Internship Provides a Look into the Past

What do the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site and Beaton Institute have in common? History students! The Department of History and Culture at Cape Breton University has continued its internship program into its third year. Supervised this year by Dr. Andy Parnaby and Dr. Scott Moir, the internship provides students with graduate level research experience while participating in hands-on training in professional work environments. The internship also allows students to earn up to 12 credits towards their CBU degree and get paid for their work.

CBU senior history student Daniel Pitcher spent the 2011-12 academic year working at the Fortress of Louisbourg where he teamed up with staff historians, archaeologists and conservationists to study an 18th century countermine tunnel, a tunnel built in the 18th century  to intercept an enemy mine or blow up advancing enemy soldiers. The mine is still intact underneath the glacis, beyond the walls of the Fortress of Louisbourg. It is the only part of the National Historic Site that is in its original condition.

Daniel spent months on site in Louisbourg researching the tunnel’s construction and history. He then designed and carried out a research project on the countermine. Daniel’s work will guide future efforts by Parks Canada to preserve and manage this cultural resource.

Based on his findings, Daniel was able to propose possible approaches for the presentation of this difficult to access structure at the Fortress. He also provided suggestions for future approaches to making it possible to visitors to the Fortress to experience in some way, and to better understand this incredibly valuable and fascinating cultural resource.

Students Anna MacNeil and Amy MacDonald were both given the opportunity to work on an internship at the Beaton Institute. This internship provides students with practical experience working with primary source materials in an archival setting.  Anna and Amy organized a treasure trove of original documents – ledger books, political papers, letters – salvaged from the old Morrison’s General Store in St. Peter’s before it was torn down in 2002.

“The internship provided us with a unique, engaging and exciting learning experience, taking us out of the classroom and into the workplace. Because of this, the program is a valuable educational resource for current and future students,” says Anna MacNeill, one of the Beaton Institute interns.

Beyond simply managing archival materials, students are expected to gain insight into why archives exist and operate, how their holdings reflect trends and biases in public history, and the challenges facing archives in web dominated information age.

"The Beaton Institute internship gave us an opportunity to conduct practical, hands-on work in an archival setting. Through the internship, we gained an appreciation of the inner-workings of an archive, and were able to engage with primary source materials on a level not normally experienced by most researchers,” MacNeill says.

The internship program hopes to add the CBU Art Gallery to its list of valued partners as they look to create even more internship opportunities for students in the future.


* Photo Credits: The Fortress of Louisbourg & The Beaton Institute