Letting loose in the archives: An intern’s tale

Posted on Tuesday, June 18th, 2013 by Elenore Doerksen in News | No Comments

Intern Amanda Bartel does marvelous job of engaging material during first MB Historical Commission Archival Internship

Photo: Amanda Bartel stands in the Centre for MB Studies in Winnipeg, Man., the final location she visited during her archival internship. (Photo by Ellen Paulley)

It was designed so that “a young person [could] let loose in the archives, explore, and have fun,” says Jon Isaak about the first MB Historical Commission Archival Internship. Intern Amanda Bartel of Iowa City, Iowa has done just that. She’s “done a marvelous job of engaging the material,” says Isaak, Executive Secretary of the MB Historical Commission.

Bartel, a history student at Bluffton University in Ohio, says she’s “always had an interest in history” and initially thought she would like to study archaeology. Her career aspirations changed after a high school class resulted in accepting an opportunity to job shadow an archivist. Bartel says of the opportunity, “It was kind of similar to what I was thinking and maybe this will open a whole other door. Maybe I will actually do this for the rest of my life.”

The goal of the five-week internship is to provide a college student with practical archival experience at each of the four MB archival institutions in North America. Bartel spent time at the Centers for MB Studies in both Hillsboro, Kan., and Fresno, Calif., the Mennonite Historical Society of British Columbia in Abbotsford, B.C., and the Centre for MB Studies in Winnipeg, Man. Bartel restored papers, some covered in mould; sorted and organized donated documents; updated a visual inventory; and inputted data into archival systems.

The work of the archival centres is connected to the mission of the church in a broad sense, explains Isaak. The stories collected are about “gathering [the] people of God, restoring hope, and [God] freeing them from various bondages. Archives is a repository of these congregations and people who have tried to be faithful,” he says.

The research topic for the internship was left flexible, open to the interests of the student. Bartel was interested in missionary stories since members of her family were connected with the Mennonite mission field in China in the mid-twentieth century.

She tracked the stories of missionaries at each of the different archives. One such story is of Paul Wiebe, a fellow church member at First Mennonite in Iowa City, Iowa. In Hillsboro, Bartel found photos of a young Wiebe and his family from the time when they were missionaries in India. She scanned some of these photos and sent them to Wiebe’s daughter, who hadn’t been aware of them.

When asked what she’ll remember most about her internship, Bartel says, “The thing I’m going to take away most is the people I’ve met. It’s just been really fun to meet everyone and figure out what they’re doing and see what their different jobs are.”

The MB Historical Commission will be hosting the internship again next year. The enthusiasm and spirit with which Bartel approached her work has been encouraging to Isaak. “She’s been a bright light ready to go. It’s neat to see the future is in good hands,” he says.

Ellen Paulley is the communications coordinator for the Canadian Conference of MB Churches.

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