Day in the Life of a Research Assistant

by Erin Feith, Research Assistant
September 19, 2023

“Oh, cool, you work at a museum! What do people who work at museums do?” is a question often asked when I share that I am the Research Assistant at Morris County Historical Society (MCHS) and get to call Acorn Hall, an 1853 house with most of its original features, “the office.” Just as there are a myriad of ways that can be answered, my role consists of a variety of duties, enabling me to be involved with a number of areas on any given day. Indeed, the only “typical” aspect of my day is that it will never be the same as the one before it.

Just one of the many cool 18th-century documents I get to see up close, this 1772 affidavit regarding lease and release of the Beverwyck property has helped answer research requests regarding the early history of the well-known estate.

After arriving in the morning, I begin with a checklist of the tasks that need to be completed; usually this includes any research requests that come by email, website contact form or phone call. Annually, MCHS receives over 300 inquiries, which means that a new one is typically in our inbox while I am consulting our archives and preparing the answer to another. Although all inquiries relate to Morris County history, the types of questions range from the location of 19th-century businesses to the history of a house to genealogy.  Other mornings, I may start with doing research for an MCHS-related project, be it for upcoming blogs, Zoom or in-person programs, or videos for our YouTube channel.

Discussing 19th-century fashion trends for the American woman with the help of our 2022 exhibit, From the Waist Up.

When Acorn Hall opens at 11:00 on Tuesdays-Thursdays, any research or projects that I had been working on may be put on pause if the doorbell rings, signaling a tour. While at least 1-2 groups come per weekday, I have taken as many as four groups through the Hall’s period rooms and exhibit spaces, with each tour lasting about 45 minutes to an hour. However, on afternoons where MCHS volunteer docents are here, I also assist our curator with collections projects. These might include working with historic textiles, scanning archival documents, photographing newly accessioned donations, or helping prepare for new exhibits and de-install closing ones.

Of course, all of these more day-to-day aspects of my position remain somewhat subject-to-change when special projects, like the recent repainting of the reference library or replacement of the original mid-19th-century Front Parlor curtains, are added to the mix. However, the different forms that the 8-hours of my day can take ensure that they are never boring. In fact, in this role, I have seen up-close the old adage proven true, the past is never dead, especially at MCHS.

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