Two people hug with a sheet of plastic wrap between them.
This art piece was made by Sofia Black '22 as a final project for a sculpture class. The piece was submitted as part of the college's COVID stories archive.

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As COVID-19 reshapes life around the globe, the Whitman College and Northwest Archives at Penrose Library wants to document how those changes have affected our greater community.

“Typically, people think of archives as just being about the past, but we’re also about the present,” said Ben Murphy, archivist and head of digital services for the Penrose Library and Northwest Archives. “History is always happening in the moment.”

Murphy is leading the Coronavirus Stories project, which is collecting written reflections, images, audio and video files, and other materials as a record of the impact the pandemic had on Whitman College and the Walla Walla community.

The project got its start in Murphy’s course: Library 160: Documentation and Representation in the Archives. As the course moved online in March, Murphy decided to have his students contribute submissions around COVID-19, as well as solicit items from the campus community. Submissions included photos of a first-year student’s luggage who was headed for home, personal blog posts from faculty members, voice recordings of students telling their stories, email records, and even a coronavirus-themed cross-stitch.

Welcoming Local and Diverse Stories

This summer, the library is extending the scope of the project to include the greater Walla Walla community, thanks to the Community Engaged Summer Research Program (CESRP). The program is funded by the college’s Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to promote community engagement. Through CESRP, 15 students are working on eight projects with community and college partners.

Rising senior Lizbeth Llanes Macias, a sociology major from Walla Walla, is assisting Murphy to solicit community stories around the pandemic. Llanes Macias was enrolled in Murphy’s Library 160 course, and was particularly interested in increasing the representation of diverse voices in the archives.

“In thinking about everything I had learned in class, and the gaps that exist in both history and the archives, I thought about how much our lives have changed and that this was such a unique time to document our experiences,” Llanes Macias said. “There was a need to be intentional about actually representing our community’s experiences, rather than having the single dominant narrative as it has been in the past.”

Llanes Macias is using the internship to reach out to the area’s immigrant community, many of whom are essential workers and are disproportionately exposed to the virus. They want to make sure that Latinx and Hispanic voices are included in the COVID-19 archive. To make that happen, the project is partnering with the Socially Engaged Art Committee of the Walla Walla Immigrant Rights Coalition and the Walla Walla Mutual Aid Network.

“Often times, those voices are not well represented in the archives of our region’s history,” Murphy said. 

They hope to collect items like journal or diary entries, correspondence, art and audio or video stories about how COVID is changing people’s lives. Llanes Macias is hoping to use the project as a springboard to more in-depth work archiving the Latinx community in Walla Walla.

The material is being collected under a Creative Commons 4.0 license, which allows others to repurpose/reuse the material for their own work.

“We’re trying to make it easy for people to reuse, adapt and remix things, as opposed to us or the person retraining ownership,” Murphy said. It allows the materials to be used for creative adaptation and research more easily.

Tell Your Stories

People in the Walla Walla community are encouraged to submit to the Walla Walla Coronavirus Stories. Whitman community members area also still welcome to submit to the college’s Coronavirus Stories collection.