Experiencing History: Collecting Materials Related to the COVID-19 Response in Western Pennsylvania

The Heinz History Center is collecting objects, archival materials (both digital and physical), and web content that reflect the experiences of Western Pennsylvania citizens, officials, organizations, businesses, and caregivers during the COVID-19 pandemic. We wish to preserve these stories and materials so they can be shared for future study and research. Here’s how you can help. 

"We will get through this Pittsburgh." Photo by Carly Lough. Detre Library & Archives at the History Center.
“We will get through this Pittsburgh.” Photo by Carly Lough. Detre Library & Archives at the History Center.

Over the last few weeks, our community has felt the pull of a common thread. As municipal authorities have taken measures aimed to restrict the spread of the coronavirus, we’ve shifted our daily routines and become accustomed to feelings of uncertainty. Many of us have found new ways of working, learning, or communicating, while trying to keep as much of our daily routine as possible. Almost all of us have witnessed or felt the pain accompanying recent financial losses and seen kindness through sacrifices made by caregivers and service providers. We’ve learned just how important our isolation is at a time when friends and family feel even more valuable to us. We’ve found ways to use humor and creativity in this new way of living. 

Within these acts are stories and perspectives that are important to consider. Each of us is experiencing history. As change unfolds and our community adapts, we are in the position of being able to preserve history as it happens. The photographs and videos we make to share with family and friends, the social media posts we create, and the simple grocery lists and home lessons plans we develop are all powerful evidence of how we are responding to the challenges we face.  

In the coming weeks and months, History Center staff will be actively collecting materials that tell these stories so they may be studied and understood in the future. Here are some of the areas in which we are seeking materials: 

  • Medical professionals – What innovations have been made in response to the pandemic? What are the ways you prepare for your work? What new challenges has the pandemic created? 
  • Workers, service providers, safety personnel – How has your work changed or been put at risk? How have you incorporated contagion safety practices into your work? 
  • Local businesses – How has your business adapted its products and services to respond to community needs? How has your business dealt with the needs of workers?  
  • Education – How does learning take place during quarantine? What innovations have educators made? What is the experience of the student? 
  • Leisure time and recreation – How are you spending your leisure time during lockdown? How are you maintaining meaningful contact with friends and family? Do you have access to technologies that help you stay in contact with others? 
  • Neighbors and caregivers – How are Western Pennsylvanians finding ways of helping each other? What systems, programs, or websites have been created to connect helpers with those who need them? 
"Shop Online. Support This Small Business." Photo by Carly Lough. Detre Library & Archives at the History Center.
"Shop Online. Support This Small Business." Photo by Carly Lough. Detre Library & Archives at the History Center.
"Please, practice your social distancing..." Photo by Carly Lough. Detre Library & Archives at the History Center.
"Please, practice your social distancing..." Photo by Carly Lough. Detre Library & Archives at the History Center.

Please know that for the time being, History Center staff are working from home and are unable to pick up or accept physical objects until we’re back in the office. In the meantime, however, our conversation can begin–we want to hear from you! Tell us your story and what materials you have to document that story.  

If youre interested in sharing digital content such as photographs, video, social media, and web pages, you can use our online portal to nominate your materials. Please visit this page to use our online submission form and review the terms and guidelines. 

As always, to donate Western Pennsylvania historic materials to the Heinz History Center you can contact Emily Ruby, Curator (for objects and artwork) and Carly Lough, Archivist (for papers, photographs, and digital materials) at acquisitions@heinzhistorycenter.org.

To review more information about how we collect materials for preservation, please see our Collection FAQ page.

This post was compiled by the Detre Library & Archives staff.

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