In the summer of 2017, I had the opportunity to intern at one of India’s premier museums – the National Museum in New Delhi. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience there and I hope that by my own example I can inspire more youngsters and history enthusiasts to take a shot at it!
How did I learn about it?
I came to know about the National Museum internship from Facebook. All the information you need can be found here. I was really excited as I have always been passionate about History (I both study history AND come from a family of History graduates). The National Museum had also persistently fascinated me growing up. However, you don’t have to be a History student to apply. All are welcome! The experience of working in a public service industry like a museum also adds to your CV. I wanted to gain work experience in something that interested me, so the call for interns was a god-send.
The application process
You need to tackle several steps as part of the application- getting a letter of recommendation, approval from the principal of my college, submitting a write-up, choosing a department out of so many and sending in an updated CV. If you’re like me and don’t have any experience of filling any application , you might find it nerve-wracking at first. But thankfully, it’s easy enough and gets over soon, so hang on. All I had to do after was wait, and wait I did with baited breath. Just a week after the deadline, the names were announced – I had been selected!
I chose the Archaeology department, and in the beginning, I was their only intern. I worked at the Office of the Deputy Curator, behind the Mughal painting exhibition, a chilly, dimly lit workspace which got no reception. This was not what I had expected and I was a little nervous as well. However, the Deputy Curator, Mr. Tejpal Singh, and the Assistant Curator, Ms. Pooja, put my mind at rest by giving me the opportunity to introduce myself. They also gave me a quick rundown of my responsibilities as the new intern. Thus, by the time the day ended over a cup of warm, sugary tea, I felt much more comfortable in my new role.
What I accomplished
- I spent the first few days filling in details of different artefacts onto an online portal. This allows scholars from all around the world to look up artefacts in the museum without needing to come to Delhi. The software was called Jatan, and as the name suggests, involved a long drawn out and sometimes tedious process. However, it helps the museum take a pioneering step into the modern age. I was proud to be involved in the initiative.
- I also double-checked the positions of the artefacts placed outside exhibitions— in the rotundas (outer circular periphery) and the central courtyard, which was outdoors. All artefacts are recognised through a unique accession numbers and their description. Through this exercise I learnt how to recognise the defining features of particular artefacts, such as that of Shiva, Surya, Vishnu, etc. I also learned how meticulously and carefully the museum accounts for each and every one of its artefacts.
- Going to the museum store was my favourite part of the internship. It housed all artefacts which did not make it to the display. Some dated back to the Harappan age, and I got to touch them (under supervision, of course). All of them were carefully numbered and stored in specialized moisture free almirahs. Given their age and preciousness, my mentor taught me how to hold and handle them properly. I was supposed to confirm the location of each artefact, and after this was done, Mr. Singh (who was about to retire) signed off their care to his successor, Ms. Pooja
- I spent long hours in the library which was incredibly well-stocked. I discovered one of the earliest editions of Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography which was only for Rs 2.
- By that time, two more interns had joined me. We collectively wrote several write-ups on various topics such as ‘Life of Buddha Through Artefacts’, ‘Kali’ etc. for an upcoming exhibition. Because of this, we read books we normally would never have touched and I also got to make new friends.
- We also got into a peak of some interesting behind-the-scenes action. It was amazing to see how the Ganga exhibition was dismantled. Later, we also assisted in setting up RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) for over a hundred artefacts. We had to cut and stick them manually- tiring, but fun.
It was worth it because…
I learned a lot from the experience- how a museum functions, how to conduct myself in an unfamiliar environment, doing work which I had never done before, and interact with all kinds of people. I saw that the museum undertakes so many projects to keep it up to date with technology. The highlight of it all, though, was holding artefacts that were so very old, so very important – something everyone just does not get to experience. It was an honour and a privilege I will never forget.
I had friendly colleagues and a relaxed working environment. I was able to do my tasks comfortably within the 10am to 5pm day. My own experience comes from working with only the Archaeology department, so it would be wise to keep your mind open if you are selected.
– Start your application well in advance so that you have enough time to fulfill all the requirements.
– Choosing a department may be confusing but my advice is to go with your gut or what suits your career goals.
– Even if your work does not require it, visit the library anyway. They have books on countless topics, some of which may interest you.
– Even though it is unpaid (museums are often short of funds), the knowledge I took home was worth much more. I wish more wide-eyed history students become aware of the opportunities that lie in the museum field as a profession. This internship is definitely a great place to start.