This summer the Center for Dubuque History (CDH) at Loras College welcomed three full-time graduate student interns as part of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. If you’ve made a research request at the center this summer, you’ve likely been assisted by Erika, Caroline, or Nora who could be found in the workroom and reading room of the CDH. They each bring their own expertise and passion to their work.
We’d like to share a brief interview introducing each of them and talk about their work this summer.
Tell us about yourself! What do you enjoy doing? What are a few interesting facts about you?
Erika: My name is Erika Alfieri. I was born in Long Island, New York but have lived in Florida for most of my life. I love to read mystery novels, bake pastries, and go for hikes with friends. A few fun facts: I used to compete in skateboarding competitions when I was an undergraduate student and I still enjoy skating today. I also love dogs and can’t wait to adopt a new best friend in the future.
Caroline: My name is Caroline Handley. I was born and raised in Rochester, Minnesota, and I moved to Chicago for graduate school last summer. In my free time, I love to read, knit, and host movie nights for my friends. I’m also a musician; I play the piano, I love to sing, and I used to compete in drumline competitions in high school.
Nora: Hello! My name is Nora Jimenéz. I am a proud Chicana, raised in San Diego’s Barrio Logan. I love traveling and have been working on my bucket list since 2015. I’ve traveled to Asia, South America, and Europe! I hope to travel to Morocco in the near future. When I am not traveling, I am usually found cuddling with my furry companion, Lucius. He’s a bit of a grumpy cat but I still love him.
This is Lucius. He doesn’t like puzzles.
What sparked your interest in interning for the Center for Dubuque History at Loras College?
Erika: Since Loras College is a Catholic college and the Center for Dubuque History, it has a focus on academic history, religious history, and local history. I wanted to gain more experience with different archives and their holdings; it was exciting that the CDH would help me learn about all three at once.
Caroline: When I was searching for summer internships, my goal was to find an internship that would provide a broad introduction to the archival field. I wanted to try out as many new skills as possible, and I knew that the CDH’s diverse collection would ensure a well-rounded experience. I was also pleased by the CDH’s role as a center for the study and production of local history. As a student, much of my research surrounds local history and the history of the Upper Midwest. The prospect of actively preserving and promoting the history that I study by interning at the CDH really excited me.
Nora: I was drawn to the CDH due to its strong ties to the community of Dubuque. As an archivist-in-training, I am particularly interested in community archives and how narratives are shared with the public. There is so much we can learn from the lives of everyday people, their stories, and shared memories. Interning at the CDH meant I could explore how these experiences could be shared with the public to keep these narratives alive.
Tell us about your background in the archival, library, and museum fields. What was your work or study experience before coming here?
Erika: I have an undergraduate degree in Art History from Arizona State University and am currently pursuing a Master’s of Science in Information Science from Florida State University. I have experience with accessioning, transcription, cataloging architectural plans, metadata application, research and collection talks at museums, and the creation of digital libraries.
Caroline: I graduated from Luther College in 2021 with my BA in History and Museum Studies. I am now attending Loyola University Chicago for my MA in Public History. As a student historian/researcher, my interests lie in the fields of local history, trauma memorialization, and histories of settler colonialism. I am also a budding museum/archival professional, so I have completed multiple museum and archival internships. As a result of these internships, I have experience in accessioning and processing collections, digitizing photos and papers, and researching collections and local history.
Nora: I have a BA in Art History from the University of Illinois at Chicago and I will be finishing my MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee this fall. I have an extensive background in public librarianship. I’ve held positions in Youth Services, Adult Reference, Creative Services, and Public Relations & Development, as well as Outreach. Aside from this, I’ve held internships and fellowships at many museums including the Art Institute, Milwaukee Public Museum, Field Museum, and most recently the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. I am currently working at Northern Illinois University in the Rare Books & Special Collections department where I manage the Reading Room, and assist in archival processing and collection management.
Tell us about the projects you’ve worked on at the CDH. What did you find most interesting about your work?
Erika: My focus for this internship has been on the digitization of the CDH’s photographic negative collection and cassette tape oral histories. I’m very interested in all of the behind-the-scenes work of digitizing. Each type of media has its own needs for digitization and it’s been rewarding to learn the nuances of each program, like how to save an overexposed negative by tweaking photo editing settings.
Photographic negatives cataloged and rehoused from their original boxes on the left into their new, archivally safe boxes pictured on the right. Believe it or not, there are over 1,500 negatives in just those two boxes!
Caroline: My big project this summer involved digitizing copies of the Cee-Ay, a newspaper published by students at Columbia Academy (a Loras College-affiliated high school) in the 1920s-30s. I absolutely loved reading about high school student life one hundred years ago. Some things never change; many pages of these newspapers were dedicated to students cracking jokes, poking fun at each other, and sharing funny stories. I was delighted by these pages, and I’m proud that through my digitizing efforts, the public can now enjoy them too. You can find digitized copies of the Cee-Ay on the Internet Archive.
Bound copies of the Columbia Academy student newspaper, the Cee-Ay. Articles range from important campus news, to stories and poems, to lists of jokes (often made at the expense of other students).
Nora: I’ve been working on processing the Louise E. Halliburton Collection. The collection was first accessioned shortly after Halliburton’s death in 1991 and was in need of organization for better access and discoverability. The collection is quite large and it’s taken me a long time to process but I am very happy with the result. The collection will be made available to the public and will be accompanied by a digital exhibit.
The Halliburton Collection spans the full length of 3 CDH Reading Room tables! Items within the collection include drawings, watercolor paintings, personal correspondence, photographs, diaries and so much more.
What do you enjoy most about working at the Center for Dubuque History? What do you find most challenging or difficult?
Erika: Research requests have been a real delight to complete. People often come in looking for information about their families - stores they might have owned, photographs of places they frequented, or obituary listings that tell more about their professions and lives. Connecting people to their local history is a really rewarding experience; you can see the instant joy on someone’s face when they learn more about how they’re connected to the history of Dubuque.
My biggest challenge so far has been co-writing a grant proposal. It was my first experience with grant writing so I leaned on the guidance of the other interns and of Heidi Pettitt, the director of the CDH. I’m happy to say that our program was successfully funded by Humanities Iowa. “From Dubuque to the Big Leagues: Selections from the John Fox Baseball Collection” is slated to take place August 8th through 12th, so please look forward to it!
Caroline: I really enjoyed the broad experiences that this internship provided. I spent the first few weeks of my internship processing, re-foldering, and inventorying collections before starting my newspaper digitization project. Throughout the summer, I also assisted patrons with research requests, learned a new collections management system, and co-wrote a grant proposal. At times, this variety in work felt a bit challenging. I did not have much experience working with archival collections before I arrived at the CDH, and my internship sometimes felt like a whirlwind of new information as I tried my hand at many new tasks. Challenging situations are often the best way to learn, however, so as my internship wraps up, I feel that I am now extremely well-versed in a variety of archival skills and practices. I am very grateful to Heidi Pettit (CDH Director) and my fellow interns for everything they taught me this summer!
Nora: I loved working with the Halliburton Collection. After sifting through personal letters, photographs, and other artifacts, I feel like I’ve known Louise for many years. Her life story really comes through when exploring her collection. I am sure the Dubuque community will gain a lot of insight into Louise’s activism and incredible life story as well. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of processing the Halliburton Collection was trying to organize Louise’s coin collection. Louise traveled the world in 1969 and brought back a collection of over 700 coins. Unfortunately, these coins were not stored in the best of conditions and their enclosures deteriorated pretty badly over the years. I had to contend with a lot of dust, rust, and tape, lots and lots of tape!
Halliburton Collection, Germany coins c. 1890-1969. Note the deteriorating tape and paper showing signs of what looks like fire damage.
Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Erika: Working with oral histories has inspired me to create and document them in my own community. There’s so much to learn from the voices of everyday people - both from those in the past and from those currently around us - if we take the time to listen. Right now, my Jacksonville, FL community lacks a record of the voices of its LGBTQIA+ residents; I’m excited to take home what I've learned at the CDH as I work toward the formation of a digital LGBTQIA+ oral history library in my community.
Equipment for digitizing cassette tapes. Each tape contains an oral history from a local person of interest ranging from notable names such as previous Mayor James “Jim” Brady to the voices of community elders and religious leaders.
Caroline: This internship has opened my eyes to a whole new career path. For a long time, I only ever pictured myself working in museums. Although I still love museums, this internship helped me realize that I can also see myself pursuing a position in the archival field. Archives play such an important role in providing public access to history, and I want to be a part of this democratization of history in any way possible. I look forward to seeing where the skills and knowledge I developed during my CDH internship take me in the future.
Nora: Personal archives can be illuminating. I like to think of these archives as physical memories. The best way to keep these memories sharp is to take advantage of the repositories where they are housed and engage with the collections. I would recommend everyone to visit your local archives, don’t be afraid to start a conversation with your archivist or curator. You’ll never know what you can discover within the archives until you visit!
The CDH Summer interns enjoying a visit to the Field of Dreams Movie Site in Dyersville, IA