Ruth Freer, a history major at Temple University, had the opportunity to complete a public history internship last summer that focused on Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia. The internship was made possible through the McNeil Center’s C. Dallett Hemphill Internship Program and History Making Productions. The project, Reimagining Carpenters’ Hall, is a public history undertaking intended to creatively present the stories of the First Continental Congress, Philadelphia in 1774- 1775, and the people both inside the Hall and “out of doors.” We spoke with Freer about her experiences during the internship and her interest in early American history.
Q: What drew you to the study of early American history?
Freer: Growing up in Philadelphia, I was surrounded by early American history, and it totally fascinated my young mind. I would picture myself as a soldier in the Revolutionary War as I ran around Valley Forge, exploring George Washington’s cabins, and imagining what it would be like to be alive in that time. When I was halfway through college, I decided to switch my major to history, and I have always found the stories of early American history to pique my interest, just like when I was a child.
Q: Tell us more about the site where you interned. What did you work on there?
Freer: I was privileged to work as a part of the Carpenters’ Hall project. My work was remote and I spent my days researching what life was like for those in colonial Philadelphia, reading the works of Mary Beth Norton amongst other notable revolutionary era historians. As an intern I was asked to highlight specific stories of people living in Philadelphia, from the life story of people like Benjamin Rush to the specific arguments between delegates that took place in Carpenters’ Hall. All the research went towards helping my supervisor, Sam Katz, to flesh out the Reimagining Carpenters’ Hall project and write a National Endowment for Humanities application for funding to restore Carpenters’ Hall. I also helped with more logistical work like putting together the CVs for the many contributors to the application.
Q: What was the most valuable or interesting part of your summer internship experience?
Freer: The most interesting part of the internship experience was the day we visited Old City and walked around the streets and buildings I was spending so much time researching. I had been there before, but not for a long time. My internship had been fully remote up until that day, so I had spent more of my time looking at books and computer screens than looking at Carpenters’ Hall itself. I remember walking up the small alley where Carpenters’ Hall is situated. Seeing the building under construction that afternoon gave me a greater appreciation for the importance of preserving Philadelphia’s historical buildings and the stories of people who lived in the early American period. This made the purpose of the NEH application that much more real to me, and I felt grateful to be contributing to the research process.
Q: How do you think your internship will help you in your graduate studies and beyond?
Freer: The internship challenged me to have the discipline to work independently, and keep in mind the bigger picture of the project while also focusing on the small, but important details. I am grateful for the time spent focusing in on the year 1774 and learning about the specific delegates present at the First Continental Congress. I enjoyed creating the storyboards and using primary and secondary sources to dive deep into the personal histories of people who have left an indelible mark on American culture.
Update on Carpenters’ Hall: In December 2022, Carpenters’ Hall experienced a fire, just weeks before it was set to re-open following a preservation project. Carpenters’ Hall is now running a community fundraising campaign to help offset fire-related costs that insurance will not cover. Read more about their efforts and find the fundraising link on the Carpenters’ Hall homepage.