|Saeed stands in front of a display case featuring a small sample of the Museum's collection.|
We're catching up with a few of our student-athletes to see what they have been up to this summer. In this week's feature we talk with Saeed Husain, a rising junior on the men's tennis team. Saeed is a research intern for the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. He examines original ethnographic collections and develops research bibliographies for future publication.
Q: First off, tell us what you're doing at the Smithsonian Institution.
A: I work as the research intern for the Asian Cultural History Program at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). This is a division within the Department of Anthropology and as the name implies, works to disseminate knowledge about Asian cultures amongst an international audience. I was extremely fortunate to have received this appointment, and I feel a tremendous amount of pride representing my country Pakistan. My internship is under the guidance of Dr. Paul Michael Taylor, who serves as the director of the program, and as the curator for Asian, European, and Middle Eastern Ethnology.
Q: Walk us through what a normal day entails for you.
A: While definitely a clichéd answer, no day is normal here at the Smithsonian. Our office deals with a lot of cultural diplomacy initiatives with foreign embassies and other cultural institutions, and we often find ourselves heading out to various offices to discuss future events, or attending other events in order to network. For that reason, all of us keep a suit in the office!
Back at the museum, I would say that we are almost always deeply involved in researching objects in the Smithsonian collection. These lead to various papers about why these objects were collected, their relationship with other objects, and how we can improve cultural understanding, amongst several other topics. My tasks include developing bibliographies, doing some advanced reading on the cultures being studied, and developing the initial stages of the publication.
Q: How did you decide upon anthropology as a major and what interests you most about the subject?
A: I knew since the third grade that I would like to study peoples and cultures (mainly to satiate my love for travelling). I first found out about anthropology in the eighth grade, and have not looked back since. I believe that anthropology serves as a bridge between cultures, and can show our world's common humanity. The more we learn about each other, and the more we learn that no matter how diversified we are in our cultural practices, we are similar in our needs and wants. That I believe, is the beauty of the planet we live on, and the role of the anthropologist is to further the understanding of humankind, and build those bridges.
Q: Could you tell us a bit about one particular item at the museum you are researching that has intrigued or interested you the most?
A: One object that I unexpectedly came across was right at the beginning of my internship. A private donor had offered a few artefacts for accession to the museum's permanent collections, and one of them was a Tara figurine from Tibet. I had never come across one before, and it led me to a long journey of reading up about Tibetan art. There was heavy Tibetan influence in the Baltistan region of Pakistan, and hence I could trace connections across ancient trade routes.
Q: Was this your first time visiting D.C? What has it been like living there for the summer?
A: Yes it was! The vitality of the city is inspiring. Being introduced to the city as a young professional rather than a tourist was an incredible opportunity. I still feel awestruck passing by the Capitol Building, or walking right alongside the Department of Justice and the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building when I walk to the museum. I also love using the public transportation, which provides ample time to read as I shuttle back and forth. I must give a shout out to my wonderful South Asian hosts this summer, who have provided me with so much love and support during my time here.
Q: By the end of your internship what are you hoping to accomplish and takeaway from your time spent there?
A: As mentioned in the Wooster alumni event here in the District, this town is all about establishing connections, and those are what I wish to strengthen as I "graduate" from the department. In the short time that I have been here, I have vastly added to my knowledge of museum anthropology, and now actively think of it as a career path. Developing research is but one of the many facets involved in our time here, and I feel that I have gained insights into grant writing, creating exhibitions, and publishing as well.
About APEX Fellowships
APEX Fellowships offer structure and mentored support to students engaged in unpaid summer internships or vocational exploration programs of at least six weeks (or at least 225 hours) in duration. The fellowship includes funding, a learning contract, regular structured reflection, final reflective assignment and evaluation, on-campus reporting, and ongoing staff support. This summer, the College's experiential learning team funded 60 such fellowships. To learn more about the College's APEX Fellowship program click here.