I’m taking a moment to pause from posting old items and stories
from the College archives to talk about living through history, how archivists
try to collect and document those experiences, and what you might do yourself
during these very unusual days.
I’ve said before that history happens on ordinary days, and
most of the time, it happens unexpectedly.
Major events can change the world between breakfast and dinner, and historians
spend years trying to understand and explain them. And in some cases, history unfolds over days
and weeks and can have just as profound an effect on us. I think that’s what we’re going through
now. Part of the challenge with living
through history is that we don’t know the end of the story because it’s not happened
yet. I’ve pointed this out to students in
my Western Civ classes when I talk about the outbreak of World War II in 1939. We have the advantage of hindsight, I like to
point out. The British didn’t know in
the dark days of 1940 how the war was going to turn out, while we know how the
story ends. That affects how we see
those events, whereas they had to live with the uncertainty. So today, we are living with
Often, people probably think about archivists (and
historians) as people who deal with the past.
That’s true – part of what I do is to maintain the records of Wofford’s
past so that people today can appreciate where we’ve been, and I help people –
students, administrators, faculty, alumni – learn more about the past. However, archivists have to look forward as
well, for if we don’t collect the records of today, then archivists, historians,
and other researchers in the future won’t have any way to understand what we are
going through right now. I’ve gotten
questions about how Wofford experienced the 1918 influenza epidemic, and I’m
trying to research that, but it would be easier if people then had kept better
records. (More about that to come.)
So, I have to be aware that we are making history right now,
and make sure that it gets documented.
That might mean keeping track of emails and other messages that go to
campus. It might mean collecting news
articles and other types of documents.
It might involve asking others to be sure they are keeping good records
of what’s going on. It might even mean
taking a more intentional act, like keeping a journal.
In addition to the routine things that I do, like keeping
announcements and email messages, I decided a few weeks ago, actually at my mom’s
suggestion, to start keeping a journal.
I try to take a few minutes each evening to write (or in my case, dictate
to my iPad) a few memories of the day. I
don’t know what I’ll do with it in the end, but it might become part of my own
file in the archives so that down the line, some future researcher will be able
to see a little of what went on in Spartanburg and at Wofford during the spring
of 2020. That’s how historians a century
from now will piece together what this experience was like – by reading the
words of several people who kept records.
So, what can you do?
You can keep a journal as well.
Write about what happened today, what your own experience was, how unusual
everything seemed. Even mundane thoughts,
added to those of others, might be able to paint a picture of life for someone
in the future.
Beyond writing, take time to think and recognize what an
unusual time this is. I certainly have
never worked from home for three weeks before, and I’ve never tried to figure
out how to teach a class without seeing my students face to face. You are certainly doing things differently
now, so reflect on that. I know that
clergy are trying to figure out how to do ministry without seeing their
congregations. What’s that like for
Another thing to consider is, how will this change us as
individuals, communities, and a nation?
What’s going to be different in the future because of this
experience? Take some time to think, reflect,
and maybe write some history of your own.