Yale Peabody Museum/Smithsonian Institution Joint Internship

Exploring historic computers and mathematical instruments

at the Peabody and Smithsonian


Smithsonian – Dr. Peggy Aldrich Kidwell, Curator of Mathematics

   National Museum of American History

Yale – Dr. Alexi Baker, Collections Manager, Division of Historical Scientific Instruments

   Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History


Length: 8 weeks in the summer


Project Description:

The Smithsonian and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History seek a motivated Yale student to participate in an eight-week internship in the summer of 2018 related to the history of science and technology. The internship will be split between the mathematics and computer collections at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History [NMAH] in Washington D.C. and the Peabody Museum’s Division of Historical Scientific Instruments [HSI] near New Haven. Candidates with a background in mathematics, computer science, history of science or history are preferred. The intern will gain valuable historical and museum experience while working with a wide range of personal computing devices dating from the 1800s to the present day. These range from slide rules and early calculating machines to personal computers and video game systems. Devices like these have helped shape science and mathematics, diverse professions, business, and entertainment.


The Smithsonian’s NMAH first opened in 1964 and holds more than three million artifacts reflecting the experience of the American people, including a rich array of computing and mathematical objects. These range from calculating machines, slide rules, and a tide predictor designed as tools of work - to pioneering inventions such as patent models intended to demonstrate originality and sometimes to garner profit - to objects used as instructive toys. More recent devices include tablets and computers, electronic calculators, and video game monitors. While at the NMAH, the intern will contribute to an exhibit and accompanying website entitled “My Computing Device,” scheduled to open in early 2019. This will include helping to write detailed object descriptions, taking measurements, and assisting with photographs. The intern will also be expected to participate in the tours and other enrichment programs offered by the NMAH internship office.


The Yale Peabody Museum was founded in 1866 and holds approximately 13 million object and specimens from the natural sciences, anthropology, and history of science. The HSI division has thousands of historical technologies and scientific artifacts encompassing at least five hundred years of history. These include a variety of mathematical, calculating, and computing devices. Some were mass-produced like the elaborate “Millionaires”, the first commercially-successful mechanical calculators which were manufactured from 1893 to 1935, or like the first Macintosh personal computers. Others were one-off innovations, such as a hydraulic cube root machine invented by William A. Granville, professor of mathematics at Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School from 1895 to 1910. While at the Peabody, the intern will contribute to the understanding and exhibition of objects such as these by producing detailed object descriptions, taking measurements and photographs, and if time permits designing a museum display and contributing to outreach and social media.


Learning Objectives

Over the course of eight weeks, the student will learn to:

  • Conduct collections-based research and photography at both the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History;
  • Write object descriptions and develop other interpretive materials for a Smithsonian exhibition, My Computing Device (opening 2019), as well as for the Peabody’s permanent collection; and
  • Develop an exhibition, gaining a better sense of the process from conceptualization to implementation.


Stipend: $4000

Note - jointly funded by Yale Peabody Musuem and the Smithsonian Institution; stipend is greater than New Haven-based internships to account for higher cost of living in Washington, D.C.


CLICK HERE to apply!