Monday, April 27, 2020

Record Your Experience of the Coronavirus Pandemic

Tennesseans, like so many people worldwide, are reacting and adapting to the global COVID-19 health crisis. As the state repository for collecting and preserving Tennessee history, the Tennessee State Library and Archives is also adapting to this new normal and responding with a new initiative to chronicle this moment in our country’s history and its impact on all Tennesseans.

We encourage all Tennesseans to document their unique experience of life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Your expressions, whether in the form of personal diaries, journal entries, poems, photographs, drawings, audio, or video interviews, will all be invaluable contributions towards documenting this historic moment.

Over the coming weeks, we will ask for your submissions as we navigate the COVID-19 health crisis. The Library and Archives will preserve submitted material for future generations.

Key Ways Daily Life Has Changed: Parallels to the Past

Materials housed within the Tennessee State Library and Archives illustrate that the current global crisis is just one of numerous periods of adversity through which Tennesseans have persevered, including the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 and World War II.

Quarantine/Stay at Home Order: Currently, Tennesseans are encouraged to stay at home and only venture out into public spaces when necessary. In times past, Tennesseans asked to sequester themselves to prevent the spread of disease, as seen in this poster dating from the Yellow Fever outbreak of 1879 in Memphis.

Quarantine broadside for Covington, Tenn.
Tennessee Department of Public Health, 1874-1975, Record Group 1
Image: Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA)

During World War II, the U. S. Office of Defense Transportation asked Americans to limit unnecessary travel.

On a blue background, this World War II era poster features four illustrations of reasons why Americans may choose to travel, but the implication is that those trips aren't necessary.
World War I and World War II Poster Collection.
Image: Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA)

Rationing of Vital Supplies: Many area businesses are limiting the purchase of essential items to one or two quantities per person, including toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and other miscellaneous goods. Similarly, during World War II, Americans were asked to contribute to the war effort through rationing as the government limited household staples that one could purchase, such as gas, dairy, and meat.

This poster provides two images to interpret the experience of rationing during World War II.
World War I and World War II Poster Collection.
Image: Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA)

Medical Care Response: Throughout the state, medical providers have mobilized and adapted solutions to treat the mass influx of patients infected with COVID-19. In 1918, temporary medical care centers were hastily constructed to handle the overflow of patients with Spanish Flu.

During the flu epidemic of 1918 the Old Hickory Hospital was erected behind the DuPont Powder Plant to accommodate the overflow of patients needing care.
Over Here, Over There Digital Collection.
Image: Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA)

As depicted in the images above, daily life can dramatically change in response to extraordinary events. Just as the lives of those who survived the Spanish Flu and World War II changed in countless ways, so too will the current Coronavirus Pandemic leave its mark on our lives.

Get Started Documenting Your Story

The historical significance of COVID-19 in our country’s history is yet to be determined. Future generations will undoubtedly look upon this moment in time and will study it to seek answers to many questions. You can start by recording your answers to the following questions:

  • How has your day-to-day life changed? 
  • How have Tennesseans navigated these changes, and what do you think of them? 
  • How have you spent your time? 
  • What have you done to prevent contracting the virus? 
  • What do you think of the decisions made by leadership? 
  • What is it like living through a global pandemic?

While students are spending the remainder of their school year studying at home, students and families can create primary sources for contribution to the Library and Archives. Our education team has developed a series of graphic organizers to assist students and families in telling their stories in a variety of formats. Visit our “At Home Learning” page and click on “Documenting COVID-19” for more information.

It is up to those of us living through this crisis to provide answers to the inquisitive onlookers of the future. Please join us in documenting this significant moment in our collective history.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett

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