Despite the limitations that came with the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve still managed to feel as though I’ve traveled to destinations across the world — Liberia, Japan, Russia, and Vietnam to name a few — through objects that I’ve been able to catalog from the comfort of my home in South Florida and my university dorm room.
In September 2020, I started an 8-month museum cataloging internship for the National Museum of American Diplomacy (NMAD) through the Virtual Student Federal Service program. My primary responsibility was to create new catalog records in the museum’s collections database. I’ve previously interned at museums centered around local history, art, and natural history, and I was intrigued by a museum dedicated to American diplomacy and international relations.
This internship ended up being a great learning experience for me because I was able to expand my understanding of American history and diplomacy through the objects I (virtually) encountered over the next eight months. I ended up creating new catalog records for 733 historical and contemporary objects that exist in the NMAD’s collection — approximately 10% of the total records that currently exist in the museum’s database. While reflecting on the end of my internship, here are several of my favorite objects that I’ve had the opportunity to catalog:
These postcards were collected by Florence Guthrie, the wife of U.S. Ambassador to Japan George Guthrie, during one of their trips to Japan. They commemorate a formal “coronation” ceremony that was held in 1915 to recognize the imperial rule of Emperor Taishō. This event was attended by representatives from around the world, including the Guthries. I often like to read the messages written on the backs of vintage postcards that I find in antique stores, so I enjoyed seeing how postcards could be used to symbolize diplomatic relationships as well as interpersonal ones.
During a trip to Bangkok, Thailand in 1971, this photo was taken of Patti Morton holding a python named Alice. Patti was the first female Diplomatic Security Special Agent and the first female Regional Security Officer in the Department of State. Her trailblazing life story was particularly inspiring to me, and I enjoyed living vicariously through her travel photos while being stuck in quarantine.
One of the most recent accessions I cataloged was a collection of roughly 150 items associated with the CBS television show Madam Secretary. This black Hermès briefcase was used by actress Téa Leoni while playing the role of U.S. Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord on the show. Madam Secretary is an example of how diplomacy can even be found in American popular culture. I never considered that a museum like the NMAD would have a luxury bag in its collection!
This mother-of-pearl box was a diplomatic gift from Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestine Authority in 1998. It was presented to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Ramallah, Palestine Authority, during Middle East peace negotiations. Madeleine Albright is a prominent alumna of my school, Wellesley College, so I found it very fitting that I was the one to catalog this accession.
One advantage of the pandemic was the ability to complete a virtual internship at a museum that I never would have been able to intern at in person. I’m thankful for the opportunity to gain a deeper insight into museum collections management, as well as the world of American diplomacy, through the work I completed this year at the NMAD.
To learn more about the National Museum of American Diplomacy, please visit: https://diplomacy.state.gov.
Learn how you can apply to join the U.S. Department of State through the Virtual Student Federal Service:
About the Author: Caylee Pallatto completed a Virtual Student Federal Service internship at the National Museum of American Diplomacy between September 2020 and May 2021. She recently graduated with a B.A. in Art History and Anthropology from Wellesley College in Wellesley, MA.