Nevadans asked to share stories with the future

Public asked to submit pandemic materials for history’s sake

PHOTO/NEVADA HISTORICAL SOCIETY: Portion of a letter describing the "masked world" of the 1918-1919 flu pandemic.

We are living in a masked world. I suppose that Reno is also swathed in gauze. Everyone looks like a fierce hold-up.

Those are the words of Sarah Oddie, the sister of former Nevada Gov. Tasker Oddie, who wrote to her sibling in Reno on Nov. 8, 1918, during the height of the Spanish Flu pandemic. Her letter from San Francisco is preserved at the Nevada Historical Society. It’s a reminder that we are always living through history; it just happens to be looming large in front of our (masked) faces at the moment.

Nevadans have the opportunity to share their pandemic-related experiences with generations yet unborn. The Nevada Historical Society and Shared History Program at the University of Nevada, Reno, both are asking Nevadans to submit materials related to the COVID-19 crisis for two separate efforts to preserve the history of our times.

Daily existence can seem repetitive and mundane, but when a world-changing event occurs – a world war, a horrific terrorist attack or a once-in-a-century pandemic – we can almost feel the gears of time spinning beneath our feet. Future historians will have no problem researching 2020’s political climate and cataloging the antics of the rich and famous, but they will also want to know how the current crisis affected regular folks.

Through the lens of our everyday lives, later generations will be able to better understand the hardships and triumphs of an age long vanished, historians said.

Historical Society seeks letters related to the pandemic

The Nevada Historical Society is asking Nevadans to contribute digital versions of letters so that future generations will know our stories. Scans of digital photos of hand-written or typed letters, as well as copies of emails in which the COVID crisis is the topic, may be submitted. The form on the society’s link, above, allows users to upload digital images and materials describing how the pandemic has affected their lives.

Participants also may write a letter to readers who have yet to be born, describing how the pandemic has touched their lives and the way we now live in its shadow. Digital text can be uploaded and printouts can be scanned for submission. Hand-written epistles add a personal touch (as long as they are legible). Those also can be scanned and uploaded within the online form. Copies of handwritten letters also may be mailed to COVID letters C/O the Nevada Historical Society, 1650 N. Virginia St, Reno, NV 89503.

“We have gotten some responses, but we would love more,” said Sheryln L. Hayes-Zorn, curator of manuscripts at the society.

PHOTO/UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, RENO: Students meet inside the Shared History room exhibit at UNR (pre-pandemic photo).

Shared History looking for digital artifacts of daily life

The University of Nevada, Reno’s Shared History Program also is seeking submissions to include in an exhibit displaying daily life during pandemic. The idea is to preserve materials that capture both the daily and exceptional moments of life in the Silver State and the Tahoe Sierra during the time of COVID-19.

“Ordinary moments and stories are a vital part of the historical record,” said Sara Garey-Sage, the project’s leader. “We want to capture these peak moments of historical change and also understand what daily life looked like for a variety of Nevadans.”

The UNR program seeks images, videos, journal entries and other digital materials that reflect life in America during the pandemic. That may include, but isn’t limited to: pictures of homemade masks, photos of a do-it-yourself haircut, a socially distanced picnic, scenes of school or work at home, reflections of recent social and political protests, a screen shot of a Zoom video meeting, recipes, social media posts and more.

For more information or to submit materials, those interested may email sharedhistory@unr.edu.

“This era is going to be deeply transformative for this generation and we don’t yet know how. While we can’t predict these changes, we can document the current moments of history through which we are living. We’re hoping this project helps with that.”

— Christopher von Nagy, director of the Shared History Program.

The Shared History program is committed to including diverse voices, experiences and perspectives. Garey-Sage noted the program “prioritizes community collaboration and the shared construction of knowledge.” Shared History works with university students, faculty and community members to “present inclusive and innovative stories of history,” she said.  The historical collections are often displayed as exhibits in the Shared History gallery on the university campus.

Shared History plans to release a digital version of the exhibit later this year and anticipates an in-person exhibit for Fall 2021, COVID willing.

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