Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) Internship Program 2018-2019


Project Summaries

The Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative has a team of Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) interns whose project over the 2018-2019 academic year is “Assessing Damage to Cultural Heritage after Complex Emergencies” and “Creating a Data Visualization of the World’s Cultural Heritage Repositories at Risk.” These interns consolidate and clean data about cultural heritage repositories, conduct telephone surveys with cultural heritage institutions that experience damage from natural disasters and conflict, and code and map the geospatial distribution of at-risk cultural repositories. Through the course of this internship, students gained:

  1. Skills in data acquisition and coding for digital humanities projects;
  2. Knowledge in disaster risk management;
  3. Experience in the field of cultural heritage; and
  4. Experience in conducting surveys.

Fall 2018

Hurricane Florence

In September 2018, within weeks following the start of the internship, Hurricane Florence caused catastrophic damage to cultural institutions in the Carolinas and Virginia. The interns began by assisting with response efforts in North Carolina. They promptly conducted outreach efforts by compiling data and contacting cultural institutions potentially affected by the disaster to survey damage and needs. Initially, they organized and prioritized datasets for North Carolina from Open Street Map (OSM), American Alliance of Museums (AAM), Institute of Museum and Library Services, Museum Universe Datafile (IMLS), and North Carolina Arts Council (NCAC), based on storm surge warnings, accumulated precipitation, observed flooding, and wind speed.

Map with key

Hurricane Florence Outreach Priority Map Created by Data Visualization Intern Spencer Polk, University of St. Thomas

The interns then worked to call over 375 cultural institutions in North Carolina checking on staff, buildings and collections, and conducting damage assessments where needed. They spoke with 76 organizations and left voicemails with 163. 44 organizations completed the damage assessment, reporting varying degrees of damage, and 6 institutions requested further assistance via the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ Cultural Resources Emergency Support Team (CREST).

Throughout the outreach effort, activities were coordinated and information was shared with the Heritage Emergency National Task Force (HENTF), CREST, and the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works’ (FAIC) National Heritage Responders (NHR).

The interns also worked to call roughly 120 cultural institutions in South Carolina. They spoke with 25 organizations, 19 completed the damage assessment phone survey, and 4 requested further assistance from NHR.

Hurricane Michael

In response to Hurricane Michael in October 2018, the interns worked to prioritize 70 cultural institutions in the Florida panhandle from datasets of roughly 500 cultural institutions from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, last year’s University of Florida Disaster Relief Phone Bank (conducted after Hurricane Irma), and IMLS.

Hurricane Michael map

Hurricane Michael Outreach Priority Map Created by Data Visualization Intern Spencer Polk, University of St. Thomas

Intern Blogs

“What’s in a [Culture]?”: Broadening Cultural Perspective

Celia Carzoli, St. Mary’s University

My Work as a SCRI Intern

Mormon Hubbard, University of Baltimore

My Visit to Southport, North Carolina

Gabriela McCain, University of California, Los Angeles

A Rewarding Opportunity

Cindy Peters, University of Nebraska Omaha

Mapping Florence

Spencer Polk, University of St. Thomas

Storytelling for Change

Dimple Rathod, Middlebury Institute of International Studies​

Post-Hurricane Damage Assessments of Cultural Institutions in NC, SC, and FL

Theo Symonds, Georgetown University​