The COVID-19 Oral History Project is a rapid response oral history focused on archiving the lived experience of the covid-19 epidemic.

We have designed this project so that professional researchers and the broader public can create and upload their oral histories to our database.

All the data that participants collect and produce will be open access, open source and shared with researchers and the public through GitHub.

The dataset will serve as

  1. an historical archive that compiles oral histories about the experience of living through the covid-19 pandemic.
  2. a tool that allows individuals and communities to express their understandings, hopes, beliefs, and values about the covid-19 pandemic.
  3. a resource to help researchers, policy makers, activists, artists, and communities interpret and respond to current and future pandemics.

Based at IUPUI, this project is the result of the collective efforts of graduate students in the IUPUI Public History and American Studies Programs. The COVID-19 Oral History Project is directed by Dr. Jason M. Kelly and housed at the IUPUI Arts & Humanities Institute.

Context

The COVID-19 Oral History Project is inspired by the “Rapid Response Collecting” approach that has been used in the public history and museum context for decades–primarily as a way to collect the stories, material culture, digital creations, and ephemera of historical events.

Notable examples of “rapid response collecting” include the 911history.net project by the Museum of the City of New York and the National Museum of American History; the multiple projects associated with the Women’s Marches of 2017 and 2018; the One Orlando Collection created by Pamela Schwartz of the Orange County Regional History Center in Florida; the collections that emerged from the memorials and protests related to the deaths of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown that are curated by the National Museum of African American History and Culture; and the Tragedy at Virginia Tech Collection created by Roger Christman for the Library of Virginia.

Professional organizations and institutions have increasingly recognized the importance of developing rapid response collections and policies to guide their work. In February 2018, The Public Historian published a series of essays that highlighted the importance of rapid response collecting in its “Roundtable: Responding Rapidly to Our Communities.” And, the Victoria and Albert Museum has even devoted a portion of its galleries to rapid response collecting.

While much rapid response collecting tends to focus on material culture, anthropologists have demonstrated the value of rapid response ethnography in times of crisis. For example, anthropologists released the “Ebola Response Anthropology Platform” in October 2014 as a way to work with clinicians to create more effective responses to outbreaks. Likewise, oral history practitioners have long conducted interviews during moments of crisis as is illustrated Mark Cave and Stephen M. Sloan’s Listening on the Edge: Oral History in the Aftermath of Crisis (2014).

The COVID-19 Oral History Project draws inspiration from these projects in an attempt to collect the experiences of individuals living through a modern pandemic. Because of restrictions on face-to-face interaction across most of the United States, the oral histories from this project will primarily be conducted through the technologies of teleconferencing and telephone. Because of this, the recordings are not just documents; they embody the primary material form in which social interaction takes place during a modern pandemic.

Approach

The COVID-19 Oral History Project uses approaches grounded in oral history best practices as defined by the Oral History Association (“Principles for Oral History and Best Practices for Oral History” ) as well as in the anthropological code of ethics as defined by the American Anthropological Association (“Principles of Professional Responsibility”).

Approach 1: Traditional Oral Histories

This approach consists of traditional oral history interviews conducted by scholars trained in oral history methodology as well as members of the public who receive training through oral history workshops.

Approach 2: Crowdsourced Oral Histories

This approach equips members of the public with a set of questions and basic techniques so that they can create their own oral histories. Members of the public can record their own oral histories and upload them to our database.

To learn more and get involved, click here!

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