Southeast Missouri State University historic preservation student Brittany Contratto of South Lebanon, Ohio, recently took part in a Bishop Grosseteste University College Lincoln (England) heritage program throughout the United Kingdom, which included travel to a variety of museums and historic houses.
The program also included an internship with The Collection: Art and Archaeology in Lincolnshire in Lincoln, England, where she performed various museum functions, including developing and evaluating an iPod hand-held PDA tour for visitors of the museum. She also focused on exhibits, taking down the Veolia Environment Wildlife Exhibition and setting up a contemporary jewelry exhibit, “Transplantation.” She also assisted the education team with handling school visits.
“From my internship, I gained practical experience and new skills and developed more creative thinking,” she says. “Museum professionals complete a variety of tasks, including researching new ideas, cleaning artifacts, patching holes in walls and constructing exhibits. This training has prepared me for the different functions a museum covers.”
While in the United Kingdom, Brittany participated in an archaeology dig at a late-Roman and early Medieval site. She also toured the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum with exhibition curators, hiked along Hadrian’s Wall and explored London.
“In my field, you don’t spend every day in an office or reading a book,” she says. “Historic preservation is exciting. You go into the field and work hands-on.”
As part of her Southeast studies, Brittany also recently interned at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., where she worked in the Department of Paleobiology with the Springer Collection.
The Springer Collection contains echinoderms and the world’s largest collection of crinoids as well as Frank Springer’s personal collection of fossil-related books. Brittany’s internship consisted of inventorying, cleaning and reorganizing the Springer Collection, including its library. She was also responsible for conserving library material and cleaning and conserving specimens as well as providing recommendations for rehousing and conservation priorities of collection parts.
Brittany’s main responsibility at the museum was to manage its book collection. She cleaned numerous books on more than 35 shelves, including those in the rare book collection of which the oldest book dated back to 1556. Several of the books had letters, postcards and photographs stuck in them; some were stuffed with 100-year-old pictures of fossils at dig sites, letters from Frank Springer and even pictures from 1910, the year the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History opened.
“It was such an exciting moment to find this unknown material,” she says.
Presently, Brittany is interning in the Rosemary Berkel and Harry L. Crisp II Museum at Southeast’s River Campus, where she is developing drawer exhibits from the Thomas Beckwith Collections of Native American artifacts. Also on campus, Brittany works at Special Collections and Archives.
“I am developing myself as a professional while learning what goes into running the archives,” she says. “Working here has opened up so many wonderful opportunities and provided me with the skills to take on internships at the Smithsonian. It has given me experiences working with exhibition, research, collections and great people.”
Brittany has also been involved in the Historic Preservation Association since her freshman year at Southeast. She was previously its historian and is currently its vice president. As part of the organization, she has helped with several projects, including the Miller House Restoration Project and cemetery cleaning with the Cape Girardeau County Archive Center.
“This club has provided me with leadership skills to apply to the classroom and other work experiences,” she says.
Brittany is also in the University’s Jane Stephens Honors Program.
“I have taken many honors classes and honors contracts where I have been able to pursue my personal interest and research more. With my senior honors research project, I will be able to expand and focus on a rare book preservation exhibition from my time at the Smithsonian and Special Collections and Archives,” she says.
Other campus organizations Brittany is involved in include Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership honor society, Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, Sigma Pi Kappa historic preservation honor society and Phi Alpha Theta History national honor society for history students.
At Southeast, Brittany says she most enjoys spending time with her boyfriend, roommates and friends.
“Some of my favorite memories are touring the Rare Book Room and touring Academic Hall’s dome as well as the attics of other campus buildings,” she says.
Brittany says she enjoys Cape Girardeau, Mo., and especially finds it beautiful in the spring and fall.
“It’s nice to go walking along the river and browse the shops downtown,” she said. “The state parks and conservation sites are fun to hike around and explore” as well.
Brittany has a lot of family history in the city, on her mother’s side.
“It was interesting to research my family history and find relatives who were some of the first settlers in Cape Girardeau in the late 1700s and early 1800s,” she says, adding, “I also learned that I am in the fourth generation of my family to attend Southeast.”
After graduation, Brittany says she plans to attend graduate school to further her opportunities and education in museum studies and preservation.
“Southeast helped me to make my education geared toward my interest,” she says. “This allowed me to do what I enjoy. Through independent studies and the honors program, I have been able to pursue my own interest and apply it to my field. Also, the historic preservation program and faculty have prepared me for the opportunities in and out of the classroom. The work in the classrooms can be applied to work and internship scenarios I have experienced. I am truly grateful for all the faculty members who have gone out of their way to help me, whether giving advice on a project, writing a letter of recommendation or helping me further my education and develop as a person.”
Brittany advises future Southeast students, “Be involved, do your best, have fun and do what you like.”