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October 23, 2017 at 1:24 pm

History Intern Discovers Diversity of Interests at Mount Vernon

Michael Gerber, standing in front of red brick wall, wearing a tie

Michael Gerber

Like many seniors, Michael Gerber is busy these days. Most on his mind is his Honors Tutorial College thesis on education and social engineering in Vichy France, which he is writing under the direction of Dr. Mirna Zakić, Assistant Professor of History.

However, Gerber found time to sit down with Dr. Kevin Uhalde, Associate Professor of History, and reflect on his 10-week paid internship last summer at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, site of President George Washington’s historic home on the Potomac River in Virginia. One million people visit Mount Vernon each year, and re-enactors, many of them volunteers and interns like Gerber, help them imagine the site in an 18th-century context.

Gerber described his daily routine as a mix of historical interpretation and physical labor, weeding and harvesting produce in the garden. Interns reside on the estate, where they are left to entertain themselves after park’s closing, sitting on the house’s veranda, occasionally eating pilfered raspberries. Nearly fluent in French, Gerber found himself parlaying almost daily with foreign visitors. He discovered one colleague to be descended from French nobility and members of the Society of the Cincinnati.

What impressed Gerber most of all was the diversity of historical interest he encountered each day among visitors, whose views on the past were not always in harmony. This discovery was later echoed by an episode of Public Radio International’s This American Life on Afrofuturism Gerber heard, in which a comedian speaks about her own time at Mount Vernon and how visitors reacted to a black woman “playing a slave.” Gerber recalled how he, too, “observed how many different interpretations of the past there are, and how contentious the past can be.”

Ten weeks in the summer is a major time commitment, but Gerber encourages other students to consider applying. Applications for Mount Vernon internships are available online.

For more on the History Department, its academic programs, and internship opportunities, contact Dr. Michele Clouse or visit the History Department web page.

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