Indiana Historical Society Begins Building A Coronavirus Collection

Apr 11, 2020
Originally published on April 10, 2020 8:25 pm

In Indiana, restaurants and bars are shuttered, schools are closed, and like much of the country, people are being ordered to stay home.

The Indiana Historical Society is trying to document what it's like to live in this time, and have asked the public to help.

"We thought, this is a period of time people are going to study for centuries," says Jody Blankenship, president of the Indiana Historical Society. "And we need to collect the voices of our community right now."

The historical society is asking the public to submit videos, photos, recordings, art or writing that will help tell the story of the pandemic.

The Indiana Historical Society is one of several institutions around the country that has started thinking about recording oral histories or collecting items related to the coronavirus pandemic, an approach known as "rapid-response collecting."

At the Indiana Historical Society, a few hundred submissions have streamed in so far.

Jenny Larson sent a video of her four kids, sitting on the couch after lunchtime, performing a song they wrote, with lyrics such as:

"The social distancing makes us feel sad because we want to see our friends real bad. And now we're staring only at our screens, because we're stuck in this quarantine."

Liberty Bible Church in northwest Indiana submitted a virtual devotional.

Principal Robert Lugo of North Elementary School in Noblesville, Ind., uploaded a video of his decorated car as he prepared to set off on a parade of teachers for students stuck at home.

Indianapolis resident Rafia Khader sent an oral history. In it, she said she is thinking about her parents a lot.

"Instead of my dad checking in on me every weekend, the roles now have reversed," she said. "I'm checking in on them almost daily."

The submissions will join the millions of other documents and artifacts in the historical society's archives.

"It's the aggregation of all these individual stories and experiences that create this very rich narrative that tells us who we are and what we value," Blankenship says. "Without everyday people's history, my history, your history, we don't get those nuances that tell the full story."

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We are living in an historic moment. Daily life has changed for most Americans in unprecedented ways. And the Indiana Historical Society wants to ensure that future generations know what it was like. NPR's Sam Gringlas reports.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: For a while, the coronavirus seemed far away from Indiana. But as cases mounted, it got staff thinking at the Indiana Historical Society.

JODY BLANKENSHIP: We looked around at each other, and we thought, this is a period of time that people are going to study for centuries. And we need to collect the voices of our community right now.

GRINGLAS: That's the society's president, Jody Blankenship. He's asking the public to submit videos, photos or writing that will help tell the story of the pandemic. So far, several hundred submissions have streamed in, and they run the gamut.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

JENNY LARSON: (Singing) Coronavirus, we can't go to school until at least May 1, which is not cool.

GRINGLAS: Jenny Larson sent a video of her four kids sitting on the couch after lunchtime performing a song they wrote.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

LARSON: (Singing) Social distancing makes us feel sad because we want to see our friends.

GRINGLAS: Also in the inbox, a classical music composition, a virtual devotional submitted by Liberty Bible Church...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The Bible says God is our refuge and strength.

GRINGLAS: Principal Robert Lugo of North Elementary School uploaded a video of his decorated car as he prepared to set off on a parade of teachers for students stuck at home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERT LUGO: We hope that many of you can come out and see us and wave to us from your lawns or driveways.

GRINGLAS: And Rafia Khader sent an oral history.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAFIA KHADER: I think a lot about my parents right now. Instead of my dad checking in on me every weekend, the roles have reversed. I now am checking on them almost daily.

GRINGLAS: The submissions will go into the historical society's archives along with the millions of other documents diligently collected since 1830.

BLANKENSHIP: It's the aggregation of all these individual stories and experiences that create this very rich narrative that tells us who we are and what we value. And without everyday people's history - my history, your history - we don't get those nuances that tell the full story of our history.

GRINGLAS: The coronavirus pandemic is far from over, but Blankenship sees a theme emerging.

BLANKENSHIP: This moment, as I'm seeing the collections come in, has asked people to step back and take a look at what matters most to them in the face of a tragedy like this and maybe come back to that and think about what's at our core, what matters the most.

GRINGLAS: It's history, Blankenship says, still unfolding.

Sam Gringlas, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.