Many undergraduate students have a difficult time choosing what area they will focus on in their field of study. For history professor Jennifer Murray, she was guided to her passion through an internship opportunity that paved the course of her career.
“The summer between my junior and senior year I applied for an internship with the National Park Service at Gettysburg National Military Park, and I got it,” Murray says.
At the time, Murray had not chosen what her concentration was as a history major. After her internship experience, however, she recognized her interest in Civil War history: “For me, that was the hook,” she says.
The internship required Murray to lead interpretive programs at the Gettysburg battlefield and Gettysburg National Cemetery. She describes that the amount of people per tour ranged from 100 to 300, for “Gettysburg gets a million people that visits them each year.”
Murray and her colleagues had to conduct their own research for their battlefield tours by using the “huge archives” of previous research at Gettysburg. “That might the first time that I did real, original research,” she says.
“It was incredibly competitive, so I was really fortunate to have that opportunity,” Murray says. She was one of five undergraduate students that were chosen for a 12 week program, and she continued to work and research at Gettysburg for eight more summers.
In 2014, Murray’s first book “On a Great Battlefield: The Making, Management, and Memory of Gettysburg National Military Park, 1933-2013,” was published, which consisted of findings from her internship.
Murray stressed importance of internships in every academic field because it gives students a “taste” of their career and looks appealing to employers. “It’s probably what got me into the M.A. program at James Madison University, Ph.D. program at Auburn and it was my first book!” she exclaims.
The history department at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise has made internships a requirement for their recently added public history concentration. This new area “originated two years ago for history majors who don’t want to teach,” Murray describes.
History majors have interned at Breaks Interstate Park, Hungry Mother State Park, Southwest Virginia Museum, Fairy Stone State Park and Natural Bridge State Park.
Most of the internships are provided through the AmeriCorps Interpretive Trail Project where students can receive up almost $6,000 by the end of the summer, in addition to there acquired college credit.
Murray is writing a biography of General George Meade, who led the Union Army to victory at the Battle of Gettysburg. She describes that it is “an extension of the work I had already done at Gettysburg.”
“I’ve got all the research done on Meade, it’s just a matter of writing,” she said, which can be hard with a full-time job.
Murray’s upcoming article on the George Meade Memorial in Washington D.C. will be the lead story in the April edition of the “Civil War Times”. Also, her chapter on George Meade’s leadership after Gettysburg will be featured in “Upon the Fields of Battle” in November.