A COVID Experience

For the interview, I chose a friend from home. Our region was fortunate not to be hit heavy by the virus and generally, life continued rather unaffected. The friend I chose to interview is an immuno-compromised college student, whose grandparents live with her, and both of her parents work in the medical field. I thought these factors would change her perspective from the general population.

Overall, her largest concern with the pandemic was how it would affect her compromised immune system. She rarely leaves the house and when she does, she makes sure to have a mask and plenty of hand sanitizer. Because of her immunity, she has had to take exclusively online classes this semester which has changed her projected graduation date. She also talked about her reliance on technology during the pandemic. Like many college students, she was in the middle of Spring Break when she learned that she would not be continuing her classes on campus. She commutes to her university, but experienced several factors at home that made completing her work difficult. These factors were mentioned several times to cause immense stress. Though she is experiencing stress, her concerns still fell to those around her. She frequently brought up the mental health of another friend as well as her grandparents’ and parents’ safety. In the conclusion of our conversation, I asked what outside factors frustrated her about the pandemic. In response, she complained about the community’s response, those who deny the pandemic is real, treat it as a political topic, and refuse to wear a mask as well as the mixed reports from media platforms.

Her reflections provide a different perspective. Though we live close to one another, we are still in different areas. Whereas my city has only have 5 cases since March, her county has counted around 2,000 cases. Why not extreme, this is comparatively a significant number. She said the world is insane right now and we only have each other to rely on. “COVID-19 has definitely affected people in many ways, some have it worse than others; therefore, be kind to any people you do interact with. For the love of all things holy, cooperate and follow the guidelines. Don’t be a “Karen”. All you’re going to hurt is your pride by wearing a cloth over your face. Think how your ignorance can change someone’s life negatively.”

The (Covid-19) World According to Tim

“It’s no different for me. I go to work (on a farm) every day where I’m not required to wear a mask. Except for being out in public in some places, life hasn’t changed.” My interview with my friend, Tim, went almost exactly as I believed it would. He revealed truths to me that, to be quite honest, were not surprising in the slightest. His experience with masks, quarantine, and everything else Covid-19 related, was exactly as I had imagined. Unchanged.

            Tim is a salt-of-the-Earth type of guy. He is a hard-working, blue-collar guy who “isn’t going to live in fear of some virus.” Tim works on a farm, is only around a few people every day, and has a very anti-medical approach to life. If your back hurts, get over it. If you get cut, keep working. “People die every day. Why should I continue to be afraid to go out in public? If it kills me, it kills me.” This has been Tim’s approach to everything during the pandemic. Does he wear a mask? Yes, surprisingly…a bandana reminiscent of Marion Morrison’s glory days.

            Tim’s beliefs on the coronavirus, or “China virus,” align perfectly with that of his political hero – Donald J. Trump. Did President Trump say it? Well then it must be true. This plays perfectly with Tim’s narrative that the Coronavirus “doesn’t affect him.” With his hero so adamantly denying the severity of the pandemic for so long, why would it affect him? The President was taking an approach to the pandemic that was very similar to Tim’s own life philosophy.

            My favorite part of the interview was towards the end. When asked how long he thought the virus would stick around, Tim replied: “Until the election. Once Trump wins again, it’ll all go away.” An interesting observation. Is he right? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Still it was nice to officially confirm what I believed to be Tim’s views on this whole situation. I quite enjoyed my talk with my old friend, even if we have differing views.

Covid-19 Oral History

I interviewed one of my housemates on the effects of Covid-19 in his life. He is currently attending Julliard through Zoom and similar apps and is planning on moving to New York towards the end of the year in hopes that in-person classes will resume. So far classes for him have been pretty simple and most of his work involves recording trumpet pieces that they compile for their performances which are now recorded in the place of live performances. He is also struggling due to an issue we’ve recently been having with our internet that causes intermittent disconnection with some lasting up to 30 minutes in length.

Socially he still goes downtown to bars and has been on a few dates recently, but about a month ago he tested positive for Covid-19 and was, along with the rest of us, put under house quarantine until we were all tested. During his weeks of quarantine he had to use apps like Grubhub and similar delivery apps to get food or rely on friends to pick him up groceries. His time with Covid was not the worst experience he’s had, he was asymptomatic so the quarantining was the only real negative.

Like many people he finds the masks and checks a bit annoying when going to events or out to eat, but he complies anyway. He did say something that I’ve wondered about as well. Because he’s had the virus he has immunity to it for around 3 months according to his physician, but he is still required to pass health checks and wear a mask. We figured this is probably due to people not knowing who has had it and who hasn’t.

When I asked him if he thought we would discuss the events of 2020 in the future, he said that it would probably end up being like the Spanish Flu Pandemic, he’d never heard of it until we were in a pandemic, so the Corona-virus would likely fade into the same niche and only be brought up when there’s a new disease that is spreading rapidly or when a doctor needs to spice up their resume.

Covid Oral History

I interviewed my son-in-law, Nicholas Bland, a thirty-two year old male, about his experiences during the COVID pandemic.

What is daily life like for you? I work every day from 6 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., come home to my wife and dog and have dinner together and relax. We talk about our day and enjoy each others company.

How is it affected by current restrictions? Going out to concerts and other public forms of entertainment have been stopped. It’s frustrating and irritating to not be able to move around and go places when you want to.

What adjustments have you had to make to your usual routines? None really. I do have to wear a mask and I hate that.

How has technology played a role in your life during the pandemic – either in classes, as a way to get and share information, or for entertainment? Yes, I tend to spend more time playing computer games than I did before the outbreak. Since people are pretty much stuck at home for the most part, you are limited in what kind of entertainment you have access to.

Are you involved in student organizations, sports, or clubs? No, I do ride a motorcycle and even that is limited because you can only be in groups of under ten people.

Do/did you have a job on or off campus? I work on Ft. Benning, Ga. as a painter.

What are your impressions of the media coverage of the pandemic, both currently and before it arrived in the United States? I think that we have been given incorrect information. No one seems to really know the facts about anything. We have been given contrasting information for months. It’s ridiculous.

What seemed normal a few weeks ago that seems strange to you now? Being able to go out to eat in restaurants. and public places at any time.

What are you doing now that will likely seem strange to you in a month or two? Nothing that I can think of.

What were you planning to do this spring and summer that is now uncertain? We had plans to go to Disney World but had to change that since they shut down.

Is there anything else you would like people to know? Don’t believe the media. Do your own research about this supposed pandemic.

“Everything Fell Apart Pretty Quick” A COVID-19 Oral History

I interviewed a twenty-one year old journalism major at Auburn University about his experience during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic on September 20, 2020. His overall reaction was a mixture of frustration with forces and groups within the United States, but also a newfound appreciation for friends and the small things in life. Over the course of the twenty-four minute interview, the narrator explained his experience over the last six months, as well as his general thoughts and observations about the factors that have lead to COVID-19 having such a disastrous effect on the United States.

I tried to first ask him about himself and his daily routines, but he works at the newspaper so the topic quickly swerved into the media and it’s handling of the pandemic coverage.On the whole he rejected the idea that the pandemic had united people at all, instead it has only further divided the country into two irreconcilable camps. He blames many of the problems in the pandemic on right wing media outlets who “haven’t dropped the ball, they were never trying to pick it up,” and inciting widespread conspiracy theories as well as noncompliance from a vocal section of the the population. Which also lead to a larger societal critique of how the United States has become a country of “ultra-individualism” where people do not care about each other. In general, it seemed like the narrator was more interested in talking about society at-large then his own issues. Additionally, he saw COVID as just a part of a year which shows how fragile the world is and how “humans are at fault for just about everything,” including new developments since the arrival of COVID-19 such as the wildfires and Black Lives Matter protests.

However, when asked directly he talked about how he did not feel restricted by the COVID safety procedures, and sees it as more about protecting other people than themselves. In general the narrator counters what has become a popular narrative of the pandemic, that everything slowed down. Instead, he said the world wouldn’t let him slow down with work, school, and new issues arising out of old problems over the pandemic summer. On the bright side he kept highlighting the importance of being near friends and people he liked as keeping him together during the pandemic, especially how he could talk through the rapidly changing world with other people having a similar experience. He also touched on how rapidly reality changed and people had to adapt to the new normal, echoing a popular sentiment. “Everything fell apart pretty quick” as information became more readily known about the COVID-19 virus and executives around the the state scrambled to keep up.

I felt like on the whole I was able to get a good idea about how the narrator felt about the pandemic, as well as his general worldview. He both affirmed widespread narratives such as a deep concern to help other in the time and the importance of in-person interactions, but also pushes against popular messages of COVID-19 bringing people together as well as slowing down the world. I tried to make sure I affirmed the narrator’s feeling and ask follow-ups to questions. I think I made the narrator comfortable with informal small talk before the interview about things in their lives not related to this oral history. I think the narrator was forthcoming, and was very accommodating to my questions as well as small things such as my writing down questions. Additionally, I think this process has taught me that when you interview someone about something you both experienced it helps to get you reflecting about the event too. In the end there are no great, packageable lessons here about an individual’s striving to succeed and rise above the circumstances. This is not StoryCorps, this is life.

Reflection on COVID Interview

Interview Completed on September 19, 2020

            After completing this interview, I reflected on the answers and their deeper meaning. One of my first thoughts was that COVID and this pandemic as a whole holds different meanings for everyone. For example, I interviewed an academic, somehow who looks at the bigger picture behind events or decisions. Their interpretation often holds a lot of pessimistic views, so questions such as asking about hurdles they faced during this period proved difficult to answer and resulted in some agitation in tone. The answer I received to asking about hurdles was, “Jobs. The capitalist system sucks and this pandemic proves that it needs to be completely overhauled. You have people with advanced degrees who can’t find work and have to volunteer their labor in hopes of making connections that will lead to pay. Free labor is a joke. It completely shakes your confidence and makes you second guess what you want to do in life. Mentally, this has been horrible.” For others, hurdles may have been simpler such as missing the simplicity of our day-to-day lives prior to the pandemic, but neither answer is less valid.

            Another thought I had with completing this interview focused on the role of media. I would argue that everyone believes media has played a role in the pandemic, but the split is on whether this role has been positive or negative, or even a combination of both. I asked my interviewee, “What are your impressions of the media coverage of the pandemic, both currently and before it arrived in the United States?” For this, I tried not to bring my own answer into this question by asking in a certain tone. The answer given was, “It’s not the media handling things poorly, except for some. It’s our leaders who aren’t making good decisions for the nation as a whole. Media is just easy to blame. International coverage before it arrived, I think, did a decent job, but no one really knew what we were in for. Now people essentially think the pandemic is over and ignore updates and information media tries to provide.” This answer, I believe, shows part of the great divide in interpretation currently in the United States. It does provide some balance in blame pushed on the media, but seemed the not answer the question fully. In retrospection, this is the question I asked that I believe most needed a follow up question. The answer was not specific enough to gage the meaning.

            Overall, I believe the interview successfully answered my questions and showed how the pandemic has personally impacted people. It also showed how within one interview, tone can change fluidly with the types of questions asked. To me, this also demonstrates how transcripts of interviews can lose aspects of the interview in comparison to listening.

Informational Interview

I interview Dr. Timothy Dodge, history and political science librarian at Auburn University.

What does public history mean to you?

“Public History is the study of history outside of academics, things such as Museums displays, historic sites.” Dr. Dodge also mentions movies, “not a big blockbuster, but more like documentaries and other informative films.” Also, he mentioned an automobile museum which he has been to a few of them.

Did you always see yourself in your career field?

“Yes, I attended school at Columbia University to become a librarian at twenty-two years old since after I got my bachelor’s degree in history from the University of New Hampshire.” Dr. Dodge also mentions he later went and got his doctorate in history. The decision was easy for him, as he states he enjoyed being in the library since he was a child.

Can you explain the process of becoming a public historian?

“Just getting out there and meet other historians. Do internships at museums, parks things like that, gain credentials, and get involved in public relations.

What is your favorite part of your profession?

“Other than helping students find sources for research topics, Publishing articles and books, peer reviews, researching, identifying and locating sources.” Also, Dr. Dodge mentioned he likes getting emails from random people, telling him how much they enjoyed his books or articles, and the feedback he gets from them.

What advice would you give history majors that is interested in being a public historian?

“Be flexible, use the technological change to your advantage, learn and take advantage of sources online. Be imaginative and establish a personal connection with historian.” Dr. Dodge talked about the connection he had established with Donald Vincent the head library director at the University of New Hampshire. Donald Vincent went on to mentor Dr. Dodge not only as a student but also after he became a librarian.

Ask a Public Historian: Joshua Montgomery

Joshua Montgomery is a history teacher at Bayside Academy and is also the head of the High School.

What made you want to teach History? 

    I always enjoyed history but never thought of it becoming an integral part of my professional career.  Like many educators, I was heavily influenced by an experience I had when I was a student.  For me, I had a college history professor who made a lasting impact on me throughout my time in college.  His impact on my consumption of historical content and the manner in which he delivered his lessons made me consider going into the profession myself.   

Have you ever hit a speed bump in your career that you feel has made you grow?    

     As a teacher I never really had speed bumps other than the typical moments of adversity you face as an educator.  That being said, I was charged with being the department chair for a number of years and part of my job was to help create academic standards for our department grades 3-12.  Leading a collaborative process can be daunting because you have to be willing to have courageous conversations with people who might not agree with your perspective.  The discussions and debates the history staff had during the two years where we discussed those standards and their implementation was a massive moment of growth.  I learned about how I think history should be taught and I learned how to lead a group of people toward finding consensus and pushing a vision forward.  

What is your favorite period of history to teach and why? 

     I am a Civil Rights Historian by definition but I love teaching about post-war America, Progressive Era politics, and Manifest Destiny.  

What advice do you have for a senior in college who is trying to figure out his or her career path after graduating? 

    Follow your heart and not your wallet.  Once you find something you love doing, then figure out how you can make more money doing it.  But never forget that passion and purpose is what ultimately keeps people happy. 

Ask a public historian: Elliot Spillers

Elliot Spillers is a former SGA president at the University of Alabama and a current public historian at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. When I was looking for organizations to reach out to for this post, EJI immediately came to mind since they run a museum and a memorial that tell really intricate and difficult stories. Spillers happily answered many of my questions about how they do that.

Q: Why is it important for public historians to tell stories that are complicated and difficult?

A: The United States has done very little to acknowledge and reckon with its legacy of enslavement, lynching, and racial segregation. As a result, people of color are disproportionally marginalized, disadvantaged, and mistreated. The National Memorial for Peace stands as a testimony to thousands of Black victims of racial terror lynching whose stories were almost entirely neglected for decades. Without remembrance of these victims or the broader historical experience and legacy of racial injustice in America from enslavement forward, we will not be able to address contemporary expressions of racial injustice, including police brutality and other forms of marginalization and disenfranchisement.

Hi, Dr. Gaddis, this part of the blog is mostly for you. I emailed five organizations for this project roughly a week before the deadline, and received one response before the graciously amended deadline. It was from EJI in Montgomery, and it was clearly copy-pasted from the organization’s media talking points. I would have asked for more information from them, but they didn’t respond to me until Tuesday afternoon.

I say all of that to say, this is the only decent answer I could scrape together from their response. I really wish that more organizations had responded to me because I feel like I had a genuinely good set of questions I wanted answered.

Ask a Public Historian: Hill Goodspeed

Hill Goodspeed is the current historian at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL.

How did you get your start with the Museum?

I interned with the museum through my Junior and Senior year of college. When I was working on my Master’s I Co-oped with the museum and after graduation they offered me a job and I’ve been here since.

What work do you do as the Museum’s Historian?

I work pretty much everywhere in the museum and do a little bit of everything. I do most of my work with Research and publications, but I am also in charge of the collections archive and responsible for all loans to and from our collection.

What’s the best and worst part of your work at the Museum?

If your into history, it’s like walking into a candy store everyday. We’re always getting something new that changes the way we think about everything. Being a military museum we’ve been at full staff and pay, but shut-down due to Covid. I wouldn’t say there is a bad part of working with the museum outside of some funding issues.

What Skills do you recommend picking up in college to prepare someone for work in a Museum?

I’d say good research skills are a must along with good communication skills. One skill that’s on the rise and growing in importance is technology. People don’t like just looking at an exhibit and reading about it, they want to have some interaction and through technology it becomes a lot easier to give that to them.

Any parting tips for students interested in public history?

Get experience. It’s pretty simple and a lot of people are gonna tell you that, but it’s really the only way. What they won’t tell you is sometimes you have to get the experience on your own dime.