Internships provide you with an opportunity to learn what it is historians actually do: they’re a great way to learn something about one of the many professions historians are involved in, to see whether that profession is something you might be interested in pursuing, and to make some professional connections. A good internship can set you on the path to a career and give you some ideas of the things you should be doing now to prepare for success in that career.
If you plan on applying for a job in a history-related field or going on to graduate school, internship experience can be a useful plus—it shows your commitment to the field and provides you with knowledge and experience you simply can’t get in the classroom. If you’re planning on pursuing a career or further education in one of the many aspects of public history (archives, museums, historic preservation, etc.), it’s almost essential that you have some practical experience by the time you graduate. Volunteering is good experience, too, and highly recommended, but nothing substitutes for an internship.
We’ve had students complete internships everywhere from local historical societies to archives to the National Museum of American History. Ideally, an internship should be with an institution that provides experience in the type of historical activity you’re particularly interested in. It should be an institution that has professional staff members and that can give you variety of experiences.
There are university and department requirements for internships. The university requires that students complete at least 120 hours on site for a three-credit internship, and 240 hours for a six-credit internship. The department requires you to keep a journal and write a concluding paper; where possible, your faculty supervisor may also make an on-site visit to you at your internship site.
Sometimes faculty members can make suggestions about institutions they know about or about institutions that have hosted interns before. Also, many students suggest as possible sites institutions they’re already familiar with; often, these are near their homes, so they can stay at home, work, and complete an internship all in the same summer. If you have suggestions, the faculty and the departmental internship supervisor can help you determine whether they’re potentially good sites.
Talk with you advisor about your interests and future plans and see whether s/he suggests an internship for you. Most students do internships in the summer, but there’s nothing that says they can’t be completed during the academic year, depending on your schedule and location. The summer between your junior and senior years is an excellent time, although sometimes earlier works out. IUP requires students to have completed at least 57 credit hours with at least a 2.0 GPA before being permitted to register for an internship.
You should start well in advance. If you’re planning on a Summer internship, the preceding Fall is the time to begin working on it—discuss it with your advisor, explore possible sites, perhaps visit the site and talk with the appropriate person there. Registration is handled differently than a regular class—your advisor or the departmental internship coordinator will be able to explain it—and there are deadlines that must be met, so you should have all arrangements in place by the time you register for the semester in which you’ll be doing the internship.