After the Hatfield Historical Society recognized that they only had a handful of records during the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic, they decided to produce a better record of life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their website collects stories and artifacts from Hatfield residents to give future generations an idea of what it was like to live during a global pandemic.
Zydalis Bauer spoke with Meguey Baker, Collections Assistant for the Hatfield Historical Museum, to learn more about this collection and to also hear how a group of elementary school students contributed their stories to the project.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting POint: After the Hatfield Historical Society recognized that they only had a handful of records during the 1918 to 1919 Spanish Flu pandemic, they decided to launch a website to collect stories and artifacts from residents living in Hatfield during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I spoke with Meguey Baker, the Collections Assistant for the Hatfield Historical Museum, to learn more about this collection and to also hear how a group of elementary school students contributed their stories as well.
Meguey Baker, Hatfield Historical Society: Kathie Gow is the Curator of the Historical Society. And when everything shut down in March of 2020, we had to stay home. And so, it was through bits of email and texting and so on.
But really, Kathie’s initiative as the curator of the museum, to realize that we’re living in really historic times and to put up this website to collect the stories of how people in and around Hatfield are dealing with it.
So, there’s things up there that are artwork that people did or haiku that people have written or just reflections from various people living in Hatfield about how they’re getting through.
Zydalis Bauer: One area that has been greatly affected by the pandemic has been education. And a group of 36 students from the Hatfield Elementary School participated in a year-long project titled “My History” that added their experience to this COVID-19 project.
How did this project come about?
Meguey Baker: This started with Kathie talking to the teachers at the elementary school, which is conveniently pretty much across a big lawn from the museum. And so, Kathie talked to two of the teachers there, Jenny Jarett and Megan Millette, who were the sixth grade teachers, to be really forthright. This is amazing times.
The This is History project that they do in sixth grade, usually involves interviewing someone about their childhood or researching a time in history that the student is interested in.
But the teachers and Kathie acknowledged that right now is a time of history that’s really important. And the opportunity to have a bunch of sixth grade students collect the images and data and stories of their voices and their experience is just amazing.
Zydalis Bauer: This pandemic has been something that is once in a lifetime for many of us. And you met with the students when they visited the Historical Society.
What guidance or support did they receive for this history project?
Meguey Baker: One of the things that really struck me is the work of the teachers and also, of course, the parents when the students were learning at home, to use every avenue possible to help these students collect their stories and to give them support to contextualize their experiences in a way that allowed them to think more analytically about what they were going through and to really reflect on what mattered and what they wanted to convey forward, to put in a historical context and what they might want someone to look back on 100 years from now.
Zydalis Bauer: What were the students’ reactions when approached with this project?
Were they able to really fully grasp this historical moment and reflect on this moment that they are living in?
Meguey Baker: They really were aware of it. And I think that part of that speaks to the teachers, but it also very strongly speaks to the students’ ability to step up and recognize like, “oh, this is big,” because the sort of breadth of the projects, you know, ranging from how do I put more kindness in the world when I am unable to be around everyone and how do I document what my family is going through?
There were students who were really, really aware of political movements going on through 2020 through 2021, looking at the wider world and realizing that this is a global pandemic and really connecting their own experience in Hatfield to the state and the country and the world.
Zydalis Bauer: You were just touching on the breadth of the work of these students and the range. Some are digital images, videos, posters, the acts of kindness.
Which submission has really stood out to you the most?
Meguey Baker: Goodness, that’s a little bit like saying “choose your favorite kid!”
But over and over, the two themes that really touched me were the theme of kindness and care, and the sense that they had that they were part of something, that they had a desire for this to send a message forward. The awareness that these sixth grade students had of “how might this help someone 100 years from now?” And they want people to know how hard this was for them, like the honesty in that.
And that really, really comes through in their work. Those two things: that they’re concerned and they want people to be safe because this was hard.
Zydalis Bauer: One of the photos that really stuck out to me when I was looking at the website was the sign of the Smith Academy with the return to school date continuously pushed back. And it felt like we had so much hope that school was going to be back in session.
Which photo do you think will be iconic years from now, that really encapsulates the moment that we’re living through?
Meguey Baker: Wow. That’s a really great question. The image of a masked face and the little signs we see everywhere that says six feet distance, keep the six feet distance, and the phrase social distancing is so -so potent. I definitely think that’s going to be historically relevant. Pictures of a Zoom screen is going to be really relevant.
But I think in terms of like an image that conveys the emotional impact for me, is “Spaces of Emptiness,” where there’s nobody playing on the playground, you know. Any of the images that convey that longing for connection and recognizing the loss of it.
Zydalis Bauer: Why is it so important to document the past and also engage young people in doing so as well?
Meguey Baker: It matters because we only see a keyhole into history. It’s impossible to encapsulate everything that has happened, even with a very well-documented public event. And they ways the COVID pandemic has been an extremely well-documented public event.
But the private-lived experience is so — so — puts a whole other nuance in it. It’s so much more informative in a way of what was it like for these people to live through this time? And especially in context with what you said at the beginning, of recognizing the absence of those pieces in the 1918-1919 Flu Pandemic, the chance now to capture those and keep them so that we would have those records going forward? Every museum around was aware of that.
Zydalis Bauer: Do you get the sense that the students are proud of this work that they’ve been doing?
Meguey Baker: I do. Yeah, I do. This project gave them a way to process what they were going through while they were going through it. That they had a framework like, “oh, this is a thing that’s happening. I have a school assignment that addresses this.”
So, I feel like these specific children will have a — I hope — will have a little bit more ease coming out the other side, and a little more resilience because they already have done a little bit of processing, you know, “This is what happened. This is what my town went through. This is what I went through. This is how I documented it.”
And to me, one of the most telling pieces of that is where a child wrote, you know, “I made nine pieces for this, but I kept five,” you know, because it matters to them that they keep it for their own history as well.