Q&A with Student Research Apprentice Phil Hanna

Student researcher Phil Hanna at a Magnes event
November 8, 2022

The Magnes partners with UC Berkeley’s Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (URAP) to provide opportunities for Cal students to work with faculty on our world-renowned research and curatorial projects. As a senior majoring in history concentrating in modern German history, Philopatear (Phil) Hanna has worked with Magnes curator Francesco Spagnolo for the last 4 semesters, deepening his knowledge and skills in areas of special interest, while experiencing what it means to be a part of an intellectual community engaged in research.

Why did you decide to apply for the URAP research position at The Magnes?

Before studying history I had a background in STEM and I wanted to find a way to use my skills in my current studies. When I saw the listing under digital humanities with a project centered around Berlin it seemed perfect. I applied and the rest is history.

As a URAP student, what projects are you working on at The Magnes?

I’ve been working long term on the Roman Vishniac Archive including digitizing many of his notebooks and diaries, organizing his Berlin photographs, and transcribing his journals. This past summer I worked on locating Jewish artifacts across the Islamic world which culminated in a collection of over 250 items. Currently I am working as an assistant curator to help prepare the exhibition to display the work we’ve done with the Vishniac archive. I am also writing a paper about the Verband Nationaldeutscher Juden.

How does your URAP work at The Magnes align with your major/field of study?

I primarily work with material from the Weimar Republic and the National Socialist time periods which coincides with my work with the Vishniac archive as that is when he took the photos which I work with. 

What skills have you developed during your time as a research apprentice?

Francesco has been a great well of knowledge, helping me expand the way I think about and interpret different topics. Everytime we speak he always has a new reading recommendation and a new person to connect with. He has helped provide a window into the world of museum work which I hope to enter after completing my education.

What are you enjoying most about working at The Magnes?

Talking with Francesco is always a treat! I feel like we can discuss anything and talk for hours on end.

Do you have a favorite object at The Magnes?

My favorite object is a decorative sword presented to Yosef Navon. Not only is the object cool because it’s a sword, it also holds sentimental value to me as I learned to handle artifacts at The Magnes with it.

What’s the coolest or most surprising thing that you’ve discovered or learned during your apprenticeship?

I think the most impressive thing I’ve learned about The Magnes is just how extensive the collection is, with items from places that I didn’t know had a Jewish presence such as colonial India or warlord China.

The Magnes