Michael Kuethe’s passion for history earned him the Arthur A. Knapp ’39 Memorial Prize in History and the Phi Alpha Theta Award for Excellent Historical Scholarship. But it was his experience as a Comegys Bight Fellow at the National Archives last summer that helped lead him to his current position as an educator at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.
“I’m working with school groups, mostly elementary school children, taking them through the programs. I’m really enjoying it,” says Kuethe ’13. “The Comegys Bight Fellowship Program was invaluable. It’s wonderful that the Starr Center is providing vocational experience for students to back up their educational experience. It really does make a difference after graduation to have had working experience in your field.”
Kuethe, who graduated magna cum laude and minored in English and anthropology, wants to pursue a career as an academic historian. But while at Washington College he became interested in other forms of history education. Inspired by Associate Professor of Anthropology William Schindler’s class in experimental archaeology, he tried to ferment his own beer in authentic medieval fashion to determine how well the process purified tainted water. (He wanted to test the long-held theory that people in the Middle Ages drank fermented beverages because they were safer than water.)
During the summer of 2011 he was a research intern under Dr. Bruce Cole, then CEO of the American Revolution Center in Washington, D.C., who inspired him to consider a career in public history, working in a museum or archive. In 2012, he interned as a Comegys Bight Fellow at the Maryland Historical Society, where he helped develop an audio tour for an exhibit on the War of 1812. But his stint last summer as a Comegys Bight Fellow at the National Archives was particularly educational.
“It was the first time I really got intense exposure to working with the public,” he says. Kuethe staffed the Archives’ Boeing Learning Center, worked the information desk and organized volunteers for the Archives’ extensive July 4th celebration, where he also helped host many of the activities. He was coached in how to best engage visitors in conversation, and how to tailor his explanations to visitors of different ages. And the more he learned about the Archives’ holdings, the more he enjoyed sharing what he’d learned with the public.
In fall of 2013, the Baltimore Museum of Industry hired him as an educator. Geared to giving youngsters hands-on experiences with history, the museum encourages them to role-play in historical contexts, such as working in an oyster-packing house or newspaper print shop of the early 1900s. “We present a good mix of social and economic history, and teach kids what it was like to live and work in Baltimore at the turn of the century,” Kuethe says.
Offered by Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the American Experience and established in 2003 by Drs. Thomas and Virginia Collier of Chestertown, the Comegys Bight Fellowship Program pairs students with curators and directors at distinguished national institutions where they gain hands-on experience in fully paid positions that can launch them into their careers.