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Wisconsin Historical Society Hopes COVID-19 Journal Project Can Be 'A Reflective Tool'

Keeping a journal during the coronavirus pandemic can help you cope with what's happening and help document history.

History is happening every day, and it’s not just recorded by people in power. The coronavirus pandemic is a huge moment in our collective history happening to all of us and it’s important that people in the future can learn about our experiences. There's no better way to do that than through first-hand accounts.

In 1861, the Wisconsin Historical Society’s founder Lyman Draper asked soldiers stationed at Camp Randall in Madison to help document the Civil War by keeping a diary. Today, these documents are incredibly valuable as a way to experience history. Now, the Wisconsin Historical Society is asking the same of us today through its COVID-19 Journal Project.

The project is seeking people of all ages to keep journals in any format — a notebook, digital, audio, photos or video.

"Help us create a really strong timeline for how the pandemic happened, how it’s unfolding, how people are dealing with it, and then how people kind of come out on the other side and what we’re seeing after this event is over," asks Simone Munson, the Wisconsin Historical Society Librarian Archives Collection Development Coordinator.

One of the things that historians and archivists are looking for is information on the experiences of everyday people, which can be harder to find compared to well-known figures whose primary documents are saved and more easily accessible according to Munson. 

One effect of this specific crisis we are living through is that it has thrust people who aren't traditionally getting attention into the limelight. Things and services we took for granted and didn't think of often "are becoming vital to survival and existence," says Munson, "and so there's something really valuable in having the experiences from a wide spectrum of people so that we can document that for future generations to understand."

Afraid of getting writer's block or don't think your perspective is valuable? Munson says everyone's story is important. Start with documenting how you passed the time, what you encounter, how you're feeling day-to-day or about certain news events, and keep going from there. 

From retirees to children, the Wisconsin Historical Society hopes that keeping a daily journal can help collect history and get you through it.

"We're hoping that it does serve as a reflective tool, that people can see this as an opportunity to sort of think about how they're doing and use the time that they're spending to write, or photography, or create some sort of artistic expression in a journal to sort of help them deal with the situation that we're living in," says Munson.

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Audrey Nowakowski is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.