Internship Reflection – Krystal Pugh

By Krystal Pugh, 2024 Spring Intern at the Osher Map Library 

As I began my internship at the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education (OML), I was excited to gain experience in the field of public history, but wasn’t sure what exactly to expect. On the first day of my internship, I was given a box that contained a small collection of letters and ephemera dating back to the 1930s, that originally belonged to a young woman named Josephine Libby. My goal was to process the collection from beginning to end, and throughout that process I learned a lot about working in archives, and I gained skills that I will be able to use moving forward into a career in archival work. But I also learned how easy it is to become personally invested in your research.

My first step in processing the collection was to organize and inventory everything within the collection, which consisted of nearly 100 items. I began by sorting everything into categories – correspondence, holiday cards, handwritten poems, stories, and song lyrics, and miscellaneous ephemeral items. Then, I began organizing the letters in chronological order. This process was relatively simple, because most of the writers had written the date on the letter, or if not, the letter’s envelope was stamped with a date from the post office. For some letters I was able to use context clues to figure out approximate dates, but some ended up in an “undated folder.” 

Next, I created an inventory spreadsheet which contained information such as the date, sender, sender location, the physical condition of the letter, and a brief description of the contents of the letter. This helped me understand the scope of the collection. I made sure to read each letter in its entirety, and to examine each piece of ephemera, even if it seemed to be something unimportant, like a napkin. It turns out you can learn a lot of information from things that may seem trivial at first glance.

After I completed the initial inventory, I began to research Josephine. I learned a bit about her from the letters, like that she worked at a mill, and the names of her parents and siblings.. But, I wanted to be able to put together a broader picture of her life that expanded outside the time frame of the collection. I first researched her on, and found a good bit of information there, especially from looking at census data. I learned her parents’ occupations and the ages of her siblings. I also learned that she only completed the first year of high school and that she was a twister at a spinning mill, though the census didn’t specify which mill she worked at, and I learned that she got married at age 19 to a man named Raymond.

I also utilized for my research, and I learned a lot more than I expected. One thing that I hoped to find using this resource was a picture of Josephine. I wanted to be able to put a face to the person I had spent so much time researching, and I hoped that I would find a picture attached to her wedding announcement. I did end up finding her wedding announcement in the Morning Sentinel, and I learned where she got married and who was in attendance, but, unfortunately, there was no picture. I continued my research though, and learned a lot more about her, like that she frequently traveled throughout Maine and to Boston to visit friends and family, she was active in her church, and she often baked cakes for birthdays and wedding showers. 

One of my most exciting days of research was when I finally stumbled across a picture of Josephine. I had been scrolling through for a couple hours when I came across an announcement that she had completed the real estate program at the University of Maine at Augusta, and had been hired by a local real estate company. This article was accompanied by a picture of Josephine, who at the time was about 50 years old. It was at this point that I realized that I had begun to form a personal connection to this collection and to Josephine herself. Every time I found a piece of information, I found myself wanting to learn more, so I kept searching. 

Throughout my research, I kept returning to the physical collection, checking to see if there was anything I missed. One thing that I had overlooked was a napkin that read “The Belgrade and The Elmwood.” At first I offhandedly wondered why anyone would ever save a napkin. Now that I had become more invested in this research, I actually wanted to know why she had decided to keep this napkin. I looked up The Belgrade and The Elmwood and found that they were two modern, luxury hotels in Waterville, Maine. There were many things to do in the area, such as visiting the Belgrade Lakes, and there were taxis that would take you to various locations and that would drive you between the hotels. The hotels also both had dining rooms. When I learned this, I made the assumption that she kept the napkin because going to the hotel’s dining room was special for her, whether because she was there on a date, or with friends, or just because it seemed fancy to her, she kept the napkin because it meant something to her. 

About two months into my internship, I found myself in the basement of the Skowhegan Free Public Library using their Genealogy and Reference room to continue my research. I was very excited to see that there were yearbooks from Skowhegan High School dating back to the time Josephine would have been in high school. Each one only had pictures of the graduating class, so I excitedly searched through the ones from around the time Josephine would have graduated, hoping to find a picture from the same time period as the collection – unfortunately, I was unsuccessful (at the time, I didn’t know that she didn’t complete high school). I also came across a directory from 1938, which is the last year that the materials in the collection covered, and was also the year that Josephine got married. I found her name in the directory, and listed beside it was “M S Co.” Because of the research I had done earlier, learning that she was a yarn twister at a mill, I was able to determine that the “M S Co.” listed beside her name meant she worked at Maine Spinning Company in Skowhegan. 

As I left the library,  I crossed the street and looked out over the Skowhegan River to the building that once was Maine Spinning Co. This, along with the library, was one of the only buildings that still existed from the time of the collection, and it was really cool to be able to see it in person. As I walked back to my car, I couldn’t help but wonder if Josephine had walked the same route on her way to or from the library or work. I finished my trip by stopping by Southside Cemetery. I walked around until I finally found Josephine’s gravesite. I wondered, if she were here, what she would think about me going through her old collection and researching her life. 


The trip to Skowhegan didn’t uncover any groundbreaking information about Josephine or her life, but it did provide some insights into how we, as historians, can sometimes become personally invested in our work. Although her life seemed ordinary, I was fascinated by each new piece of information that I found. I wondered why I had become so invested in her story. Maybe it was the challenge of combing through newspapers and archives and using what I found to piece together her life. Maybe it was the personal connection I felt when I held the letters in my own hands – the same letters she once held almost 100 years ago. As I read the letters in this collection, I realized how similar we are to people who lived decades, or even centuries ago. We navigate friendships, relationships, and jobs. We tell jokes and read poems, and write down lyrics to our favorite songs. 

Still, as much as I learned about her through this project, I never knew Josephine as a person. This has made me realize that this type of research often involves interpretation and that it’s important that, as historians, we are aware of the biases that may come up as a result of how invested we are in our research.

This project has also made me consider the ethicality of researching people from the past. When you are researching someone who was never really in the public eye and who led a “normal” life, how do you know how much information is too much information to share? How do you justify digging into someone’s past if you can’t ask their permission? How do I know that Josephine wouldn’t have been horrified to know that I was reading her personal letters? These are the types of questions I grappled with as I worked on this project, and I think they are important questions to ask. 

Overall, I have learned a lot from my internship at the OML. Before I started this internship this semester I had never done research on this scale. This was my first time taking primary sources and using them to create a narrative, and I learned a lot in the process. I have not only gained skills that will be useful as I move forward into a career in public history, but I developed a deep appreciation for the personal histories that make up our past.