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Blog Post

Living History: A Community-Authored Archive

By Kathi Venios
September 7, 2021
Living History: A Community-Authored Archive

In fall of 2020, the Milton Public Library in Milton, PA and the Humanities Center at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA began an archival project to acknowledge that we are part of a historical place in time. We are truly “LIVING HISTORY” through the COVID-19 pandemic.

This community-wide initiative was created by Kathi Venios, Administrative Assistant and a Milton resident, with enthusiastic support from Dr. Maria Antonaccio, Director of the Humanities Center; Dr. Claire Campbell, Faculty Ambassador for the Mellon Confounding Problems in the Public Humanities and Arts grant; and Dr. Kim Councill, Dean of the College of Arts & Humanities. As Bucknell develops a broader commitment to civic engagement, “LIVING HISTORY” represents the first public humanities project for the Bucknell Humanities Center. It also aligns with the Milton Public Library’s mission for community programming and outreach and spotlights the value of its resources as the community repository for local history. This is the first partnership between Bucknell and the public library in neighboring Milton, PA. The goal is to generate, and then collect, a wide-range of expressive and creative records from children, adolescents, and their families about the experiences of living through the COVID-19 pandemic. The project began in Spring 2021 and will run for several more months as the library collects, scans, and publishes the submissions. "LIVING HISTORY" includes several other events designed to raise public awareness about local and community history, the nature of an archive, and the writing of history.

Given the constraints of the pandemic, the first step in creating this local archive was to develop a safe way to provide the necessary tools to support the writing and drawing process. We created 600 take-home kits to introduce young children, teens, and adults to the idea of community memory, local history, archives, records, and storytelling in a creative and inclusive way.

Kris LaVanish, Director of the Milton Public Library, and her team created a list of questions for each take-home kit to help foster a family’s conversation around the topic of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on them. These questions were framed to best meet children’s interests according to age (1-5, 6-10, 11-18) and a variety of family/pandemic circumstances.

The Bucknell Humanities Center funded and filled the kits with the necessary supplies to support each young writer, poet, or artist in the story creation process. These supplies included the designing and printing of advertising materials, question postcards and kit labels; multicultural crayons & pencils; writing journals; pencil sharpeners; drawing paper; coloring pages; blue and black writing pens; lead pencils; and an instruction brochure. To date, approximately 500 take-home kits have been distributed to the homes of our local communities in the central Susquehanna Valley.

The “LIVING HISTORY” project kick-off occurred on May 22, 2021. The key question we wanted the 100+ in attendance to think about was, “What story do you want the future to know about your pandemic experience during this time?” We reminded the families that there is no “right or wrong story” because it is their story and we look forward to reading everything they have to tell us.

During the kick-off event, we presented highlights of historical facts about the Milton region from several current archives at the Milton Public Library. We shared facts about the 1880 fire when Milton burned to the ground and the efforts to rebuild; the unmarked graves of black citizens in the Milton Cemetery who now have grave markers; and James Pollack, Pennsylvania’s former governor and an attorney from Milton, who served as Director of the U.S. Mint under President Lincoln and was best known for creating the motto inscribed on our money: “In God We Trust.” These examples grounded the importance of having a community repository where generational historical records reside and why it is so important to capture the current historical place in time with our own personal stories.

While the “LIVING HISTORY” project will be a “future” archive, the Milton Public Library hosted an event to illustrate the value of existing archives: a presentation on July 10, 2021 by Bucknell University’s Jennifer Kosmin, Assistant Professor of History. Kosmin used archival records such as newspaper accounts, oral histories, images, and public health records to show how the 1918 flu pandemic compares to the current COVID-19 pandemic. This event showcased the value and importance of archival information as well as the new partnership between the university and the public library.

Campbell Stewart, Age 7, shares his journal story and drawing for the "LIVING HISTORY" project in Milton, PA. He wrote about his lived experience in "pod" school, class activities, and drew a very joyful portrait of his classmates and himself. Image courtesy of Kathi Venios.

On July 17, 2021, the Milton Public Library hosted the first of many events to celebrate the collecting of the “LIVING HISTORY” stories and drawings. During this event, the community buried two time capsules. These will be unearthed next year revealing the many letters people wrote to themselves about this historical time and other small artifacts contained therein. The first collection yielded approximately 100 contributions for the “LIVING HISTORY” project. Additional collection events will be held in the fall at the Milton Public Library. Collections are being accepted through December 31, 2021.

In 2022, we will begin scanning each contribution and organizing the collection by age. The final product, funded by the Bucknell Humanities Center, will be a printed collection titled, LIVING HISTORY: Community Observations and Perspectives during Covid - Vol. I. The archive will be made available at the Milton Public Library and the Bucknell Humanities Center Library for generations to come.

Kathi Venios is the Bucknell Humanities Center (BHC) Administrative Assistant. She oversees the daily operation of the Center and is the building manager for Hildreth-Mirza Hall. Kathi provides administrative support to the BHC by coordinating the preparation and logistics for symposia, conferences, and student/faculty receptions as well as arranging travel and accommodations for students and guest speakers. She also monitors the BHC budget as well as two Andrew W. Mellon grant budgets, ensuring their accuracy and compliance with relevant rules and policies. Kathi prides herself on being service-minded and highly flexible in the performance of her duties, and she values honesty and integrity in everything she does. Kathi joined the university in October 2017.

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