History is made by what happens in the world and by those who capture human experience and preserve it.
In Galveston County, librarians and others are seeing to it that the COVID-19 experience of 2020 is not one that’s forgotten by future generations.
“I heard about others doing projects like this, and I realized this is history we’re living through,” said Theresa Mayfield, local history librarian at Moore Memorial Public Library, 1701 Ninth Ave. N. in Texas City. “I knew we needed to do a living history project.”
The Moore Library project, “Handling Great Adversity: Your COVID-19 Story,” will collect and store documentation of the effects of the global pandemic on the community through personal stories, short audio and video diaries, social media screenshots, posters, flyers and artistic creations that show how things changed during the crisis, for better and worse.
Everything related to the viral pandemic has a place in the digital collection that eventually will be turned into an online exhibit and a permanent archive for future historians and Texas City residents.
EVERYONE’S STORIES WELCOME
“I want to hear from parents who started home schooling their children, from students, from business owners,” Mayfield said. “I’ve heard stories about local small businesses helping each other to get through this, and I hope they will share their stories.”
The digital age makes it easier than ever before for a wide range of voices to be heard through a variety of media.
Rosenberg Library’s local history project “Living History: Galveston in the COVID-19 Pandemic” already has collected submissions from locals describing their experiences for the permanent collection.
“People have talked about some of the activities and business modifications that came about due to the coronavirus,” said Lauren Martino, special collections manager at the Rosenberg Library, 2310 Sealy Ave. in Galveston. “One of the first was Galveston’s Own Farmers Market that had to switch from an in-person to an online shopping and pickup experience.”
People have talked about missing funerals, about getting stuck traveling, about thinking they’ve had the virus, Martino said.
“Some people have shared stories about extra racism experienced against Asian Americans,” she said.
All of these experiences and more will make up a permanent archive that, 100 years from now, will explain how people coped when everything was shut down to protect against spread of the virus.
‘I JUST WANTED TO SAY THANK YOU’
One contributor, Priscilla Hotchkiss of Galveston, sent pictures to the Rosenberg collection of the hundreds of handmade greeting cards she has made to send to hospital personnel working on the front lines of the pandemic.
“The news was just overwhelming, devastating and was making me anxious,” Hotchkiss said. “I didn’t feel like I could do anything.”
But Hotchkiss had supplies on hand to make cards, one of her favorite hobbies, so she started making them and sending them first to the University of Texas Medical Branch, then to Houston hospitals.
“I just wanted hospital workers to be encouraged and to know that people were thinking about them,” Hotchkiss said. “I just wanted to say thank you and that was the only way to do it.”
At the medical branch, an archive of experiences is being collected by three health professionals interested in health education and social and behavioral research.
Tammy Cupit, a nurse and researcher, heard about the Rosenberg project from Martino and began collaborating with two colleagues to develop one for her workplace.
The project, called “Rise and Shine,” will collect stories from students, health professionals, staff and patients who experienced the COVID-19 pandemic at the medical branch, with an emphasis on using the experience as a catharsis for those who have been in the thick of it and as a way of identifying innovative and interesting approaches to adversity.
“There are so many interesting stories I’m hearing anecdotally, including stories about when health care workers become patients ourselves, when we have to get a COVID-19 test or an antibody test,” Cupit said. “There’s a lot to learn from that.”
All three projects are harnessing technology to collect, exhibit and permanently preserve the artifacts and stories they receive from the public. And no one is setting a timeline for ending the ongoing projects, given uncertainty about the nature and spread of the virus and the time it takes for people to tell their stories.
On the Moore Memorial Library website, Mayfield made this pitch to potential participants:
“We are living history, right now. Future generations will look back and learn, through your contributions, what it was like to shelter in place, practice social distancing, and to find joy when surrounded with so much uncertainty.”