In the summer of 2021, MA student Emma Driggers interned with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH). Working with curator Jim Deutsch, she collected American pandemic folklore and commentary from the 1918-19 Spanish Influenza pandemic, using primary sources such as her hometown newspaper, The Greenville News. Emma’s research contributes to a collection of pandemic-related news articles, advertisements, and other folklore pieces from newspapers all over the United States, which Deutsch has been gathering in order to juxtapose and compare them to COVID-19 pandemic “folklore” in modern media. More often than not, these pieces manifested as jokes, poems, cartoons, and advertisements that tapped into public fear, humor, curiosity, and ignorance concerning the influenza. Thus, these published pieces were not factually/scientifically proven or true, but were still widely believed because they were printed in newspapers. Emma describes the insights she gained from this work:
The Greenville News and other smaller, more localized newspapers based in upstate South Carolina proved to be prominent sources of pandemic poetry. These poems were invaluable primary source examples of some of the local pandemic folklore and popular opinions surrounding the influenza pandemic in 1918. I broke down the poems line by line and annotated them for Jim’s use. I was also responsible for reaching out to local upstate descendants of the poems’ authors in order to get a better sense of their meaning. I met with Jim one-on-one each week, and in this way I was able to analyze the research I was uncovering as well as develop a valuable professional relationship. In addition to this research, I participated in numerous Smithsonian workshops where I was able to become virtually familiarized with the Smithsonian library and archives system as well as participate in CFCH staff meetings. In this way I was able to develop a sense of internal museum staff structure relationships and information sharing. Overall I was very grateful to have had the experience and network with other museum professionals and museum-minded student interns.
Emma continues to build on her museum experience this year by participating in The Ringling Course, a yearlong internship for Museum & Cultural Heritage Studies (MCHS) graduate students at The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Emma and eight other MCHS students will live in Sarasota through the spring of 2022, combining professional coursework and internship at The Ringling, the State Art Museum of Florida and one of the largest and most prestigious university arts complexes in the world. The interns will work for several weeks in each museum department, participating in all aspects of museum operations and learning how each department fits into the museum as a whole. Watch our Instagram account, arthistoryfsu, for highlights from Emma and her fellow Ringling interns throughout the year.