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Historians: Start Documenting COVID-19

Sunday, March 29, 2020 7:20 PM | Christine Ridarsky (Administrator)

As lAs local government-appointed historians, it is our duty to document not just the past but the present. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event in all our lives; it is imperative that we record the impact on our communities and how our citizens respond. The Association of Public Historians of New York State suggests that you immediately begin documenting your community's response and offer the following guidelines and suggestions:

  1.  Remember! Health and safety are your number one priority. Documenting your community's response does not include risking your own health or that of your family and friends. Please follow all rules for social distancing and any quarantines that have been established.
  2. Keep a diary. Beginning today, record your memories of local events and reactions to COVID-19 at least since the beginning of March. Continue to update that journal as we move forward: What are you doing, what are you hearing and seeing, and how is the response to COVID-19 affecting your normal habits? Encourage the public to do the same. This can be done by in a variety of ways. Individuals can keep handwritten or computerized diaries, write blogs, record video or audio diaries or use whatever creative venue appeals to them.
  3.  APHNYS has developed a form that historians can use to collect stories from throughout New York State. Once the crisis and the collecting period have ended, APHNYS will share the responses with historians throughout the state Please share the Google form widely within your community and via social media and encourage participation: https://forms.gle/ZUxePXJLcQC2fKCK8.
  4. Take and/or collect photographs of various ways your community is responding. Remember to record the name of the photographer and the date and location when/where image was taken. Remember to be cognizant of copyright laws. The Google form mentioned above can also be used to collect images.
  5. Create and continually add to a timeline of your community’s response to the COVID-19. Make note of county, regional, state, and national declarations that have an impact on your community, as well as the community response. For example, Governor Cuomo’s order to close entertainment venues and to restrict restaurant operations, which came out as a Tweet. (Screen shots can be a useful way of documenting Tweets.) Madison County Historian Matthew Urtz shared a draft of a timeline he is creating; feel free to use it as a model for your own work: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1tp-0XqBGW7ISBHoMtDzi7fLx-t-PClGN.
  6. Record/save and index local news reports (from print, television, radio and online sources), as well as social media notices. Particularly note any creative online activities people have created locally to keep people informed; these may be harder to document after the fact.
  7. Keep a record of specific activities your community's citizens are taking to help each other in this crisis, such as making grocery runs for the elderly, etc. Collect letters, posters, flyers, social media posts, etc., advertising these activities.
  8. Preserve all directives and other material relating to COVID-19 that are issued by your local government, especially physical media like posters and fliers but also email social media posts.
  9. Talk with and, when possible, record oral history interviews with your community's local officials, first responders, and medical personnel about the actions they are taking and how the public is interacting with them. Keep in mind that these folks likely will not have much time to talk with you now. If they are willing to share now, great, but understand if this is not a good time. In the meantime, take notes. Off-hand conversations will generate a great deal of interesting data that will otherwise be lost. It is much easier to document the situation as it is unfolding. Be sure to record the names of these key people with whom you cannot speak right away so when things settle down a bit you can set up a time to interview them.
  10. Talk with and, when possible, record oral history interviews your community's businesses owners and employees, particularly those who work in local grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, and other sectors that have been particularly affected by the crisis. First responders and healthcare workers will be another key group to consider.

We are unquestionably within a historical moment that will be of great interest to future generations. Government-appointed historians have a duty under New York State Law to document these sorts of episodes. You may wish to partner with your local historical societies, as well. The key here is to document, collect, and preserve as much data and information on the local reaction to COVID-19 as you can.

APHNYS is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

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