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Corinne Porter-Taugher '07 Happy to Live in the Moment, Examining the Past

By Kenneth Stratton '19 FRIDAY, MAY 17, 2019 - 12:00 PM WNE100

When asked what she thinks her future holds, Corinne Porter-Taugher '07 admits, “In my line of work, I’m much more comfortable examining the past than planning for the future.” So instead she focuses her attention on living in the moment, as Curator at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Porter-Taugher knew she was meant for Western New England the moment she stepped on campus. She got involved on campus, serving as an Orientation Group Leader, a First Year Seminar Assistant, a Supplemental Instructor, and a Transfer Student Mentor. Porter-Taugher was also in several honor societies, serving as President of Mortar Board Society and a member of Phi Alpha Theta, and also ran cross-country all four years.

“I met one of my best friends at WNE - and ever since - that first day [of cross-country],” Porter-Taugher said. “Balancing classes and a sport forced me to be a more disciplined student, and being a part of such a great team filled my years at WNE with countless wonderful moments,” she added. Porter-Taugher’s classes were, of course, in history.

“I’ve been in love with history ever since I learned to read. Never looked back from there. I am an early Americanist by passion. I’ve been fascinated by the time period since I was a child and it was my area of focus as a history major at WNE,” Porter-Taugher explained. She remembers her professors at Western New England as some of the best in the field.

“One of the most powerful moments that I remember in the classroom was a lecture from Professor Beagle, who was also my academic advisor,” Porter-Taugher said. “We were covering Indian Removal and the ‘Trail of Tears’ and he ended class with an emotional speech about the history of Euro-American depredations against indigenous peoples and the legacy it has had culturally, economically and psychologically on their communities. He also urged us students to never, never, mock or make light of Native Americans facing difficult circumstances. It was a call for empathy that I don’t think a single student in the class was unaffected by and it is a moment that remains with me to this day,” she said.

In addition to Professor Jonathan Beagle, Porter-Taugher thanked Professor John Baick and former Dean Ted Zern: “I’m forever grateful to each of them for the time they dedicated to my personal and professional development and for giving me a little push when I needed it to prove to myself what I was capable of achieving,” she said.

During her undergraduate studies, Porter-Taugher interned with Old Sturbridge Village and the Newport Historical Society, which helped make her decision to pursue a career in public history. So, after graduating, Porter-Taugher moved to Maryland to begin her Master’s Program, but she never finished that degree.

“It’s an excellent program and I’m glad to now have a number of brilliant historian friends that graduated from and teach at Maryland, but it didn’t turn out to be a good fit for my academic interests and professional goals,” Porter-Taugher said. She stressed that the road to success isn’t always a “triumphant march to glory,” and that she faced many hurdles before securing her dream job at the National Archives.

“I began applying to open positions at the National Archives and was eventually hired as a full-time archivist. So, I left my graduate program at Maryland - in other words, I dropped out! - worked as an archivist for a couple of years and then a few more as a special assistant to the Archivist of the United States,” Porter-Taugher explained. She began a temporary assignment in the Exhibits Program, but impressed with her work, the director asked her to stay on full-time.

“Since the day I started at the National Archives I had hoped to someday work in the Exhibit Program. It took 5 years to reach my goal, but I’m glad for the experience,” Porter-Taugher said. After joining the Exhibit Program, she felt ready to go back to grad school, and earned her Master’s in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University in 2016.

Being a curator is still a job, not always easy and fun, but Porter-Taugher stressed that she loves the work she does. She feels privileged to be able to work with such an outstanding group of people, and at such an incredible institution.

“I love personally engaging with our visitors and through the exhibitions I curate. It is extremely rewarding and humbling to know that my work has been seen by millions of people,” Porter-Taugher said.

The history major turned curator explained that every day on the job is different. Porter-Taugher does a lot of research and writing, which she enjoys, but there are also lots of meetings and emails. She’s often working on more than one exhibit at once, which means a lot of multi-tasking and collaboration between conservators, the social media team, and everyone else at the National Archives.

Porter-Taugher says that while she’s found something to love about every exhibit she’s worked on, there have been a few stand-outs. Her largest exhibit to date is Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment; She even returned to Western New England to share her thoughts on the exhibit. Porter-Taugher also spoke fondly of her exhibit on the slave manifest for the ship that transported Solomon Northup, whose life is the subject of 12 Years A Slave, and her work on the displays she curated for the exhibits about Alexander Hamilton, which caught the attention of Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda.

“I happened to be in our conservation lab just after one of our conservators finished a treatment on the July 4th, 1776, entry in the rough journal for the Second Continental Congress,” Porter-Taugher said. “It was one of those incredible encounters that transports you to a precise moment in history. It’s also a record of remarkable contrast to the 1,458-word Declaration of Independence. While the Continental Congress details the colonies grievances against King George, the moment it voted to approve the final text is matter-of-factly recorded in just a sentence or two,” she said. Porter-Taugher relishes moments like these, to be able to feel and see history so personally. It’s her job to make sure the exhibits create a similar experience for the public.

While she says she prefers examining the past and living in the moment rather than thinking about the future, Porter-Taugher admits there is one project in particular she’s looking forward to: the 250th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 2026.

“[I] hope that I’ll have a role in planning the National Archives commemorative activities,” Porter-Taugher said of the Declaration’s 250th Anniversary. She said she’s always open to new opportunities outside the Archives, but with exhibits like that, it’s pretty tough to beat the job she has now.