Hoover Undergraduate Intern Helena Ong Learns Hands-On History During A Summer In The Archives

Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Hoover Library & Archives undergraduate intern Helena Ong

Hoover Library & Archives undergraduate intern Helena Ong
Hoover Library & Archives undergraduate intern Helena Ong

By Helena Ong

As an undergraduate, I was fascinated by history and culture. However, rather than academia, I wanted to be able to try an area of work that was a little more hands-on and explorative. I began working at Hoover at the start of summer and that same week, delved right into diaries from the World War II era in the Middle East. Since then, I’ve been able to work on a few more collections.

The collection that I’ve spent most of my time working on is the Richard A. Stratton papers. A captive at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” for over six years, Stratton was an American prisoner of war in Vietnam. I’ve always been interested in the historical period of the Vietnam War and the ongoing trials stateside. What I found fascinating about this collection is that it also includes the papers of his wife, Alice Stratton, filling in the period of his absence by providing a perspective on what was going on in the nation at home. Like several wives of American prisoners of war or persons missing in action, Alice Stratton took on a letter-writing campaign addressing editors of international newspapers to individual congressmen. At the time, the Stratton family was living in the Bay Area. For myself, having grown up around the area, it was really interesting to read about the local organizations or schools around today, that Alice Stratton and other families spoke to or worked with to help raise awareness.

Throughout my summer here and the collections I’ve worked with, I’ve been able to handle photographs from World War II, film and audio reels from the 1970s, and letters from Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan. But I also love the silly anecdotes about returning American soldiers asking whether mini-skirts were still in fashion or how a photographer’s best friend ended up marrying his ex-wife! These materials breathe a whole new life into the history and the events that you learn about in school.

My summer here at Hoover has been such a unique experience and in no small way shaped by the people and staff here who have been incredibly open and so much fun to work with. I went into this with very little understanding of archival work and I’m so grateful for the people I’ve been able to work with from long-time staff to fellow interns.