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There’s No Time Like the Past

Courtesy Library of Congress
As a child, Gettysburg College student Emily Cranfill found comfort in the personal and political life of Abraham Lincoln, who captured her imagination more than Clifford the Big Red Dog ever could.

The bedtime stories that lull most children to sleep revolve around fictional characters such as princesses, brave comic book heroes or animals who talk as well as any human could. 

But as a child, Emily Cranfill found comfort in the personal and political life of a certain lawyer from Springfield, Ill. Indeed, Abraham Lincoln captured her imagination more than Clifford the Big Red Dog ever could. 

A native of Kokomo, Ind., and a freshman at Gettysburg College, Cranfill recently won an internship co-sponsored by the American Political Items Collectors and the historical division of the Smithsonian Institution. The internship has been around since the early 1980s, according to Norman Loewenstern, an APIC member and the internship program director who has overseen the enterprise since its inception. 

The organization views the internship as a way to demonstrate that APIC is just as concerned with promoting historical education as it is with collecting. 

Cranfill heard about the summer internship through a magazine advertisement that her great-uncle sent her. She applied, with hopes of fulfilling a lifelong goal. 

“One of my end goals for my life was always to work at the Smithsonian, so I kind of jumped at the possibility and applied right away,” she said. 

While she can’t exactly pinpoint when her passion for history began, Cranfill recalled it starting at a young age and theorized that her grandfather’s status as a history buff may have been passed somewhere down the genetic line. 

After completing high school, the choice of a college major was an easy one for the history-loving teen. The choice of where to study proved more difficult. 

Schools such as Georgetown University and George Washington University seemed like the logical choice. Rich in history, Washington, D.C., would have been a great fit for someone enamored of the subject. 

However, the small-school vibe of Gettysburg College was a reminder of everything Cranfill enjoyed about her high school. (Gettysburg College has a student body of about 2,500.) Plus, it had a history department that was as enriching as anything that the larger schools in Washington had to offer. 

In the end, Cranfill opted for the place where the Union was saved and where Lincoln helped redefine it.

Now as immersed in history as ever, Cranfill more and more identifies with the past-as-prologue notion. 

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned a lot about not only people but events and how history has shaped my life specifically but also the lives of everyone,” she said. 

Often, her inner history geek will take over. When recounting the Age of Lincoln or ancient Egypt, Cranfill’s wealth of knowledge about the time periods leaves the impression on friends that she was present for both. Naturally, her friends gently remind her that she is a citizen of the present, not the past. 

“I’m very careful because not everyone I know likes to talk about history, and I can get really weird about it,” she said with a laugh. “But sometimes just talking about people, I’ll get so passionate that my friends will say to me, ‘Emily, you don’t know them. You’ve never met them before.’” 

What excites Cranfill most about the internship is the possibility of making the kind of lasting professional connections that could pave the way for a brighter future. 

“I understand being a history major, and being interested in museum studies especially, that it’s really important to make connections and to know the right people,” she said. 

Still, the professional gains aren’t likely to overshadow the experience of working with people as enthusiastic about history as she is. 

“Also just knowing people who are passionate about history and what they’re doing,” she said. “I love meeting people who love what they do or people who get excited about anything, a little campaign button or whatever it is.”

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