Interview with Public Fellow Unita Ahdifard on Interning with the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation

Interview with Public Fellow Unita Ahdifard on Interning with the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation

December 2, 2020

Unita Ahdifard is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English. Her research focuses on women writers and Anglo-Persianate relations in the early modern period, postcolonial theory, and the boundaries around fictional and nonfictional genres in travel writing. As an IHC Public Humanities Graduate Fellow, Ahdifard completed a Summer 2020 internship with the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP).

What interpretive programming projects did you work on during your internship?

The primary interpretative programming I worked on was an educational tour at the Casa de la Guerra that would focus on the lives of the women of the de la Guerra family. I created a version of the tour that would be suitable to eighth graders who were visiting, and another for the twelfth graders who may visit. I tailored each tour to their respective grades by researching the California History Curriculum. The tours were envisioned as not only focusing on the personal aspects of the de la Guerra women’s lives, but also their engagement with civic and political society. For the twelfth graders, the women’s lives would also be contextualized within the history of Mexican settlements and the Mexican-American War (1846-48). I also created a presentation that was envisioned to be played on a screen at the house museum on the tour and that would have a voiceover narration, for which I also wrote the script.

How did your training as an English doctoral student equip you to work with a historical museum?

My training has helped me in two primary ways – first, with regard to my writing skills, and second, in providing me with a historicist academic background to literature and narratives. As a doctoral student and in my fellowship positions on campus, I’ve written a variety of documents of various styles – seminar papers, conference papers that were both academic and public-facing, public essays, and blog posts. This enabled me to succeed in my writing assignments with SBTHP, including the programming documents and the blog post for their website. My work has also been very historicist when it comes to the literature that I study – I draw on historicist scholarship to study the literary texts which my dissertation focuses on – so it felt like a relatively easy transition to working with historical archives. My work also focuses on women’s lives and their literatures, which I also was able to work on with the SBTHP.

What skills did you acquire or hone during your work with SBTHP?

I was able to work collaboratively with several members of the staff, to learn more about the Trust’s programming and the history of the Presidio neighborhood and the historic house museum, in a way that was new and exciting to me. My own work tends to be accomplished more individually, with the guidance and help of my committee, but here I was part of a team, regularly checking in and learning with them on the job. I also honed the skill of taking academic research and translating it for a public audience – both through the blog post, but also through the programming, which required me to tailor the content to audiences and participants of various ages.

How has this experience broadened or clarified your understanding of publicly engaged humanities?

It has absolutely broadened my understanding, in a very practical way! I’d never worked with a nonprofit such as the SBTHP before, so I’ve really been able to take the skills I’d been learning in our Public Skills seminar, and apply them in a hands-on way with this internship. It’s clarified for me the type of work that is entailed of publicly engaged, humanistic positions, and allowed me to briefly become part of a collaborative team that was constantly coming up with new ideas, in an environment where they had to adapt quickly to the new demands they faced in the midst of the pandemic.

Has your participation in the Public Humanities Graduate Fellows Program influenced your plans or goals for the remainder of your graduate career or after graduation?

Yes, I’ve been really influenced by my work in the program, and with this internship specifically. I’d known for some time now that I was looking for career options that were alternative to academia, but I didn’t know where to start and felt overwhelmed at the prospect of beginning that search. This program has helped me to clarify my vision of the possibility of a career outside of academia, where I could meld my academic training and my passion for education with work that is publicly facing.

Click here to learn more about the IHC Public Humanities Graduate Fellows Program.