Volunteer Appreciation: Petrina Foti

We celebrate Volunteer Appreciation Month by recognizing Petrina Foti, whose work contributes to our oral history collections. 

In recognition of all the incredible work done by our volunteers here at the Smithsonian Institution Archives and across the Smithsonian, I’d like to  highlight the work of one of their ranks. Petrina Foti is a volunteer with the Smithsonian Institution Archives’s Oral History Proect.  She recently earned a doctorate in museum studies, and has donated her research interviews on collecting and exhibiting computers and software to the Smithsonian Oral History collection.  As she works to process these oral history interviews, she tracks down place names, scientific terms, objects and projects mentioned so that future researchers have clear and accurate information.

Volunteer Petrina Foti

What did you do before you began working with the Smithsonian Institution Archives?

I was completing my PhD in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester in the UK. Before that, I worked at the National Museum of American History, primarily in the Computers Collection. I actually started as a volunteer as well, but later join as staff. My PhD was about how the Smithsonian collects and exhibits computer history, so my academic work is still fairly closely tied to my museum career.

What brought you to the Smithsonian Institution Archives as a volunteer?

As a PhD candidate and now practicing museologist, I spend a lot of time working on my own and living in my own head, so to speak. I missed working with collections and actively being part of the field. So, after I graduated from Leicester, I looked for something that would let me do that. Of course, one of my main responsibilities is processing the interviews that I conducted during the course of my PhD, so I still am constantly thinking about my research, but from a completely new angle. It’s been really interesting taking something that was meant only for me and my own way of processing information and making it accessible for anyone interested in curatorial history or computer history.

Volunteer Petrina Foti with the NMAH Computer Collections

What has been your favorite part of working here?

Working with Pam Henson, Smithsonian Historian, and all the stories that she knows about the Smithsonian, the people who worked here, and their past projects. I’ve learned so much about the Smithsonian, not just in terms of facts and dates, but in terms of the culture and people, both now and generations past. I have a far better and deeper understanding of Smithsonian history than ever before.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve found at the Smithsonian Institution Archives?

Like everything at the Smithsonian, I don’t think I can chose one thing. There’s too much to choose from! It might be easier to list the things that I find boring!

Has your impression of the Smithsonian changed since you began? What’s surprised you the most?

The Smithsonian is constantly surprising me, even after being in the field for over ten years. I feel like the Archives encapsulates everything that makes the Smithsonian, the Smithsonian. I think I understand the Smithsonian better than I ever have before thanks to having worked here.

Want to join in the fun at the Archives? Learn more about how to intern or volunteer! You can also help transcribe materials from collections across the Smithsonian (including the Archvies!) online, at the Smithsonian Transcription Center

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