Addressing the Virus Through Arts and Humanities

At IUPUI, a rapid-response oral history effort was launched to archive our real-time experiences of the pandemic. The voices and experiences preserved by the COVID-19 Oral History Project form a resource to help policymakers and communities alike interpret and respond to current and future pandemics.

Gathering histories in two-person teams starting in March, IUPUI students reached out to clergy members, families, restaurant owners, health care workers, and more. A research team also explored experiences of COVID-19 at the intersection of environmental and social justice. By early fall 2020, the project had collected 180 oral histories and had teamed up with faculty from other universities to expand the collection process.

The oral history project is led by Jason Kelly, professor of history and director of the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute.

Kelly also helped co-organize Quarantine(d) Conversations, weekly discussions by arts and humanities faculty from IUPUI and IU Bloomington taking up the social, cultural, and historical implications and dimensions of the global pandemic. The conversations, streamed over Facebook, drew large numbers of viewers and are archived for viewing on the IU Arts and Humanities Council Facebook page. The series was organized by Kelly; Ed Comentale, professor of English and director of the Arts and Humanities Council at IU Bloomington; and Indiana Humanities.

The arts and humanities provide us with 'equipment for living.' IU faculty use their talents and knowledge to help us grasp and make shape out of what can seem like chaos and confusion.

Ed Comentale, professor of English, director of the Arts and Humanities Council, and associate vice provost for arts and humanities at IU Bloomington

As summer 2020 unfolded, IU's artists and humanists joined many others in responding to a different pandemic, that of systemic racism. A second series, "Confronting Racism: Conversations on Systemic Racism and Protest", featured experts from IU and other institutions tackling discussions of racism and its many related issues.

Understanding systemic racism in its many guises should be a form of basic social and political literacy. IU artists and humanists play a critical role in helping with that societal literacy by presenting hard issues in new and engaging ways.

Michelle Moyd, Ruth N. Halls Associate Professor of History at IU Bloomington and associate director of the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society