Over the past six months, NMSC has been privileged to have two amazing seasonal employees on staff in the archeology lab. It is with heavy hearts that we wish them well as their terms draw to a close. Here, one of these employees, Meredith Luze, reflects upon her time at NMSC. Meredith, a graduate student at U Mass Boston, is in the process of finishing her master’s thesis on living history museums’ use of archeological collections. Meredith, we cannot thank you enough for all of your hard work and good cheer!
[The Following Post Written by Meredith Luze]
Prior to seeing an advertisement for the museum technician position at the Northeast Museum Services Center, I had no knowledge of the NMSC’s existence, let alone the role it plays in caring for artifacts at national parks from around the Northeast region. The job sounded right up my alley with my previous experience working with both archeological and museum collections, so I applied and spent several anxious weeks waiting to see if the interest was mutual. Thankfully the waiting ended with an interview and a job offer, which I could not have been more thrilled to accept.
Shortly after arriving at the NMSC, I learned that I was going to be cataloging artifacts from two rather different sites at two national parks, Petersburg National Battlefield (PETE) and Lowell National Historical Park (LOWE). As I jumped into using the National Park Service’s complex cataloging system, the rest of the NMSC’s archeology staff patiently answered my questions and confusion as I learned proper NPS cataloging terminology and object ordering. I had not expected artifact cataloging, something I had extensive experience doing elsewhere, to require so much training! But learn the system I did, first sorting and cataloging artifacts from a site at PETE that had suffered varying levels of heat alteration from a historic warehouse fire.
While I now have little desire to see any more sherds of burned redware, I enjoyed finding unique pieces in the PETE collection, including a mysterious metal object that after a little researching turned out to be an umbrella tip. My favorite artifacts from the collection were a set of dominoes, including a miniature domino, which had shattered and turned into a fun puzzle to reassemble.
After the PETE collection had been safely returned to the park, we immediately began work on the LOWE collection from the Boott Mill Boarding House, which NMSC staff had painstakingly sorted and prepared for cataloging earlier in the fiscal year. It was a huge thrill to work with a collection I had long heard about and discussed, and the collection taught me a far more about glass forms and types than I ever knew was possible. I was even able to join the NMSC on several trips to the Boott Mill for collections pick-ups, artifact conservation, and a memorable few days screening soil samples. Outside of the lab, I had the opportunity to visit Adams National Historical Park and Minute Man National Historical Park with other NMSC staff, both of which were new additions to my list of visited national parks. I also had the privilege of working with African Burial Ground National Monument’s collection, another collection I studied extensively in my undergraduate and graduate classes and was excited to work with in person.
I could not have asked for better colleagues than I found at the NMSC. They were all unfailingly encouraging and supportive as I attempted to balance working full-time with completing my master’s thesis, alternately sharing their own thesis stories and motivating me with more candy than adults have any business eating. I benefited enormously from their extensive material culture knowledge as well as their interesting tastes in podcasts like Welcome to Nightvale, which was a source of endless entertainment while cataloging. At the NMSC I gained a deeper appreciation for those archeologists who routinely work with aging archeological collections and are tasked with making sense of excavation and cataloging notes decades later. After six months with the NMSC, I have a better understanding of the enormity of what the National Park Service is tasked with in caring for its invaluable collections and how collaboration and cooperation between parks makes accomplishing this task possible.
I am very glad that I now not only know about the NMSC but have been able to work there cataloging several memorable collections, screening old soil samples, and assisting with collection returns. The end of my term is a bittersweet goodbye to the NMSC, but I hope to work with the staff here again in the future.