Feeding a passion for public history

Feeding a passion for public history

Leah Seyfert in front of the liberty bell

It's a few weeks into her summer internship at Independence National Historical Park and Leah Seyfert already has her “visitor voice” down pat.

“Hi folks,” she says in a chipper intonation as she greets a gaggle of visitors at the Free Quaker Meeting House at Fifth and Arch streets in Philadelphia’s Old City.

“Feel free to take a look around. Ask me any questions if you have them.”

With that, Seyfert, a rising senior history major from Somers Point, begins rattling off statistics about the meeting house. Built in 1783, the building was a place of worship for Quakers who broke away from the original Quakers because they supported the Revolution. Benjamin Franklin and George Washington contributed funds to build the building and Timothy Matlack, who meticulously inked the Declaration of Independence, was a member.

Seyfert exudes enthusiasm as she rattles off additional details about the meeting house. Clearly, public history is her passion. And Seyfert’s position as an interpretation intern with the Student Conservation Association (SCA)  in Philadelphia has put her on the fast track to her ultimate goal: Becoming a ranger with the National Park Service (NPS).

Dream job

“My dream job is to be a National Park Service ranger,” says Seyfert, who works in concert with NPS rangers in her internship, though rangers run the tours of Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center and other park sites.

“I love everything about my work. I love talking to the public. The little kids get really, really jazzed. You have the opportunity to give someone a really, really great experience.”

Seyfert’s love of history was cultivated in high school, when she saw “Band of Brothers,” the film series about World War II, for the first time. But she knew classroom teaching wasn’t for her. Luckily for Seyfert, she took a public history course taught by Jen Janofsky, Rowan’s Megan M. Giordano Fellow in Public History in the College of Humanities & Social Sciences.

Rewarding class

The class demonstrated to Seyfert that public history--and a position with the National Park Service--would be perfect for her. Her 40-hour-a-week internship this summer, which runs through Labor Day, has solidified that, she says.

“Professor Janofsky went over everything we needed to know about public history. That was probably the most rewarding class of my college experience.

“I’m not really into the formal teaching setting,” continues Seyfert, who, in a typical internship day, may greet visitors at four or five different sites around Independence Hall. “I love history, but I wouldn’t be a good teacher. This is a different way to approach it.”

Janofsky worked with Seyfert to land the internship with the SCA, which places young people in national parks, marine sanctuaries, cultural landmarks and urban green spaces around the nation.

“This internship totally will open doors for Leah,” says Janofsky, who also is curator of the Whitall House in National Park. “We explored a number of different internship possibilities for her, but we knew the chance to work beside the National Park Service rangers would be huge.”

It has been, says Seyfert. The NPS rangers have been incredible teachers, she notes.

Style and flair

“The rangers all run their tours differently,” says Seyfert, who has minors in German and geography and studied abroad in Austria last fall.

“They all have their own style and flair. I’ve become friendly with a lot of them and I look up to many of them. It’s been wonderful.”

Seyfert, who plans to apply to NPS jobs nationwide next year—“If they want me in Alaska, I’ll go to Alaska,” she says—prides herself in her knowledge of Independence National Historical Park. While she did have study time during the internship—and did write some presentations to give at each site—much of the knowledge has been gained on the job as she has been immersed in the history of the birthplace of America.

“This sounds conceited, but I pretty much know everything there is to know about the Liberty Bell,” Seyfert says, adding that the internship has enhanced her sense of patriotism. “I definitely have a lot more national pride. My friends and I are really jazzed to go to work. We’re like, ‘Philadelphia! Red, white and blue! Yay!’”