Internship Spotlight: Emma Palladino

My name is Emma Palladino, and I am going into my third and final year of my undergraduate anthropology degree with a minor in religion and globalization. Having completed a DEC in liberal arts, I am keenly interested in human behaviour throughout history and into the present day. As such, my academic interests have so far revolved around archaeology, religious studies, and museology. When I found out that there was an internship position available at the McCord Museum in Montreal, I did not hesitate to apply. I was also extremely grateful for the funding I received. Without funding, I would not have been able to accept the internship, as I could not have afforded to go two months without working.

I was so interested in the McCord because of their fairly recent shift towards Indigenous representation in the museum. Under the most recent curator of Indigenous cultures, the museum has made a much-needed move towards community and Indigenous museology. The McCord dubs itself a “social history museum”, which I found particularly interesting. The institution revolves around telling stories – especially those that have been silenced or ignored. I admired the way the museum involves itself so heavily with Indigenous collaborators, artists, storytellers, and guest curators.

Therefore, I figured that a position at the McCord could provide me with in-depth and hands-on experience in the field I hope to one day enter. My supervisor, Guislaine Lemay (curator of the Ethnology and Archaeology Department; interim curator of Indigenous Cultures) proved an amazing mentor. She gave me a list of responsibilities that served both as teaching tools for me and necessary work for the museum. In this way, I was both learning and making a measurable impact.

My responsibilities were varied, but revolved almost entirely around the museum’s current and upcoming collections. After being taught how to use the museum’s internal software, my first job was to insert Haida-language object names into the system alongside their English ones. Then, I went through some four hundred objects and collected their respective labels, and inserted those into the system as well. In my last two weeks, I researched an old collection of objects to find relevant information for my supervisor’s upcoming conference.

I had two main jobs on top of these smaller tasks. The first was to research the objects to be put on display in the 2020 iteration of the permanent First Peoples collection, and then compile and write corresponding labels. The second job was to work with a visiting academic and UNESCO chair, Elisabeth Kaine, to help her synthesize and present her proposal for the next permanent First Peoples collection coming in 2021.

The highlights for me were many. The feeling of making a genuine impact was a highlight that lasted the entire internship. The excitement of working with these objects and artefacts satisfied all of my personal curiosities. The people I worked with were extremely kind and all were invested in my success. Guislaine and Elisabeth both showed me genuine kindness, and took the time to answer all of my questions and teach me about their careers and projects. I learned more than I thought possible from them.

The one big challenge for me was the independence factor. My supervisor holds a dual position at the McCord and Stewart Museums. As such, I would often be alone in her office doing my work. This was challenging because if I had questions (and I often did), I was not always able to reach her for an answer. The one perk of this is that it taught me how to solve problems on my own to the best of my ability before asking for help.

I do not yet know if I will be using the experience for credits. My potential supervisor (Peter Johansen) has agreed to take me on if I do decide to, but he is currently doing fieldwork in India and is not reachable. If I do write a thesis on my experience, it will certainly be centred around ethical Indigenous museology.

This internship has had a massive impact on my educational experience. It has given me endless ideas and helped me to further shape my final undergraduate thesis proposal. Getting real-life experience is so important for students, because abstract classroom instruction can only go so far. Living the experience allows you, firstly, to decide if this really is the career path you want to take, and secondly, gives you a necessary “crash course” in that field.

With the continued and unwavering support of both McGill University and the incredible staff at the McCord Museum, I was able to temporarily fulfill a personal dream of mine, and plan out the steps necessary to get me there permanently.

Back to top