Curating a Future
Student finds unique opportunities to pursue passion for history at UI
The moment Camilla Van Natter stepped into the Idaho State Historical Museum’s main warehouse, she knew she wanted to spend her life working in museums.
“It’s like the end of ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ but it’s not in boxes. You can see everything,” she said. “It’s a history geek’s dream.”
Van Natter not only got to explore the museum’s sprawling archive, but also experience its treasures firsthand. While earning internship credit, she spent the summer of 2013 measuring, describing and cataloging donated items in the museum’s basement.
It was the first of several experiences in and out of class at the University of Idaho that have enhanced her love of history.
“I’m a physical, tactile person — I like doing hands-on things,” said Van Natter, 21, who will receive her bachelor’s in history with a minor in Asian studies in May. “It’s really cool hanging out with artifacts.”
Van Natter, a second-generation Vandal from Priest River, came to UI with an interest in history, but found even more than she imagined.
“When I went to go sign up, there were classes I didn’t think would ever be offered,” she said. “I’ve taken pirate history. I’ve taken history of conspiracy theories. I’ve taken all sorts of 20th century American history.”
She discovered a niche in cultural history, which combines aspects of history and anthropology to examine issues such as pop culture and politics. Her senior capstone project in fall 2014 investigated the rise of Hollywood and celebrity culture, and her studies in her final semester have focused on modern Asia.
“It’s really interesting to understand what happened in history and how that impacts what’s going on today,” she said.
As a lifelong Idahoan, Van Natter connects strongly with the history of the American West — a perfect fit for her work at the Idaho State Historical Museum and, in 2014, at the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in Boise.
At the state museum, one of Van Natter’s main tasks was documenting a collection of memorabilia from the 1967 World Boy Scout Jamboree and the 1969 National Boy Scout Jamboree, both of which took place at Farragut State Park.
“It’s Idaho history, but it’s also bigger history,” she said.
At the Basque Museum — where her internship was funded by the Pete Cenarrusa Foundation for Basque Culture — Van Natter got to know a side of Idaho she was unfamiliar with. Immigrants from the Basque region of Spain, which sits at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains near the Atlantic Ocean, began settling in Boise in the late 1800s.
“It was a crash course on Basque history,” she said. “I learned so much.”
In addition to leading tour groups through the museum and neighboring Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga House and teaching Basque bowling at the annual San Inazio Festival, she catalogued 100-year-old letters and decades-old photos of Basque families from the Boise area.
“You can figure out a whole family’s story and see what happened to them,” she said.
During her last semester at UI, Van Natter is deepening her knowledge by taking an artifact analysis class through the anthropology department, giving her new tools for studying the objects she encounters in museums.
After graduation, Van Natter is excited to continue her work in museums. She plans to start working at a small museum in the West, eventually attend graduate school to earn her master’s degree in museum studies, and then see where her career takes her.
“I would love to be a curator — basically head artifact guru — of a big, substantial museum. Not necessarily the Smithsonian big, but big and culturally significant,” she said.
But wherever she goes, she’s sure to keep with her the skills and stories she’s learned at the place she now considers home: the University of Idaho.
“Every single year I’m thankful that I chose Idaho,” she said. “You get a good education out of it, but you can also get a great experience, too.”
Article by Tara Roberts, University Communications and Marketing