LATROBE, PA – With a shared mission of preserving local history and engaging the community and local partners, the Saint Vincent College Department of History and the Westmoreland Historical Society have teamed up to create a digital archive documenting the COVID-19 experiences of people in the Westmoreland County area, available at https://pandemic2020svc.omeka.net/.
The public is encouraged to submit personal stories about family life, work, school and relationships, along with videos, photos, social media and other digital items to help preserve the memory of this time for future generations. In addition to being available on the digital archive, the submitted items will also be added to the Westmoreland Historical Society’s permanent collections.
“This project is part of a larger effort within museums around the world to preserve history in real time,” explained Pamela Curtin, Westmoreland Historical Society education coordinator and Saint Vincent College lecturer of history. "Sometimes referred to as ‘rapid response collecting’ and ‘history harvests,’ these initiatives embrace that history happens all around us and that we have the opportunity to work with our communities to preserve and share those stories.
“In a time when it is easy to feel isolated,” she continued, “this project invites the Westmoreland County community to come together and share their unique experiences of the pandemic. I am excited to work with my colleagues at Saint Vincent College on this important digital history project.”
The digital archive will continue to grow and includes sections showcasing community support, social media posts, parks and recreation, non-profit and cultural organizations, businesses/stores and colleges and universities. There is also a map feature that enables users to view contributions by their locations throughout the county.
Saint Vincent College history and public history students will gain extensive hands-on experience in managing the project, with their responsibilities to include creating exhibits, collecting information and conducting interviews.
The Saint Vincent College students will be joined by a team of local historians in overseeing the project, including Curtin; Dr. Karen Kehoe, associate professor of history at SVC; Lauren Churilla, curator of the McCarl Coverlet Gallery and lecturer of history at SVC; Casey Bowser, archivist of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill and lecturer of history at SVC; and Joanna Moyar, coordinator of collections and interpretations for the Westmoreland Historical Society.
“At the beginning of the outbreak, Karen Kehoe and I spoke about the importance of collecting stories about this unique time in our history,” said Churilla. “Karen’s idea was to come up with some way to reach out to the Saint Vincent College community and record their experiences with the closure, classes and loss of physical community. After our initial conversation, I began looking at ways to organize the project and put it into motion. We felt that a digital archive would be the most effective way to reach out to people and allow them to easily share recollections, media and anything having to do with the state of our new lives in the pandemic.
“We both felt an overwhelming sense of loss and isolation and part of what we want the project to do is to be a place where people can come together and share their joy, as well as their pain, and create a beautiful picture of the struggles and triumphs that come with stay-at-home orders, like remote working, unemployment, digital school and the new normal of our strange routines.”
Churilla has been working with students in her Digital Humanities course to test the site and she said that the hopes are to integrate it into additional classes moving forward.
“In the past year, we introduced our new public history major,” she said. “We hope to incorporate work on the project into our Introduction to Public History, Museum Studies and Digital Humanities classes to allow students first-hand experience in the creation of digital projects while documenting this extremely important historic moment.”
Contributions can be personal or largely observational and can include images, stories, videos, recordings, screenshots or documents that capture something about experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic. Public contributions can be anonymous or authored and can be made using a convenient form on the site
PHOTO: The homepage of the new Pandemic 2020 digital archive, launched by the Saint Vincent College Department of History and the Westmoreland Historical Society
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