Emme Wells, ’19, loves to travel. The University of Richmond senior recently returned from studying abroad, and is already considering applying for a working-holiday visa in another country after graduation. But this summer, Wells did something different. The political science and leadership studies double major returned to her roots in Ridgeland, Miss., to spend time with her family and learn more about her home through a Jepson Internship at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH).

“As a child, I would frequently visit the Old Capitol Museum before it was seriously damaged in Hurricane Katrina,” Wells remembers. “After it reopened and became a new museum, I recall thinking it told the story of pre-civil war and reconstruction guilt.”

Wells decided to apply for an internship after MDAH, which is comprised of multiple sites including the Old Capitol Museum, opened the country’s first Civil Rights Museum as well as a new Mississippi History Museum.

“When applying to the museums, I also learned I could intern at the State Archives and work directly with many documents that influenced the state’s history. I thought that would be even better,” Wells says.

Wells worked in the Government Records archives, which are not open to the public, giving her a behind-the-scenes perspective of the familiar museums. Armed with a security clearance, she spent hours reading, processing, and preserving hundreds of original documents.

“I never realized that there are so many state agencies that deal with specific issues I have never heard of. As long as I have lived next to the Pearl River, I have never heard of the Pearl River Development Basin Authority that I now know produces hundreds of boxes that have to be archived,” Wells says. “There are dozens of others and I learn of more every day.”

In addition to documents from the Pearl River Development Basin Authority, Wells also processed and preserved photos of Mississippi highways from the 1960s and refiled gubernatorial pardons from the 1930s.

“These document are the closest one can get to speaking with these state figures. By reading and analyzing these documents, I begin to realize how these readers thought,” Wells explains.

Wells cites the standardization of road signs and what pardons would be granted for as examples of cultural shifts over time.

“I have come to realize how documents and photos from the past give you a look into the life and thinking of that individual and also a look into the culture of the past,” Wells says.

Wells’ work cataloging the documents enables transparency for state agencies and the public. After the documents are archived, they will become public record.

“I am allowing for state agencies and the public to know that we possess this information so that they can access it for research purposes,” Wells says.