Art History Alumna at the National Park Service: a ‘Full Circle Moment’

Shannon Walsh (MA 2020) poses before the Lydia Leister House at Gettysburg National Military Park, where she interned and worked 2018-2021. Photo courtesy of Shannon Walsh.

UA alumna Shannon Walsh, who earned her MA in art history in 2020, is about to begin a new job with the National Park Service as the visual information specialist for the Women’s Rights National Historical Park and the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, both in New York. Although she is breaking new ground geographically, it is familiar territory for her.

In a photo she sent (above), Walsh poses in front of another Park Service site where she worked – the Lydia Leister House at Gettysburg National Military Park, a home that Walsh first discovered through studying art history at UA and where she later served her first internship with the National Park Service.

Edward Hopper, “Dawn Before Gettysburg,” 1934.

The Lydia Leister House is the backdrop for Edward Hopper’s painting, Dawn Before Gettysburg, most recently held in the Westervelt Warner Collection at the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art, where Walsh studied it as an undergraduate history and studio art major. In 2017, as an art history minor, she wrote a research paper on Hopper’s painting for Associate Professor Dr. Rachel Stephens’ American art history class. And when Walsh decided to apply to graduate school in art history at UA, she used the paper as the writing sample in her application.

During the summer of 2018, Walsh served an internship at Gettysburg as a visual information specialist intern, where she wrote social media posts and took photos and videos to create online content – and visited the house in the painting. “I received a wonderful background in digital media in my undergraduate time at UA – thanks to my digital art and photography classes – which allowed me not only to get this internship but to excel at it,” Walsh said. “The Gettysburg internship really introduced me to the world of digital interpretation in public history and prompted my decision to pursue the museum studies certificate as I worked on my MA in art history.” Walsh finished her BA in December 2018, and when she started grad school in art history in January 2019, she also began the museum certificate program with an education and exhibition focus.

For parts of 2019 and 2020, Walsh was hired as a seasonal ranger by the National Park Service. In the summer of 2019, she went to National Capital Parks-East in Washington, D.C., where she gave tours and visitor assistance at a variety of small National Historical Parks east of the Anacostia River. Then, in the summer  of 2020, as COVID-19 seemed to settle in, Walsh again worked for the Gettysburg site. Because of the pandemic, the Park Service altered their programming to fit a variety of virtual platforms, a task Walsh was well-equipped for because of her background in digital media.

During her last semester in graduate school at UA, Walsh held a communications internship at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. She based her museum studies capstone project, titled “Breaking Down the Barriers: Encouraging Accessibility in Museums Through the Use of Social Media and Online Content,” on the work she did in the internship. She incorporated all of the experiences and knowledge she had gained through the program, her internships and jobs, as well as that gained out of necessity during the pandemic, into her final project and presentation. “This project emphasized my passion for using digital media as a valuable resource in museum and public history contexts,” Walsh said.

After she graduated with her MA in art history, Walsh returned to her seasonal ranger position at Gettysburg in the summer and fall of 2021 and continued producing online and digital interpretive content for the Park Service. Walsh has written and/or edited and presented several interpretive videos available on the National Park Service’s Facebook page, including one in which she discusses photography at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Walsh’s new position at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park and the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park begins this month. In charge of the online and social media presence of both, she said, “I will be able to use my background in digital media, photography, history, art history, and museum studies in any number of ways.” And the photo of her standing at Gettysburg, where she began her sojourn? Walsh aptly noted that it captures “a full-circle moment, thanks to UA art history.”

For more information about the programs in the UA Department of Art and Art History, go to this page or contact the department at (205) 348-5967.