Preserving the pandemic: East Tennessee History Center records stories from COVID-19

Coronavirus

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — It’s unlikely those of us living through the COVID-19 pandemic will soon forget the impact it’s had on our daily lives. The East Tennessee History Center is ensuring that we and future generations remember through its “Be a Part of History: Document Your COVID-19 Story” project.

“What we’re really trying to do with this historic period that we’re living in right now is to document individuals’ reactions, their stories as they progress through COVID-19,” senior curator Adam Alfrey explained. “How they’re dealing with it, how their families are dealing with it and really get sort of their personal reactions to it.”

Right now, we’re all focused on the data and metrics behind COVID-19, but Alfrey told WATE 6 On Your Side what really tells the story years from now, is the human interest portion.

“That’s what we’re really trying to capture through this project is people’s reflections on how their families are coping,” Alfrey explained. “The nuances of going to the store, their family’s health, those are the things that the official record doesn’t capture and so that’s what this project hopes to achieve.”

The history center has already received over 20 recounts of COVID-19 including several from middle school and high school students who saw their academic years cut short. One Knox County high schooler wrote:

“I am still in school and am currently unemployed, but it has been so scary adjusting to less income within the household. My father … was lucky enough not to lose this job during this time, but none of my other siblings were able to work during this time. It is hard to see the increased hours to make up for lost income weighing down on him.”

In addition to collecting stories, the East Tennessee History Center is also interested in hearing recommendations for objects to collect that represent the pandemic.

“Individuals have already mentioned custom face masks, some of the signs that are popping up for the graduating seniors, even collecting some of the bottles that the distilleries have changed over to making hand sanitizer,” he said. “All of those will do a lot to help tell the story and what we as a community did to get through this.”

The history center is committed to collecting and archiving as many stories and objects that represent this time as possible. Alfrey and his colleagues are attempting to be proactive in their responsibility to care for East Tennessee’s history.

“Once this goes away and when we’re back to whatever our new normal is, the signs come down, the face masks get put in a drawer, they may not be things we keep,” he said. “But the opportunity to capture those now, it will mean a lifetime of learning and interpretation for future generations.”

For those of you who wish to contribute to the history’s center documentation of COVID-19, you can do so on their website: http://www.easttnhistory.org/document-your-covid-19-story

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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