Katherine Givens, 19, has spent the past five months transcribing the Cape May County Historical Museum's handwritten accession records into a PastPerfect software program.
The Dennis Township teenager spends two eight-hour shifts each week surrounded by the seemingly endless mounds of manila file folders and handwritten records she dutifully types into the computer one at a time.
It's a tedious task, but Givens said she's in no rush. She's actually enjoying the job, or more precisely, she's enjoying the opportunity to play an integral role in preserving and promoting her county's history.
"I'm kind of disappointed in the disinterest in history I see in many of my peers, not naming any names," Givens said. "I just find it disheartening, because history is really one of the greatest subjects that a person can study. I mean, you learn about history - the greatest story ever told - and we can learn from our ancestors' mistakes. We can learn so that history doesn't repeat itself, and we can learn the good that has happened and build off of it to make better achievements for humanity."
Givens, a resident of the Ocean View section of Dennis Township, is a history buff, particularly interested in ancient civilizations. Her love for the subject is what led her to pursue an internship at the county's historical museum, on Route 9 North in Cape May Court House.
On Nov. 29, Givens received 2012 Cape May County Young Historian Award during the Cape May County Historical Museum & Genealogy Society's annual awards ceremony. Museum Director Pary Tell said the society honors one young county resident each year who is working to promote and/or preserve the past in some way.
"(Givens) took on a project that needed to be completed, and she dedicated herself to getting it done," Tell said. "What she has done allows me to put exhibits together more efficiently and to find and keep track of our county's historical records, so they can be made available to the county residents."
Tell said the award is also a way for the society to encourage other young county residents to consider doing things to promote and preserve history. Last year's award went to Jacklyn Gray, of Erma, a young woman who works at Cold Spring Village as a potter, keeping the 19th century craft alive. The year before, the award went to a young man who does traditional woodwork, Tell said.
"We want to make young people aware of how important it is to preserve these things of our past, whether it's historical records, a trade or what have you," she said.
Givens said she is honored and proud to represent the county as this year's young historian. She hopes to act as a role model for others. Taking a short break from transcribing the museum's accession records on a recent Tuesday morning, Givens talked about her internship, being honored with Young Historian Award, her love of history and her aspirations.
She said she has been fascinated by history since she was a child. She said she loved to read and would spend endless hours at the local library. It was there that she stumbled on her love for the subject.
"I remember one time when I was 8 years old, I was at the library and I wandered over to the nonfiction section and found a book that had pyramids on it," Givens said. "I thought, 'This is pretty cool looking,' so I took it home and I read it. I was so fascinated by pyramids and ancient Egypt that I went back and I gobbled up all the books they had on ancient Egypt. Then I started on ancient Rome and ancient Greece, and it brought me up to more modern times."
During her high school years, Givens recalls pleading with her teachers to allow her to do extra-credit projects on ancient civilizations, which she would present to her classmates in hope of encouraging them to love the subject, too.
"History is about humans, people just like us," she said. "The only difference is they were not exactly up to our standards. They weren't advancing technology or the rules of society. They had different etiquette, different lifestyles, different clothes, different housing, different technology, but that's the only difference."
Givens has an associate's degree in history from Atlantic Cape Community College. In January, she will begin spring classes at Richard Stockton College, working toward a bachelor's degree in history and a minor in creative writing. She said her goal is to integrate the two subjects and become a historical fiction writer.
She already has gotten a head start. She has been published 21 times, with links to most of her writings on her website, kath
Givens said she's most proud of her publication in The Copperfield Review's fall 2012 issue, which printed her historical fiction short story, "The Lost Colony."
"(The Copperfield Review) is a pretty big magazine, especially for historical fiction, so when they accepted my story back in November, I was just through the moon," she said. "It kind of confirmed for me that maybe I can do this."
Given said she's focusing her attention on writing a historic fiction novel and looks forward to her spring semester at Stockton. She said she will continue her internship at the museum and is not entirely sure of the career path she'll fall into. But she knows it will have to do with history.
"My life is just starting," Givens said.
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