PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — There’s something about the human experience that wants to document history whether it’s taking a photo or writing in a journal.
There is a lot of history in the archives at the Providence Public Library, but 100 years from now, people will likely look back at how we lived through the COVID-19 pandemic, but digitally.
We are the storytellers of our time and only we can share what it was like to live in a pandemic with future generations. It’s an experience shared, but not well documented, by Rhode Islanders who lived through the flu pandemic of 1918.
“We didn’t have anything that talked about the day-to-day experience of normal Rhode Islanders, and so that really became the focus I think of our project team,” Providence Public Library Curator Kate Wells said.
When the world shut down last March, Wells and R.I. Historical Society Archivist Becca Bender got to work from home, creating the Rhode Island COVID Archives Project.
“The people who are living through the history are going to be submitting it as opposed to this sort of, ‘we are the archivists, we are the curators, we make the decision of what becomes part of the story of COVID?'” Bender said.
Cranston Public Library photographed patrons and recorded their answers to what a positive was from such a dark time.
“It looks like people’s faces are emerging from the darkness, so that was the creative inspiration for the project,” Cranston Public Library Assistant Director Julie Holden said.
Sarah Bouvier, the Photographer for Cranston Public Library’s entries and also the library’s Communication Manager, said they could do whatever they wanted.
“I didn’t really pose them in any way,” she said.
One caption of a submitted photo on the COVID Archive’s website said, “Getting a chance to do a little bird watching in my own tiny, yet thriving garden, and tap dancing with friends on Zoom. It’s a thing!”
Second-grade teachers from the Henry Barnard School submitted their students’ diary entries, with parental permission.
“We’d get pictures of the whole family all lined up at their computers working together,” teacher Sarah Hess said.
“In many ways, we had this view in their lives that we never had so they talked about things they’d never talk about in school,” teacher Michelle Nonis added.
Students in Bryant University’s freshman writing workshop shared their unique perspectives on graduating high school amidst a pandemic.
“There were a lot of moments in the essays where they said ‘I didn’t know this was the last day I would be doing these normal things and then everything would be different,'” Prof. Martha Kuhlman said.
COVID-19 also disproportionally impacted the Latino communities in Rhode Island, and this project hired a community member through a grant to reach out to this population to document their experiences.
This included murals and art providing hope and gratitude to healthcare workers.