Anna Samsonov (Foundation Fellow) - Virtual internship with the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative

I'm an intern with the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative. I received this position through the State Department's Virtual Student Federal Services program, which allows undergrads to apply for a year-long remote internship with a federal agency; I'm in a group of eight interns from universities nationwide. We're working with the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative (SCRI) that works to protect cultural heritage threatened by disaster, both domestically and internationally. For example, after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the Smithsonian partnered with other organizations (USAID, the Haitian Ministry of Culture, etc.) to create the Haiti Cultural Recovery Project. The HCRP not only restored and rehoused over 30,000 artifacts affected by the earthquake, but also trained more than 150 Haitian cultural heritage professionals in disaster risk management. SCRI has had similar projects in Nepal, Syria, Mali, Egypt, and even in New York following Hurricane Sandy. 

SCRI does a lot of work with tangible cultural heritage, but there has been only limited research done on the intersection of disasters and intangible cultural heritage (ex. festivals, oral traditions, or knowledge concerning nature or the universe). This is where my intern cohort comes in. Our supervisor, Dr. Nana Kaneko, is an ethnomusicologist who studied the role of intangible cultural heritage in Japan after the 2011 earthquake/tsunami, and our intern group is helping to continue that research on a larger scale; we want to understand how intangible cultural heritage can be used successfully--or unsuccessfully--in disaster recovery. This semester, we are spending most of our time finding case studies of relevant intangible cultural heritage use in disasters or emergencies, in hopes of informing SCRI and other emergency response organizations of how culture can be effectively used to minimize trauma, increase community cohesion, provide emotional support, etc.

At the end of October, SCRI is sending a response team to the Bahamas to help in recovery from Hurricane Dorian. Communication about cultural damage on the islands is very limited, as official news sources are reporting on other aspects of the disaster, so the team doesn't necessarily know what sort of response they should prepare--the contacts the Smithsonian has in the area don't have any information. So, we, as interns, have been tasked with searching the news and social media for instances of cultural heritage destruction so that the team can be briefed as much as possible in advance.