The Austin Chronicle

Austin History Center Documents Life in Austin During COVID-19

Share your moment in history with AHC’s new collection

By Beth Sullivan, April 17, 2020, News

"Where were you during COVID-19?"

That question – the past tense of it – can't come fast enough, but without documentation, how will we make sure we don't forget? Thanks to the Austin History Center's new collection, "The COVID-19 Files: Austin Responds to a Pandemic," Austinites' experiences of these historic times won't be lost to the past.

Launched at the end of March, the collection is currently seeking donations that reflect the city's new normal: work life in the time of social distancing; home quarantine setups; family conversations held via Zoom; or sets of local business records.

Madeline Moya, AHC's media archivist spearheading the project, told me the AHC was already receiving COVID-19 documentation when it decided to take a "more active approach to collecting these materials." While the center remains closed alongside other Austin Public Library facilities, AHC staff recognized the value in opening collection submissions while people live through the moment, rather than passively waiting for the donations to come in after reopening. "We thought that we'd get a lot more honest picture of what it was like for people if they were documenting it and submitting [materials] now," Moya explained. "And we know the recovery efforts will begin as soon as we're all allowed to be out in the world again, so we didn't want all those memories and the stories to get lost when people move on."

Such memories and stories can take shape in any medium, as long as it can be submitted digitally (donors will have the ability to submit physical items once the AHC reopens). Moya says that so far, donations have included photographs depicting deserted Downtown scenes, scans of COVID-19-inspired artwork, blog posts, and even poetry. Moya said she hopes to see more videos of Austinites discussing what they're going through or showing viewers around their neighborhoods. Documentation analogous to diaries – expressions of inner monologue – are welcome, too. "We want to know how people are coping, what they're hoping for, and how they are thinking that they'll be able to recover from this.

"I'm also hoping for oral histories," added Moya, along with sets of business records, especially any documentation that tracks how businesses are adapting to public health and safety guidelines or their decisions to close – either temporarily or permanently. "It's important that we have on the record – in the historical record for the city – that these businesses existed, or how they responded, since they're such a big piece of our city's backbone."

Above all, the collection emphasizes: Everybody's experience matters. For Moya, it's one of the AHC's greatest strengths as a community archive. "We are the archives of and for the city of Austin," she stressed. The documentation of Austinites' everyday lives during this time will be just as valuable of a resource as any other when we look back at how this pandemic affected society at large, whenever that day comes.

Submit your materials directly at Donations in any language are welcome.

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