Take Notes: History is Happening

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

When Penn State Behrend faculty members were asked to record video messages that could be shared with students and the wider Behrend community on social media, Dr. Joe Beilein, associate professor of history, took the opportunity to remind us that the COVID-19 crisis will be a monumental moment in world history.

“We are living through a significant time in history right now,” Beilein said. “These days and months will be written about, taught, and reflected on decades from now.”

It’s a valuable reminder that someday the fear, inconvenience, aggravation, and disruption that we are living with will be history and that you may want to take some time during this pandemic to document what’s happening.

“Documenting what you’re thinking, doing, and feeling would be a treasure trove for future historians, as well as social scientists, especially psychologists and sociologists,” said Dr. Amy Carney, associate professor of history.

Penn State Behrend’s history professors strongly encourage others to take the time to record these monumental moments as they happen. Here are a few ways to do that.

  • Handwritten journaling is one of the most basic and accessible forms of recording history.
  • Start a blog. You can start an online blog in minutes on WordPress.com. You can share it with others or make it private and keep it for yourself.
  • Start a vlog. A vlog is a video blog (hence vlog). You can record an entry regularly and upload to YouTube. Again, you can make these private or share them.
  • Record snippets. If you don’t have a lot of time or inclination to write, download the 1 Second Video application for your smartphone and record a one-second video or photo memory every day. When you’re done, you can “mash” your seconds into a video that is just a few minutes long.
  • Download a smartphone diary app. There are several smartphone apps to aid you in daily journal keeping. Explore them to find one that works best for you.
  • Record an oral history. Record your own thoughts using the voice recorder on your phone. You might also consider including family members, too. By the way, this might be a great time to do a phone interview and oral history with elderly relatives who may be eager for interaction.

What should you record? Just document your daily experiences living in this era. Even the most mundane details about how you are living through this time will be interesting to look back on some day.

“Historians are able to find value in just about every piece of documentation or evidence we come across,” Carney said.

“It’s the absence of records that drives us nuts much more so than the quality of what the record describes,” Beilein added. “Who knows what will be important to human beings in fifty years anyway? So, the best way to get a picture of what is going on in a collective sense is through the honest observation and recording of whatever it is that a person thinks is significant.”

Need help getting started? Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, offers great writing prompts that will inspire you to record your thoughts and experiences before this pandemic becomes a distant memory.

Submit your memories

The Penn State University Libraries’ University Archives is documenting this significant and unique period for preservation and future research use. Its official curatorial program, the Penn State COVID-19 Experience Project, invites Penn State students, staff, faculty and alumni to document and share their personal experiences for submission toward a new special collection for the University Archives. Participants are encouraged to submit written journals or diaries, photo essays, video or audio recordings, zines or any other creative means of documentation. Learn more about the project and how you can contribute here.

 

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