How will the coronavirus pandemic shape our history? We may not even understand its full significance in our lifetime.
But years from now, when historians are researching the COVID-19 outbreak, Dr. Martin Olliff hopes to have the daily lives of Wiregrass residents well-documented.
“We don’t understand the Depression the way the people who lived it moment by moment understand it,” said Olliff, director of the Wiregrass Archives and an associate professor of history at Troy University’s Dothan campus. “They see it from a very different view than we do because they had no clue how this was going to turn out day to day to day. We, born after it, reading about it afterward with historical perspective, know how it turned out. We always have that in the back of our heads. ... It skews our stories. The diaries of those people that lived through all of that — any historical moment — give us that close view of what their lives were like.”
Olliff hopes Wiregrass residents in Alabama, Georgia and Northwest Florida will provide the archives with items that document daily life during the COVID-19 outbreak. The format could be a written journal of daily life or images posted to social media.
“This is a historically-significant moment, … and people’s lives as they live them in a historically-significant moment are themselves historically significant,” Olliff said. “The people living their lives don’t have to do anything that they themselves might think of as historically significant except capture the moments of their lives.”
Political history focuses on the grandiose dealings of leaders during world events. But how we live during those events, Olliff said, is just as important for documenting social and cultural history.
Olliff said he would even like to speak with teachers who do assignments around COVID-19.
When it comes to archiving materials, Olliff said archives typically want ownership and copyright of any donated materials to protect the archives in the future use of and access to the materials by others.
“Archives hold the materials that historians use to reconstruct our society’s history later down the road,” Olliff said. “If we, as archivists, don’t maintain this material in an easy-to-get-at, highly-accessible point or place, the chance of historians being able to get hold of it and incorporate it into the stories they tell about ourselves is greatly diminished.”
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