Amanda Bartel

Amanda Bartel was glad that a phone message she received on April Fool's Day last spring was no joke. 

A first-year student at Bluffton in 2012-13, Bartel says she "didn't think anything would happen" when she applied for the first Mennonite Brethren Historical Commission archival internship. "It was a long shot, but I was willing to take it," says the history major, adding that she thought the application would at least "get my name out there" for the future. 

So when she checked her phone April 1 and heard she had been chosen for the internship, Bartel wasn't really prepared. "It was unexpected, but I was happy, " she says, admitting to "a little bit of a freak out" at the news. 

By mid-May, she was at Tabor College in Kansas to start the five-week internship, which also took her to the other three Mennonite Brethren archives -- at Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University and, in Canada, in Abbotsford, B.C., and Winnipeg, Manitoba. 

Following that internship, she moved on to another at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. That's just east of her hometown of Iowa City, where she is a member of First Mennonite Church. 

Bartel says she has always enjoyed history and, also interested in archaeology, has thought she would eventually like to go into museum studies. As a high school junior, she spent one day job-shadowing a museum curator for the Amana (Iowa) Heritage Society. "I liked that it was varied," she says of the experience. "I'm the type who can get bored pretty easily."

But she hasn't ruled out a career in archival work, which she did on campus last year with Carrie Phillips, archives and special collections librarian in Musselman Library. Curious about what working in an off-campus archive would be like, Bartel decided to seize the opportunity to apply for the Mennonite Brethren internship after her history professor, Dr. Perry Bush, made her aware of it.

Such interships, Phillips points out, "often go to graduate students in public history or archives management programs, so it's unusual that a first- year history major would be chosen."

The internship has been made possible in part by support from a fund established by Katie Funk Wiebe, a Mennonite Brethren writer. She is also a former faculty member at Tabor in Hillsboro, Kan., where Bartel's father grew up. 

Bartel found an old family Bible in Tabor's Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, which is centered on the church's heritage and settlement in Kansas, she says. The archives had information on her family dating to 1586, she notes, adding "I didn't know we go that far back."

She chose Mennonite Brethren missionaries as her topic for a research project required as part of the internship. In her research, she learned that a distant relative, H.C. Bartel, was a founding Mennonite missionary in China and that two great-great- aunts also served there. 

In Abbotsford, on the United States- Canadian border southeast of Vancouver, she was at the Mennonite Historical Society of British Columbia. During her stay, Bartel says, she observed an ongoing project that involves digitizing of early 20th century records reflecting application of Mennonite farmers for German citizenship. Their ancestors had left Germany in the late 18th century, lured by Catherine the Great to farm in Russia, where they became wealthy, she explains. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, the German-speaking Mennonites were no longer welcome on Russian soil and fled to North America -- including western Canada -- and elsewhere. 

After one week each at Hillboro, Fresno, and Abbotsford, Bartel spent the last two weeks of the internship at the centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies in Winnipeg. Following one week of jobs similar to those she had done other places -- restoring papers and sorting and organizing donated documents, for example -- she had unlimited use of the archives to finish her 15- page research paper. 

The opportunity to do independent research was one of the most valuable aspects of the experience, she says. And she adds, "to have free run of an archives is fun in itself. You never know what you're going to find."

The Monday after returning to Iowa from Winnipeg, she started the Hoover Library internship. Among her work there was help with an inventory -- including , she points out, of guns that were part of first lady Lou Henry Hoover's weapons collection -- and preparation for an early August exhibit of George Washington's copy of the book, " The Acts of Congress." The book, a compilation of legislation adopted by the first Congress in 1789, made a tour of the nation's 13 presidential libraries from March-September. 

Phillips had recommended Bartel for both summer internships, citing not only her ability to do conversation work -- such as cleaning documents -- but also her work on two more specific projects at Bluffton last academic year. 

"Back in the fall, we experimented with using Pinterest as a way to showcase some of the unique artifacts in our collections," Phillips explains about one project. "Amanda took the lead in setting up a makeshift photography studio, photographed each artifact, uploaded the photos to the site and provided descriptions for each." The Pinterest project can be seen at

Later, Bartel transcribed and scanned handwritten letters written by Bluffton students and alumni while they were in various kinds of World War I and World War II - era service. Those letters are being posted on an online site for digitized archival collections. 

"The projects did capitalize on her strengths, " says Phillips, who gave Bartel what proved to be a helpful range of experience as a first- year student. "Amanda is a success story- and she has three more years here."

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