Oral history and COVID-19

Historians have a lot of work to do capturing the stories of men and women who survived COVID-19, lived through this presidential election, and took to the streets to protest racism in 2020. Over at JSTOR Daily, Lucie Levine suggests that the Federal Writers’ Project might offer some lessons about how to proceed.

Here is a taste:

I am sitting on a bench in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, six feet from my neighbor. My cell phone, perched between us, records our voices—and the ambient noises of a summer’s late-afternoon in McGolrick Park. Ordinarily, I’d choose a different spot for this interview, one without any sounds beside my neighbor’s voice and my own, per the traditional guidelines of the Oral History Association. But, it’s 2020, and to meet in person, we need to convene at a distance, outside, wearing masks. The unusual circumstances define the task: this recording is a part of North Brooklyn Narratives, a volunteer-led neighborhood oral history of 2020, which I launched this summer through North Brooklyn Mutual Aid, to collect and preserve stories, experiences, and memories of this extraordinary time.

As the United States is rocked to its foundation by a lethal and isolating pandemic, oral history has emerged as a way to share, document, and preserve our experiences, to connect to one another across isolation, and to consider who we are as a nation.

My neighbors and I are not alone in our inclination to collect and preserve a communal record of 2020. In fact, oral history projects are proliferating across the U.S. For example, StoryCorps is collecting oral histories of 2020 through StoryCorps Connect. The New York Public Library has launched History Now: The Pandemic Diaries Project. And universities from Princeton to Arizona State to the University of Wisconsin are building COVID-19 oral history archives. So many projects are underway, in fact, that a number of organizations have offered guidance on how to take an oral history.

Read the rest here.