California Historical Society Documenting Stories of COVID-19

NBC Universal, Inc.

It’s a given that someday in the future, people will look back on these days of COVID-19 and ponder what life was like. Which is why the California Historical Society is launching a history project to solicit stories and photos from the public in an effort to paint a picture of how the virus and its impact are being felt across California. 

The society is calling its project “Tell your story — California in the time of COVID-19.” Because like most businesses the society’s San Francisco museum is temporarily closed, the effort is soliciting stories and photographs online. 

“We don’t want to collect stories a year from now,” said Frances Kaplan, the groups research librarian. “We want to collect them now as it’s happening.” 

The society is asking people whether they were impacted by the virus itself, or by the vast economical shutdown that has accompanied its spread. The group is creating a digital image gallery with photographs of people, sights or even art projects they may be inspired by the virus’ wrath. 

“We know there will be, as a result of this — a short term impact to this — we know there’ll be a longterm,” Kaplan said. “But twenty years from now, this country, the state might look completely different as a result of this.” 

Kaplan said the project is seeking personal stories that bring insight to the event — the same way personal accounts of the Gold Rush or the 1906 Earthquake and Fire give a first-hand glimpse into those extraordinary events.  The Covid-19 record might hold pictures of people in masks, boarded up buildings and empty streets. 

But Kaplan said there’s another intention, other than creating a historical snapshot for the future. More immediately, she said such a project can help bring people together in the present. 

“It might be very important for people to understand that everybody’s going through this,” Kaplan said. 

The society recently launched a similar project to create a historical record of the major wildfires that have devastated parts of the state. Like the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s a story where the ending hasn’t yet been written. 

“I think it’s really important to document it from start to finish,” Kaplan said. “And we don’t know when finish will be.” 

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