Smithsonian really supports it, and you know even though I am working, it’s all about giving back to the community, so that’s pretty much something that I was still doing with History Advocates and continue today.

OB: What were some of the biggest challenges that you faced in graduate school?

KK: Housing. Housing for me was a challenge, and I say that because of the amount of reading that we had. Getting back and forth from the University campus to my apartment was like time wasted to me. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I could be still reading at the library, like what the heck?” That got resolved the second year, so I didn’t have to worry about that and I was able to read on the bus and get all my stuff in.

Another challenge—this probably isn’t the challenges you were looking for—printing capabilities. I don’t know if it’s still a problem. We had a limit, or what felt like a limit, to print in that lab down the hall from Allison’s office. You could only print like 50 pages before the printer died or something, it was ridiculous and of course, like Glickman and Smith were always like giving you 800 pages to read, and I was better at highlighting or circling areas and stuff, so I always printed, plus I reuse the information occasionally in papers, so that was a major challenge. Something I’ve obviously worked through. I got a Kindle after about six weeks in and just was downloading everything to my Kindle then that I could get my hands on and highlighting on the Kindle. And they’re pretty much okay with me whipping that out and referencing the Kindle.

I think—oh that was another one—the course, like the class sizes. Not so much of a problem that it was too big, but that I remember I couldn’t get in to one of the classes and I had to wait like a year, because they filled up immediately. I don’t remember which class it was, but I want to say it was one with Glickman—I think it filled up right away. I think that’s just an indicator that the program is in high demand, and it just happens. I remember there was one class I took that had two undergrads in it and I was so impressed. Yeah it was—I can’t, I want to say it was Sullivan, one of her classes—there were two undergrads. I think they more or less—one was auditing—because they didn’t always show up but they still somehow passed, so I think they must have been auditing.

OB: How was the Public History program viewed within the larger History Department?

KK: Specific to South Carolina or like—

OB: Specific to South Carolina in your experience.

KK: I think they really—I didn’t really see it as anything different, to be honest. I didn’t interact with the regular history program, it was always the public history folks that I was interacting with. But I think in regards to looking at the program now, I think it’s still has a good connection, a good strong connection. There’s probably not as much of an overlap of professors as there should be, but I don’t think it’s suffering compared to other programs that are out there. I think it’s still really strong.

OB: What about in general, public history within the field of history because that seemed like the answer you were going to gear towards originally?

KK: Yeah I was wondering about that. So I think South Carolina’s program produces amazing professionals. Not even just my friends, but we had an intern from the program a year and a half ago and he actually worked out so beautifully. It was him, an American University intern, a George Washington—GW—student, and a George Mason student, all kind of working on similar topics for American Enterprise and he blew them out of the water. He was the top dog situation and I was so proud because everyone knew I was like, “I want someone from South Carolina, like come on guys, this isn’t fair. You’re bringing in students from your program, let me bring in one from mine,” and he just nailed it every time. It got to the point that even we were in a meeting and Peter Leopold, one of the curators, was like, “How can we hire him?” and I was like, “I think if you offer him money, he will take it. Like, I don’t know he’s going to be a challenge, it’s hard to tell.” (Laughter)

OB: Like most graduate students, if you offer them money and a job, they will probably bite. (Laughter)

KK: Well he had another year left to go, so it was one of those things where it was, we see it day-to-day, there’s a lot of programs that are close. American University has a program, GW has a program, and so when I see them come in and some of them don’t even write emails properly, or they’re wearing sweatpants and I’m like, “I know you’re in a collections space but you are interacting on a professional level so pick it up.” So it’s always great to know and to see when the South Carolina program is just excelling in that regard that it’s just producing such professionals, and really what’s common sense is still common sense there. Today, here I actually had a student from a competing program who did not measure an object correctly and that was one of those things where it was like, I think Jill and Lana said to us on day one for two seconds here’s height, there’s width, there’s depth, don’t ever mess that up. There’s only so many things you can do, and that three-dimensional objects get three dimensions, not two. So it’s always so great—

OB: That’s a fair point. (Laughter)

KK: Yes, yes. So it’s so shocking when I see individuals from other programs not be able to do that and it’s like, “Wow I thought that was just common sense, but I guess USC just produced a really great person here,” or that we all were on the same page and we didn’t need our hand to be held and you know we were—the program really put the professional, the research, the approach to understanding history up front. And I think if you didn’t get it, you ultimately didn’t get in the program. It’s always, always great and I love to take more students, so if there’s more opportunities to do collaborations, I would definitely spearhead that, if at all possible.

OB: Awesome. When you received Dr. Marsh’s email about our project, what motivated you to volunteer to be interviewed?

KK: Mostly just gratitude, like I said. She really is a great—she was a really great mentor for me, she really got me through making some tough decisions and, if you ever have that moment where you’re like, “I don’t know if this is the right thing.” I personally left that contract after I graduated in Georgia and went on essentially a month break because I didn’t want to renew the contract and be committed to another six months when the first three months were kind of iffy to begin with and I knew that they were going to open a job here and that there was another job opening in Nashville that I was interested in. I remember talking to Allison about it, and I reached out to her and I told her the situation and I said, “I really would feel more comfortable at a different employment, different institution but I also don’t want to be unemployed,” and she really helped me weigh the risk, to look at the bigger picture, to give my time and consideration and efforts more than just the fact that I was getting a salary.

When she asked if individuals would like to participate and talk about the program, what they’ve learned and how it’s helped them, I was like, “Well yeah I have to because I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for her,” and I think her and like-minded individuals have definitely played a major part and the program has really just made so many successful contributions to the museum world and that should be known.

OB: You’ve talked about a number of people that you were in school with—do you keep in touch with a lot of people from USC still?

KK: Yeah, I mean we’re all Facebook friends, and we’re all LinkedIn friends. A couple of them, I am still super close to—went to their weddings—Sarah Conlon’s. Catlin Podas and I still talk like once a week. She’s in Mississippi now, which is like a whole different world away, but you know those moments where, you’re like, “Is it just me or is something not right, like what am I doing wrong?” It’s always good to reach out to them because they know exactly what I’m talking about or have the same experiences. I don’t know if you know that blog “When You Work at a Museum.”

OB: Different from History@Work, correct?

KK: Yeah.

OB: No, I’m not sure that I do.

KK: Oh do yourself the favor and look it up. (Laughter) So it’s actually—she was a Smithsonian employee that started it—she was over at Portrait Gallery—she’s now left, but kept it going and it’s the most ridiculous moments captured and sometimes that happens, but we—you know, you blow it out of proportion because it’s like, “Oh my god, they’re ruining my life. They want to take this object out of the museum without the paperwork of a million pages!” Really if you want to move an object from this building, it’s like a million pages so it’s of course a struggle to get every page signed, so it’s always good to talk to them.

Amanda and Evan, you know I remember the party where they met each other and now they’re getting married, it’s so funny. Older individuals from the program as well, one of them went up to Alaska and I was talking to another one went to Nantucket so it’s always—I never felt that I couldn’t reach out to them and every time that I do reach out to a friend from the program, it’s always just like we were talking yesterday and I think it’s because it was and hopefully still is, a small concentrated program. I mean I was the only one to graduate in my year—a lot of people that semester, I should say—a number of folks stayed on for the certificates or they were doing dual programs or something like that. So I think my first year there were 12 of us, I think. So it’s kind of—when you spend every day together you become really good friends.

OB: So that friendship was really pretty solid while you were in the program as well?

KK: Oh yeah, yeah and we did—I have a very fond memory of—I made the decision to do a language as part of that—as part of the program is to do a language or I think the GIS, right? So I did a language, and I did Latin because I did Latin in college. Well it had been three years since I had done Latin and I did not pass the first time, and I did not pass the second time and you only got three chances, if I remember correctly, and I thankfully passed the third time. (Laughter) I remember just sending out a mass text being like, “I passed. Meet me at Liberty,” which is down in the Vista. So we get down there and I think we were there for like six hours afterwards and this was like 4 o’clock in the afternoon and we’re all just drinking and celebrating because a lot of us had passed and were moving on to like, “Oh we’re done now! I don’t have to do anything for like two months and I have one more course and I’m out,” or things like that, or we were talking about where people were going to go work for the summer and it was pretty much just a great time and everyone was collaborative in wanting to support.

I even remember one person who literally—like she saw my note cards and we’re sitting there at lunch and she was helping me go through it and I was like, “You’re such an angel thank you!” (Laughter) It’s so hard to study by yourself sometimes and it was really helpful that my friends were like-minded and wanted you know a study group occasionally, or a beer, (laughter) or to go to a movie. A group of us went to the wooden boat festival in Georgetown. Sometimes you just have to get away and it was really apparent and all of us had the same ideas and the same interests, because you know if you’re in this program, you kind of really like non-profit stuff and history so it was easy to find common ground.

OB: What vision would you like to see going forward for the Public History program at USC?

KK: I would love to see more collaborations with established institutions. I think, of course, McKissick is an obvious choice because it’s on-campus, and the State Museum given its proximity, and Historic Columbia Foundation, but I really do think that we can make a stronger connection with the Smithsonian up here, with institutions on the West Coast. It would be great to see more students taking their internships out of state and also exploring, not just a collection of 10,000 or under 15,000 objects, but a collection that had millions.

I think that’s like you had said, a lot of students had decided to keep their internships in-state or local, and unfortunately for South Carolina, there isn’t a massive collection— there’s no national, giant, huge collection down there. I mean in some aspects there is, but not really. So your experience of working with a staff of twelve is completely different than working with a staff of twelve hundred. Here alone in the building there are over 250 federal employees, 500 trust employees, and then 1000 between contractors and volunteers and interns, and so different learning, different experiences completely.

I always feel that with my friends who did the smaller institutions where they wore many hats got more experience than me in some aspects because they not only were the Collection Manager, but they were also the Exhibit Designer or the Preparator or the Registrar or the Writer, the Curator. While here I was a Project Assistant specific to the exhibition development. So I would love to see the program make stronger connections with a variety of institutions, and also maybe just a little bit more presence in the conferences with paper presentations. I know —I don’t know if there’s a large group still going to NCPH—

OB: This year?

KK: Yeah.

OB: I’m sure there will be a group going, but we haven’t gotten information about it yet.

KK: Yeah there’s typically at least five or six that go. I mean of course, it’s a small program, but at the same time to see students coming up for MAD and things like that, that’s great. But there’s so much more than just those two so, that’s about it. I think other than that, it’s still going pretty well. I don’t know, you can tell me. (Unintelligible)

OB: What about the alumni network itself? Are there ways you think that could be used that’d be more beneficial?

KK: I think we could always use it more. I even got an email from Bob today saying congratulations to someone, and there was an email not that long ago where he was looking for someone’s email address because they had fallen off the list and he wanted to reach out to them. I mean, Allison sent this out through the alumni network. So if anything, I think it could be utilized a lot more in particular when people are having issues with, I don’t know, things at work that they can’t really talk about. Some of the people that I’ve mentioned have reached out to me where that they’re hitting a wall where it comes to their Director, or with the fundraising, it calls into question sometimes some ethical issues where it’s like, “Can you back me up? Is this something you ever experience?” So but that’s all on a personal level, it doesn’t go out on the alumni email listserv. It would also be good to do a little more alumni events, just in person. I know—I didn’t meet up with any MAD people this last year, but I remember the email talking about happy hour, but we could do something more formal, that would always be good. But yeah, I think that’s about it.

OB: So before we wrap up, I guess today, anything I haven’t asked you about that you maybe want to talk about before we conclude?

KK: No, I think—I mean there isn’t anything in particular that I was like, “Oh my gosh, I want to talk to her about this.” I do want to say, in the overall scheme of my appreciation for the program and all the professors there, is that each and every one of them really helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses on an academic level, but also in a professional level like things where—not that I needed a lot of help, but —it was one of those things I guess that for Smith where, as you can probably tell from this interview, that sometimes I can be long-winded or I go around in a circle, and Marsh also had to deal with that with me all the time so obviously, I still have that problem, but whatever.

The program wasn’t just quantity, it wasn’t just trying to push out students and get them going, it’s not about getting them a job immediately or anything like that, it’s not about the numbers. I felt like and I still feel like, I think it’s more about the quality of the work, the courses, what they’re producing, and that these students once they leave the program aren’t just in it for the money, I mean this is not an industry for the money, I hope you know that. (Laughter)

OB: I’m aware. (Laughter)

KK: I mean federal—you get some good money in the private hubs than the federal—but I think that they really made it known, and they made an effort to make sure that they’re producing the students that were going to be contributors to the industry, not just participating. So that’s about it, yeah. (Laughter)

OB: Well that’s great. Thanks so much for letting me interview you, for being part of our project.

KK: You’re welcome.

OB: And we’ll end our interview here.

KK: Great.

End of Interview