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Vermont Historical Society to Create an Oral History of COVID-19


Published August 5, 2022 at 12:51 p.m.
Updated August 10, 2022 at 10:03 a.m.

  • Vermont Historical Society ©️ Seven Days
  • Vermont History Museum

The Vermont Historical Society announced on Thursday that it will construct a three-year oral history project chronicling Vermonters' responses and experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project, called "Collecting COVID-19: A Vermont Story," will culminate in a book and a podcast series.

“This will allow us to do crucial, timely work in documenting an historical event that so deeply impacted all of our lives,” said Amanda Kay Gustin, director of collections and access at the historical society.

The project is made possible by a Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services totaling $136,585. Funding will be used to train four new field interviewers at the Vermont Folklife Center.

Vermont has proven to be an especially interesting state for historians studying past and present pandemics. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers and policy makers turned to the historical society’s robust collection of items related to the 1918 influenza pandemic — such as diaries of those who lived through it — to inform our present-day public health response.

Vermont’s response to the current pandemic has proven valuable for decision makers as well. With generally low rates of COVID-19 infections throughout much of the pandemic, along with the second-highest vaccination rate in the country, Vermont offers a useful case study in community response. Plus, Vermont's small size offers historians a unique opportunity to collect a comprehensive and varied account of voices and opinions without needing to travel too far, Gustin said.

Luckily, that's something the Vermont Historical Society recognized early on. Since March 2020, the society has been collecting photographs, oral histories, data and items related to Vermonters' experiences of the pandemic. Presently, the collection has more than 650 items.

The society used that collection to its advantage when applying for the competitive grant. Founded in 1838, the historical society engages Vermonters in the exploration of the state’s heritage. This new oral history project will allow the society to make good on its mission by documenting 100 oral histories from first responders, health care workers, educators, retail workers and others.

“There really is something special about listening to someone's voice when they tell their own story,” Gustin said.

The oral histories will be used to produce a book documenting the state’s response, as well as a limited podcast. Garrett M. Graff, author of The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11, is partnering with the historical society to write both accounts.

Gustin said she hopes the oral history project will empower Vermonters and provide an important account of a historical time. “One of the things I think that is most important that we can do with the Vermont Historical Society is just to continually say to people: 'Your story is part of history.'”