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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Share your COVID BIG history!!

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a unique way we can be helpful: your state's historical society could be seeking your thoughts. Mine is.

On April 2, 2020, the Wisconsin Historical Society launched its COVID-19 journal project. They’re asking us to record our thoughts and experiences during the pandemic. I intend to be a part of this effort.

The Historical Society requests 30-, 60-, or 90-day journals in whatever format works best for us – writing on paper, using a digital format, even through art, video or audio blogs - anything you wish. This is an open call to residents of any of Wisconsin’s 72 counties as well as former residents now living in other states during the pandemic.

Why, you might wonder, would a state organization care about the thoughts of a resident? The answer is easy: ordinary people are original source material for present and future historians. We are not newspapers, official records or indexes. We’re the real thing, living through real history unlike any we’ve experienced.

Here’s a great example of how diaries helped record history, from the Wisconsin Historical Society website:

In 1861, Wisconsin Historical Society founder Lyman Draper asked soldiers stationed at Camp Randall in Madison, Wisconsin to help document the Civil War by keeping a diary. After the war, those diaries were mailed back to the Society, where today they are regarded as one of the most valuable collections in the Society’s archives.

This simple act of recording daily thoughts not only documented the events of the war but provided an intimate and captivating window into the experience as it was happening. Today, more than 150 years later, people from all over the world use these journals to understand the impact of the Civil War on the local community, the state, and the world.

If we join the COVID journal project, students of history will take lessons from our everyday experiences. 

They will want to know, for instance:

-   What was it like to work from your home?
-   How did you homeschool your children (or not)?
-   During quarantine, what good and bad effects did you observe in your family?
-   What happened to you when you lost your job?
-   What was it like to work in health care, in the grocery store, or in another business that stayed open?
-   How did you adapt your routine or your business to the pandemic?
-   Have you used your ingenuity to create an innovation during this time?
-   Have you been moved to help others? How?
-   Has the "shelter at home" mandate allowed you to take a step back and reconsider and change aspects of your life?

The Wisconsin Historical Society Director and CEO, Christian Overland, was quoted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as saying, “This is the part of the history that disappears. Capturing it now is important.” 

Here is the link to the project. It takes one minute to sign up, and the Historical Society provides guidance and prompts. My friend Rachel Theresa is part of the project - that's her photo at the top of this post. (I joined too, but Rachel is cuter.)

I agree with Mr. Overland. BIG history is happening now. As I said to my daughter the other day, “Things will not be the same after this. Your son won’t know the difference, but some day you’ll tell him how things used to be before.”

Who should consider joining the COVID-19 Journal Project? According to the Historical Society web page, “Every story is important. The Society is seeking individuals and organizations from all walks of life, different backgrounds and cultures.  Perspectives from a retired couple or school-aged child are just as important as those from front-line health care workers. Teachers or supervisors could also make this an engaging group project!”

How do you record a journal? Simply. Just tell what you do and what you think and feel each day. One day’s record could be one paragraph. Over time, your record will show how the pandemic has affected your family, your life, and your perspective of the world.

The Historical Society is not looking for any “big conclusions,” but rather the small bits of everyday life. Your thoughts are gold! Now is your time to gather them and share them. You’ll be genuinely useful to others – and you’ll have a wonderful record for yourself.

Gail Grenier is the author of Dog Woman, Don't Worry Baby, Dessert First, Calling All Horses, and Young Voices from Wild Milwaukee, all available from Amazon.comProceeds from book sales are shared with local charities.

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