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Oral historians contracted for the FY24 COVID-19 American History Project. (l to r, top row) Elise Chatelain of Dismantle Culture and Media Alliance LLC, Anita Grant of Gran Enterprises LLC and Nicole Musgrave. (l to r, bottom row) Sara Bernstein and Zach Golden of Dismantle Culture and Media Alliance LLC.

Meet the Inaugural Cohort of Oral Historians for the COVID-19 American History Project

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The American Folklife Center (AFC) is proud to announce that Gran Enterprises LLC, Dismantle Culture and Media Alliance LLC, and Nicole Musgrave have been selected as the inaugural cohort of oral historians for the COVID-19 American History Project. The researchers will conduct oral history interviews with frontline workers to understand the latter’s experiences during the pandemic. These interviews will contribute to the mission of the COVID-19 American History Project, which is to “collect, preserve, and make available to the public an archive of submitted oral stories of those who were impacted by the COVID–19 pandemic” (Committee Report HR 117-389). As a result of the oral historians’ work, approximately 90, new interviews about American workers’ pandemic experiences will be accessioned into the collections of the American Folklife Center.

The researchers’ projects will focus on a diversity of American workers in various locations. For example, Nicole Musgrave will examine the COVID-19 experiences of professional childcare workers in five, rural Appalachian states—Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Her research will detail how childcare professionals navigated their complex, and relatively underpaid, work during the pandemic. Gran Enterprises LLC will conduct oral history interviews with funeral professionals—such as embalmers and cremationists—from across the United States to understand how COVID-19 changed the nature of their work. Notably, Dr. Marla Frederick, a renowned cultural anthropologist and new Dean of the Harvard Divinity School, will be conducting approximately 1/3 of the interviews for Gran Enterprises’ project. Dismantle Culture and Media Alliance will interview hospitality workers in New Orleans, to understand these workers’ experiences prior to and during the pandemic. Dismantle’s work will build on their years of experience as writers and scholars in “The Big Easy.”

These oral history projects are just one part of the COVID-19 American History Project. In May 2023, the American Folklife Center launched an online resource guide, highlighting COVID-19 collections at the Library of Congress and key collections outside the Library. To date, the guide has been viewed more than 1000 times. The American Folklife Center is also encouraging members of the American public to share their COVID-19 experiences with StoryCorps—a non-profit organization working to “help us believe in each other by illuminating the humanity and possibility in us all — one story at a time.” All stories collected by StoryCorps are archived at the American Folklife Center. Tools and instructions for using StoryCorps are available on the AFC’s COVID-19 resource guide.

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