COVID in Long Island, New York

“Listen to episodes of Life Under Coronavirus: Long Island’s Helpers, Newsday’s podcast on the pandemic hosted by Mark Chiusano and produced by Amanda Fiscina. It’s a look into how Long Islanders are meeting the challenge of COVID-19. Each episode features a Long Islander talking about his or her experience with coronavirus, with a focus on what people are doing to help. Join us to hear upbeat stories that show how LI is getting by under disease lockdown, an oral history for the period when this is all over.” Listen here.

UK’s NHS Project

NHS at 70: The Story of Our Lives is a national oral history project that is collecting testimony from patients, staff, and the public around the history of the UK’s public National Health Service (NHS) which was created in 1948. To date we have trained around 150 volunteer interviewers with ages ranging from 20 years to 70 plus years in oral history methodologies and recorded upwards of 800 interviews. Evaluation of the impact of participation on volunteers and interviewees was built into the project from the outset. Read full article here.

Member Profile – Pat Ryan

I emigrated from Ireland to Australia in December 1978 with my husband and two young sons. I flew from deepest, dark winter to the blinding white light of an Australian summer. Equipped with an Arts degree and curiosity about my new home, I found work wherever I could, pursuing an eclectic career in teaching, community service and policy development across three levels of Government – Local, State and Federal and across three different States – Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland. It was a wonderful time that gave me an opportunity to deepen my knowledge of the country and its people.

By 2002 I was living in Brisbane and looking for something new to absorb my energy. I had, for some years, been a regular broadcaster with the Irish program at the multicultural radio station, 4EB in Kangaroo Point, Brisbane. I interviewed many people on-air whose ancestry was Irish or part Irish and whose interest in Irish language, culture and particularly dance, drew them to the program. I was curious about their own and their families’ histories; the genesis of an idea for a project to record those histories began to grow in my mind.

I cannot recall exactly how I found my way to the Oral History Queensland Conference in 2002 but I have vivid memories of sitting in an Auditorium in the State Library listening spellbound to Robin Hughes, the then presenter of “Australian Biography” on SBS, speak about her interviews with some of the people who featured in the popular TV show.  I joined OHQ and after workshops with Sue Pechey, Lesley Jenkins and Suzanne Mulligan, I started recording the stories of Irish migrants and the descendants of migrants to Australia. My methodology was to use a community developmental approach with the central theme revolving around migration and residual memory in families and communities of that foundational event.

The launch of the project, including a self-published book of the stories, at the then premises of the Irish Club in Elizabeth St brought all project participants together for the first time. It transpired that many had known each other at various stages in their lives and careers. The launch gave them the opportunity to reconnect with each other and re-engage with their own personal histories. That project, Journeys into Inheritance: Stories of Irish Migration to Australia 1867-1987 – recordings and book – was subsequently housed at the John Oxley Library for future research into Irish migration to Australia. The project led to a paper on the methodology used to find the interviewees and record their stories which was presented at the 2004 European Social Science History Conference in Berlin.

In 2007 I presented a Paper at the Oral History Queensland State Conference, Old Stories, New Ways.  In this Paper, entitled Searching for Adam and Eve: how oral and family history contribute to building individual and family identity across intergenerational and international boundaries, I explored themes identified in the recorded stories, in particular the role of memento keeping and cultural iconography in memory transmission.

In 2008 I partnered with the New Farm Neighbourhood Centre in a community based, intergenerational oral history project to train younger residents to record stories from older residents about their lives and times around Fortitude Valley and New Farm. The suburb of New Farm was undergoing rapid development with many of the old landmarks disappearing to make way for new housing. The resulting stories of old trolley cars and trams rattling through Brunswick Mall and along Brunswick Street to New Farm, old dance halls now defunct, picture theatres and WWII American servicemen captivated the younger generation. The outcome was an online virtual museum replete with photos and mementoes of the old days.

Later that year I was commissioned to undertake a series of recordings with a retired Medical Administrator who travelled through Australian colonial Papua New Guinea as a young man overseeing community clinics and dispensing medical care to local people. He published the stories later in his local newspaper as a personal history.

A career highlight for me was attending a Masterclass in Sydney with the renowned Italian oral historian, Alessandro Portelli, whose reflections on memory and memory making have influenced my own thinking and practice of oral history.   

Other community projects followed, such as one I led shortly after moving to the Southern Downs when the area was heavily impacted by the 2011 floods. Stories collected from that project reside in the local library.

Pauline Peel (L) and (R) Pat Ryan outside old St Mary’s, Warwick

I took part in a history seminar on the Warwick Egg Incident which commemorated the anti- conscriptionists of WWI and the “egging” of Prime Minister Billy Hughes at the Warwick Railway Station in 1917. Following a successful partnership with two academic historians and a family historian to present a paper that focused on the local, family and oral history of Warwick at the Irish Studies Association Conference of Australia and New Zealand in Sydney 2018, my colleague Pauline Peel, a family historian, and I presented our papers to an audience of 98 people at the old St Mary’s church in Warwick in March this year, days before the Covid-19 restrictions on such gatherings were announced.

Since the advent of Covid-19 I have used my time at home to pursue further online research into my own family background and the history of Warwick and District. Zoom meetings, Skyped conversations, online training and catching up on my reading through the State library online have opened up whole new worlds for me. I am looking forward to whatever comes next!

Irish COVID-19 Project

Dublin City University has today launched the Irish COVID-19 Oral History Project. It focuses on orally archiving the Irish lived experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, for historical purposes. Led by Caitriona Ni Cassaithe and Professor Theo Lynn, the project will curate a collection of oral histories, detailing the Irish experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and how Irish communities are living through it, both at home and abroad. The findings are intended to be used by historians, researchers and policymakers in years to come to inform responses to future pandemics. It was inspired by work being undertaken by Prof Jason Kelly (IUPUI) on the US-based COVID-19 Oral History Project, a partner project of A Journal of the Plague Year, and efforts are being coordinated with the IUPUI project. For full story click here.

COVID-19 stories (USA)

“We’re living through history. Just as we pore over photographs and narratives of people in the past, those in the future will be curious about what we’re doing right now, sheltered at home or on the front lines. We may have a responsibility to document our experiences, even if just for our own descendants.” This story about historical societies in USA are collecting items and voices about COVID-19, read more here.

More institutions in USA collecting for COVID-19 here. Also a document, COVID-19 capsule, which can be downloaded and completed for children and adults here.

Teachers and Oral History

“History happens every day in every place. Whether it be a bill passing in the halls of Congress or a television program playing in your living room, it all counts as the great and messy drama of the human experience, worthy of historical consideration. Yet given the current global crisis in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are acutely aware of “history happening” in this particular moment, especially as New York City occupies the epicenter of the virus in the United States. Historians of the future will no doubt spend countless hours and pages analyzing the pandemic’s impact on politics, economics, and daily life—and we’re living right through this watershed moment.” Read more of this story and follow links here, some of which may be applied to Australian classrooms.