Summer Centered: Matthew Ridley '19 Spends a Summer at the Museum
The history major is deepening his knowledge of the field of museum studies at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
For Matthew Ridley ’19, a summer internship at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is another notch in his belt of archival experience. Funded by the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities, the history major is working in the museum’s conservation department through August.
For this job, Ridley descends into the vast wealth of books stored in the bowels of the museum. With over 2,200 titles in the archive, the museum needs the help of interns like Ridley to categorize each of them, physically and digitally. The recent graduate, however, isn’t daunted by the size of this task, as he’s no stranger to archival work.
“After having spent summers working with [Haverford’s] Quaker and Special Collections and the Barnes Foundation, I was interested in seeking more opportunities to engage the art and museum fields to inquire more about the opportunities available,” he said. “My application to the Philadelphia Museum of Art was one consequence of pursuing this goal.”
Additionally, the fall 2018 course, “Introduction to the History of Science” taught by Associate Professor Darin Hayton, offered Ridley a perspective on the more theoretical aspects of archival work.
“This class offered a theoretical perspective on the work I am currently accomplishing by inquiring into why the collections are organized as they are, while my experience with Haverford programs, such as the Digital Scholarship Fellowship, have shown me the ways in which data helps to enhance archival organization,” he said.
During his time at the museum so far, Ridley has learned about more than what it means to work with archives. His position has given him an up-close look at the inner workings of a major museum, which, as he’s learned, is much more than the exhibits it puts on display.
“Being ‘behind-the-scenes’ of a large museum has given me a newfound appreciation for the staff who often work toward maintaining the museum—security guards, construction workers, retailers, etc.,” he said. “Getting to interact with them has made me consider the impact of ‘less glamorous’ work on museums, and how such institutions could be more accommodating to those who do not fit the typical attendant or guest demographic.”
In more ways than one, Ridley is learning just how expansive the field of museology can be. The Philadelphia Museum of Art in particular is able to influence the city by reaching far beyond its main tourist-attracting site.
“I also never realized how many buildings and houses that the PMA actually owns in the city,” Ridley stated. “It's refreshing to be able to visit these areas and see how the museum extends itself into different environments.”
Regardless of what his next professional step is, Ridley is confident that he will step away from his internship this summer understanding what makes up a museum, inside and out.
“I hope that this internship's conclusion will give me better insight in terms of what I seek to achieve for an employment opportunity, if I would be willing to continue further with archival or curatorial-based work, or if I feel ready to use my experiences to propel my energies elsewhere,” he said.
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.