Monday, June 8, 2020

The Fierce Urgency of Now

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

By now, you may have noticed that we are living in unprecedented times. A global pandemic has killed more Americans in three months than died in the Vietnam and Korean Wars combined. That same pandemic has paralyzed our economy and caused record levels of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression. Citizens in every state in the nation, including right here in our community, are in the streets protesting the murder of Blacks by police and the president has threatened to use the military to put down those protests by force. We stand at the precipice of something. We are living history.

The mission of the Chemung County Historical Society is to collect, preserve, and share the history of our county, but history isn’t just the stuff in grandma’s attic. History is happening right now. In order to capture history in the making, we have launched the COVID Memory Project. We’re collecting oral histories, photographs, videos, diaries, and objects associated with the pandemic and protests. 

Here’s how you can get involved:

Oral Histories

So far, I have collected several oral histories including one from a high school senior and one from my religious leader. We’re hoping to get stories from health care workers, teachers, school administrators, grocery store and other essential retail workers, restaurant owners, someone working from home, someone laid off, someone who was sick, someone who lost someone, someone with small children, someone elderly, and anyone with a story to tell. If you fit into any of those categories and would like to participate, please contact me at or by phone at (607) 734-4167 ex. 207. Don’t worry about maintaining social distance. We’re set up to do interviews over Zoom or the phone. 

Patrick Hemenway, our first interviewee!

But wait, there’s more! If you’ve got a cell phone, microphone, or camcorder, you too can can be an oral historian. Interview your friends, neighbors, and relatives about their experiences. Contact me or check out StoryCorps ( for suggestions and recording apps. If you’re shy about doing interviews, we’re also looking for folks to listen to and help transcribe the ones that have already been collected. 

Photographs & Videos
In the first month of the pandemic, there were inspirational chalk drawings everywhere in my neighborhood. A man a few blocks over would practice his bagpipes in his driveway while people sat on their porches to listen. There are signs everywhere reminding people to wear masks, be hopeful, and stay strong. I’ve been going around with my camera to document it all the best I can, but I haven’t been able to catch everything. Bagpipe man, for example, keeps eluding me. 

Legion Park, Elmira Heights

We’re looking for a proactive team of historians willing to go out and take photos or videos around the community while keeping track of where and when those photos were taken. Please contact me for details and instructions if you’re interested. If you already have photographs or video footage of the things going on in your neighborhood, things you’ve been doing to stay sane, or the protests, we would love copies. 


I’ve been keeping diaries for years, so you know I’ve been writing about what it’s like living under COVID. Come the end of the year, I will be donating a copy of my 2o20 diary to the museum and I plan on willing my entire diary collection to the museum after I die. If you too have been keeping a diary of this year’s goings on, please donate a copy. You don’t even have to make the copy yourself. Just plan on bringing your diary in during the first few weeks of 2021 and we’ll do it for free.


Do you have lawn signs, protest signs, or masks? We want them. Does your business have a special COVID menu, a reopening policy, or new employee guidelines? We’d like that too. 

Lawn sign, W. Church Street, Elmira

We’re smack in the middle of a pivotal moment in history. The staff at CCHS are doing all we can to document it, but we need your help to capture it all. I look forward to working with you. 

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