Christiane's next stop was The Jewish Museum's exhibition, Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design. This exhibition about the French architect uses many new technologies -- high-tech projections, virtual reality, and state-of-the-art installations. Get wowed by the innovative features that point to a new direction in exhibition design and interpretation!
Lastly, Christiane explored the New-York Historical Society's temporary exhibit The First Jewish Americans: Freedom and Culture in the New World, which offers an insight into the beginnings of the Jewish experience in America. They address topics similar to those planned for our new museum -- for example, how Judaism reinvented itself in the unique setting of America -- except in an earlier era of American history. Check out the museum's accompanying programs, especially the one on February 15 where many issues and people with Washington, D.C., connections will be discussed.
During my interview for this internship, our program and outreach manager, Sam Abramson, mentioned that the Society’s historic synagogue – the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum – would be closing its doors at the beginning of the summer in preparation for it to be moved a few blocks away as part of a new building project. When I began my internship a few months later, I was excited to see how this change would impact my summer with the Society. The museum’s upcoming move ultimately provided me with an exciting and unique experience that I can’t imagine getting anywhere else. Over the course of my internship, I have worked with every member of the Society’s small and dedicated staff on a wide range of projects, many (but not all) somehow relating to the synagogue’s move and the planning of the new museum.
I worked with Sam to create a brand new volunteer manual, reach out to schools about educational programs, and set up for the final events hosted in the historic synagogue before its closing. Earlier this summer, I helped Wendy Turman, our director of collections, update entries in our collections database to ensure that all of our holdings were accounted for as the archives were packed up. I later photographed professional movers as they wrapped up some of these items to move them to a storage facility. I spent time with our curator Christiane Bauer, conducting research for the new museum’s core exhibition. We went to the DC Library to research primary sources about an organization called Neighbors, Inc. We went through boxes of documents ranging from fliers for book fairs to invitations for luncheons with diplomats, looking for connections to D.C.’s Jewish community. Under Christiane’s supervision, I also undertook a major research project on the involvement of Jewish women in D.C. during the Civil Rights Movement. I eventually used some of this research to write a blog article (stay tuned!) discussing a few of the amazing women I’d learned about and asked readers for artifacts and interviews relating to their own experiences with the movement. With these projects and the other tasks I performed during my internship, I was able both to learn and to feel like I was making a meaningful contribution to the development of the new museum and its exhibitions.
Previously, most of my knowledge of the museum field came from classes and lectures. This summer, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of museum work with the help of a kind and supportive staff. As our collections were moved into storage, I was able to participate in and understand collections management at a new level as I tagged items with their accession numbers and watched as shelves of archival boxes were carefully marked and put into a truck. Sifting through piles of documents in the library and sitting in on meetings about plans for the new museum’s exhibitions allowed me to see the huge amount of work and planning that goes into content creation for museums. As I leave my internship I am excited to apply everything I’ve learned here to my studies and future work, and I am looking forward to staying in contact with the Society and one day walking through their new museum.
Rebecca Friedman is a rising senior at Johns Hopkins University, working on a B.A. in History with minors in Jewish Studies and The Program in Museums and Society.
We're pleased to introduce our new curatorial team --
Christiane Bauer, Curator
Christiane’s most recent work experience was at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, Germany where she worked as a provenance researcher. Prior to that, she worked at the Jewish Museum Berlin for seven years in a variety of curatorial and exhibition-related positions. She is fluent in German and English and has basic knowledge of both Hebrew and Yiddish.
Christiane holds a BA and MA in German History and Jewish Studies from the Free University of Berlin and is currently enrolled in a PhD program in American history at Ludwig Maximilians University Munich and University of Kassel, Germany. Her dissertation project focuses on post-war German American identity; for her research she spent 10 months traveling throughout the U.S. and conducted more than 60 oral history interviews.
Christiane recently moved to Washington, D.C. from Germany and is very excited and honored to join our team.
Get to know Christiane!
What excites you about your new position?
Building a new museum and working on a new exhibition that will shape the museum’s future scope and reputation is the most exciting project I could imagine myself working on as a curator. I’m very excited about this great opportunity and looking forward to its manifold challenges.
What told you the Jewish Historical Society was a good fit for you?
I felt very drawn towards the variety of assignments the position encompasses and which match perfectly with my background in curating exhibitions, working with archival and artifact collections, and conducting oral history interviews. I instantly liked the idea of working on an exhibition which emphasizes political history and the issue of social justice. It’s a great fit for D.C. and sets JHS apart from other museums.
What do you hope to learn here?
I’m excited to learn more about D.C.’s unique Jewish history and hope to do that through a lot of interaction with the community. Also, the intersection of Jewish history with the local and national civil rights movement is a fascinating topic which I can’t wait to dive into more.
What are you enjoying about living in Washington, D.C.?
I like the city’s international profile and its extensive cultural scene. D.C. seems to be the hub for many political, social, and cultural endeavors worldwide. A big draw for me personally is that I have access to some of the most prominent museums in the world and that there’s always an interesting event at an embassy, gallery, or institute to go to.
People might be intrigued by a German working on a PhD in American History. When did you discover your interest in this topic?
I discovered my interest in this topic when I attended a conference on German immigrants and their descendants in New York City. During the presentations it became apparent that not a lot of emphasis had been made to illustrate immigrants’ attempts to maintain a meaningful connection to their heritage after having settled in their new home. So I did an oral history interview study with second generation immigrants about their perception of being German-American, how they relate to their German heritage, and what stories, rituals, and traditions they keep up and transfer to the next generation. In that sense, I consider my PhD topic as part of American but also German History.
Martin Moeller, Senior Curatorial Consultant
Martin has served as the Senior Vice President/Senior Curator at the National Building Museum since 2001. We have known Martin since 2005, when he was instrumental in bringing our Jewish Washington Scrapbookexhibition to the Building Museum.
Martin has worked as an independent curator, writer, and editor and consulted for clients including the Museum of the City of New York, The Liberty Science Center in Philadelphia, and other museums and non-profit organizations. He has an extensive background in curating major exhibitions as well as in D.C. history and architecture.
Martin previously worked as the Executive Director of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the Executive Director of the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He holds a MA and BA in Architecture from Tulane University.
Get to know Martin!
What about our work and plans for the new museum interests you?
First, I have been keenly interested in Jewish history and culture since my early teen years, when the family of my best friend at the time, who was Jewish, helped to take care of me after my mother died suddenly. I spent a lot of time at my friend’s house, where I enjoyed learning about Jewish traditions and rituals and drawing comparisons to my own family’s Catholic and Protestant roots. Since then, I have considered Judaism to be a part of my cultural heritage (though I do not practice any religion).
Second, I am very interested in Washington’s local history, as distinct from the national political developments that typically overshadow our city’s distinct identity. I think most visitors and many locals underestimate the breadth and richness of the city’s ethnic history. JHSGW has played a vital role in preserving and telling stories of Washington’s Jewish community, but its visibility has been limited to date. The new museum will bring greater prominence and reach not only to JHSGW, but also to those stories.
What impact do you expect Capitol Crossing to have on our neighborhood and the new museum?
It’s amazing how much damage even a relatively modest freeway cut such as that of the I-395 spur can do to the surrounding neighborhood. It isolated Union Station from the central business district, created pockets of abandonment and disinvestment, and then hampered redevelopment even during major building booms. Capitol Crossing will repair that urban wound. It has the potential to redefine perceptions of the city center while fostering new traffic patterns and potentially creating a new urban nexus. JHSGW's museum will obviously benefit from that. Indeed, if key retail attractions such as Eataly sign on as expected, JHSGW may have vast new audiences at its doorstep!
What do you enjoy about working as a museum curator in Washington, D.C.?
Like most curators, I suppose, I enjoy research, but I also greatly enjoy sharing what I have learned with the public. Washingtonians tend to be smart and culturally curious. They not only make great audiences for exhibitions and programs, but also engaged participants—they ask good questions and they talk to other people about what they have seen and learned. I love watching visitors move through an exhibition and seeing their faces light up when they discover something fascinating.
Prior to my internship at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, I had little experience in behind-the-scenes museum work. What experience I did have came largely from volunteering, which in my experience meant working with visitor services. As a graduate student in Museum Studies at The George Washington University, I have taken many classes designed to prepare me to work in a museum environment. When I started at GWU, I thought I knew exactly what kind of work I wanted to do in museums and where I wanted to go.
But while working at the JHSGW, I saw the variety of opportunities open to me in museum work. I have seen the possibilities of what I can do with my degree and it validates my decision to pursue an M.A. I am reconfirmed in my love of museums and the important role they play in society and culture. The most beneficial aspect of this experience has been in the small size of the organization. I have become familiar with six people, gotten to know each of their jobs and responsibilities, and have had the privilege of helping each of them with varying tasks.
I have called other museums for research, helped edit a program video, written program fliers, invitations, program summaries, been on a walking tour of downtown Jewish DC, organized and communicated with program partners, looked online for possible acquisitions, set up for special events, given tours of the historic 1876 synagogue, attended a talk at the Library of Congress, written the Executive Director’s opening remarks for an event, performed audience evaluations, researched Yiddish history in DC, handled archived materials, attended the 139th dedication anniversary of the synagogue, and went on a staff field trip to the Anacostia Community Museum and The Frederick Douglass House. And this is all without mentioning the letter-folding, envelope-stuffing, and challah-delivering.
As a non-Jew who has always been interested in Judaism and Jewish culture, I have become used to the often puzzled looks I receive when explaining what kind of museums I want to work in. But I have always felt strongly that cultural history should be available to everyone, regardless of whether or not you identify with that group. This is what the JHSGW is doing for their community, and I appreciated being welcomed by the staff. I cannot say enough positive things about my time here. Not once have I felt like “the intern”: the staff gives me meaningful projects, welcomes my opinions, and values my work. The most validating thing of all is being able to immediately apply things I have learned in a classroom in a real world setting. I see tangible evidence that what I am learning will be helpful in any future museum I work in. And isn’t that the ideal of what can be gained by having students complete internships as part of their degrees?
Jaclyn Kimball is a second-year Master’s student in Museum Studies at The George Washington University, where she studies collections management, museum administration, and history.
On Tuesday, we had the pleasure of hosting the inaugural class of the Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts (EE/JCA) program from The George Washington University for an afternoon of artistic, cultural, and historical exploration. Professors Jenna Weissman Joselit and Carol B. Stapp led their students and colleagues into JHSGW’s historic 1876 synagogue (the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum) for the program on the Society today and in the future as it develops into a regional museum. Director of Collections Wendy Turman started by providing the students with basic information about JHSGW, including the history behind the synagogue and the current activities of the Society.
The students appreciated the period-specific layout of the synagogue, from the structure to the life-size Ulysses S. Grant cut-out in the corner to commemorate the president’s visit to the opening in 1876. While life-size Grant never ceases to capture my attention, the EE/JCA students offered valuable insight about the architecture and fine details of the synagogue. Then, everyone had the opportunity to explore the outside grounds and the interior of the building, including the balcony on the second floor where Orthodox Jewish women once prayed, which is usually off-limits to visitors.
Despite the oven-like weather, we all ventured to the future location of the synagogue, which will move down the road in a few years (the second time since 1969). Upon our return, Curator Zachary Paul Levine led a discussion about how the space appears to visitors and how it might appear as part of the Society’s future museum. Students engaged with issues regarding how to arrange information in a museum: chronologically or thematically. Finally, Wendy expanded on current activities of the Society, such as arranging the archives of Rabbi Tzvi Porath and analyzing artifacts, including a bracelet from Camp Louise. For me, the major highlight was Zachary’s presentation of a signed Beatles photograph from the Washingtonian Jew who hosted the first Beatles concert in the United States. This photograph caught my eye online when I was applying to summer internships, so it was amazing to see it up close in person (and I got to carry it back to the office).
I am thoroughly enjoying my internship at JHSGW, and I loved learning more about the Society through the eyes of the EE/JCA students. We were only one stop on their busy schedule, but it was a fantastic afternoon.
Rebecca Brenner is a senior at Mount Holyoke College, working on a B.A. in History and Philosophy.