Knowledge reaping

I dont know if internships are necessarily designed to be educational, but I feel like I learn some insanely large amount of knowledge every day. I say insane because my brain is shifting a zillion gears to keep up with all of it to the point where I go home and watch cartoons to shift into neutral for a second. I don’t feel overwhelmed though. In fact, I was just offered some cookies and another chance to take a look at the installation upstairs.

But wait, I am an archaeology student working in a department that specializes in 17-19th century European art at a desk with a couple books of screw and nail manufacturing manuals scattered about (delightful reads, really). What could I possibly learn that’s relevant?

Yesterday I had a private tour of the permanently exhibited French decorative arts collection before the galleries were open to the public with a guy who could tell you the aspirating something or rather about the lacquer on any of the pieces of furniture in that entire building. It was so fun to learn about the science of making that kind of furniture, the cultural elements that were necessary for those kinds of developments to happen… It was very similar to the kind of things you hear about in archaeology classes. We discuss irrigation a lot in archaeology, and the implications of finding certain materials in a dig (glass, bronze, etc), elements of one culture’s art in another culture. The evolution of technology, I think, is something we take for granted in this time. I mean, think about it– some dude 300 years ago had to FORGE a screw. And trust me, you did not want to make your living doing that (talk about boring).

All of this was inspired by a certain pendulum clock in the South Pavilion that had a mechanism for keeping track of solar time (not mathematical time) and I learned all about how they had to go through a really complex process of setting a clock properly until they realized that it does not take 24 hours exactly from one noon to another noon. Some days are shorter, some are longer. So they compensated by creating two clock devices in one– one for 24 hours, 60 minutes, 60 seconds, etc and one for the actual movement of the sun (there were four hands on the clock face). I say “were” four hands because a “restorer” took the mechanism out because it caused too much friction between all the hands and would be difficult to maintain. Wow, talk about professionally unethical… Which is also a problem in archaeology and maintaining original context etc etc blah blah.

It’s a damn shame that they don’t tell you some of the other things that I heard in that tour– it made my (foggy recollection of 10th grade) AP European History come alive. Like learning about how the French would purchase Asian lacquered furniture (which was usually on a flat surface), chop up the piece, cut off the thin piece of decorative art on that piece, and then glue it on to a more desirably/fashionably designed piece, as well as the labor it took to put that art on surfaces that were curved in any way (they would make cuts, similar to darting in clothing manufacture).

And today I had my fit test for a respirator (that I get to keep!). They let me take home a P100 CL/HC/SD/CD/HF/Organic Vapor cartridge so i can take it apart and look at what keeps the harmful stuff away. I also sat through hazardous chem/waste/respiratory equipment training that was actually pretty cool. Since I am not a scientist, I often forget that there are insanely poisonous chemicals out there.

At least I’m safe in the event of a chemical catastrophe. I’ll maintain a storage case of cartridges!

~Sarah Butler


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