Editor’s note: This article was modified on April 21 at 11 p.m. to add links to the site and clarify the name of the project.
The Stone House Center for Public Humanities and SRU Archives are collaborating on an archive project called “Shared Voices, Shared Experiences” to gather the lived experiences of people during the time of COVID-19.
Aaron Cowan, a professor of history and one of the co-directors of The Stone House Center for Public Humanities, said that this rapid-response archive project is a way for people to determine what they deem significant during this time.
“Everyone, student or community member, are having their own unique experiences because of this outbreak so the idea is to be able to document that,” Cowan said.
Along with Cowan, Lia Paradis, a professor of history and one of the co-directors of The Stone House Center for Public Humanities, said that the term rapid-response came from wanting to gather or capture things in the moment that can be shared later on.
Paradis said that lived experience is what historians and archivists want to capture when they are trying to get an idea of a historical event.
“You can get the official word, you can get the media stuff, but it’s harder to get the day to day details of what people are experiencing in their everyday lives and how they’re feeling,” Paradis said.
Some contributions that Paradis hopes the community will submit to “Shared Voices, Shared Experiences” are blog posts, excerpts from journals or artistic efforts. Paradis said that any ways people are dealing with stress of the situation would be great opportunities to be captured so that the archives have the particular everyday experience.
“Every person’s lived experience is important, people should not hesitate to contribute things that document their everyday experience” Paradis said.
Similarly to Paradis, Cowan agrees with the idea that all experiences are important. Cowan said that even people who made a TikTok video to keep themselves entertained can submit it to the archive project.
“It can be very trivial, because those have some value to tell how people are experiencing life,” Cowan said.
Submitting to the project only takes up to ten minutes, and community members and others have the opportunity to submit anonymously if they feel the need to do so on the website.
“…in doing so, you’ve created something we are going to archive that will really be a lasting record,” Cowan said.
Both Cowan and Paradis have submitted to the archive project and plan to submit more in the future. Cowan submitted a picture of a giant teddy bear on a porch in Grove City as well as a tweet talking about the shift to online learning and its challenges.
“It’s much harder to do what historians call social history,” Cowan said. “What were people’s everyday lives like? How did they change? That’s a lot harder to do because we don’t usually make record of those kind of things.”
Paradis also submitted multiple entries to the project, such as a picture of her home office, the start of her vegetable garden that she always wanted to grow and eventually a page from her Pandemic class syllabus about the alteration of classes.
“People don’t understand that what they’re wearing is a historical document,” Paradis said. “[We] reinforce that anything is valuable because it documents their real-life experience right now.”
Along with the online submissions, physical submission are also be considered for a time when social distancing is over. Both Paradis and Cowan believe that the archives project will be an ongoing project, possibly up to a year.
“People may contribute different things in September than they are contributing now, because the experience will have changed by then but it may not be over by then,” Paradis said.
Both Paradis and Cowan encourage students, community members and other people in Western Pennsylvania to contribute to the archival project.
“As cheesy as it may sound, you can be a part of history and create something that future research can draw on to understand this experience,” Cowan said.