Blue Ridge Public Radio is partnering with Foxfire Mountain Heritage Museum to launch a campaign to collect oral histories about the COVID-19 pandemic in Appalachia. The goal of the project is to record our region’s experiences with COVID-19 and to bring together the Western North Carolina community during this time of isolation.
“It’s important to document our history with a diversity of voices so that we capture a more complete narrative. Moments in history, like war or this pandemic, shape who we are not only as individuals, but as communities and cultures,” said Kami Ahrens, curator at Foxfire. “Being able to share our experiences with others will help us build resilience and help future generations understand the past from a more personal perspective.”
For over 50 years, Foxfire has been collecting oral histories, including experiences during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. This project aligns with the organization’s mission to preserve, protect, and promote Southern Appalachian history.
Ahrens launched Foxfire’s COVID-19 initiative in March of 2020 and has incorporated many of the submissions into podcast episodes and blog posts. In the summer of 2020, local high school students participated in the Foxfire Summer Leadership program and contributed an additional 45 interviews to the collection. These have since been published in the Fall/Winter 2020 edition of the Foxfire magazine.
More than 85 people have shared their experiences with Foxfire since March 2020. The partnership with Blue Ridge Public Radio will help expand the reach of the project.
“When BPR realized that Foxfire was collecting oral history to archive the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew that we could help bring in more voices and amplify the importance of keeping these experiences for future research and understanding,” said Lilly Knoepp, BPR regional reporter and lead producer of the project.
Knoepp has been part of the BPR news team’s coverage of the pandemic, examining health and economic impacts as well as the experiences of people throughout Western North Carolina. The team is working to add previous pandemic-related interviews to the Foxfire archive.
"BPR reporters have gathered dozens of hours of interviews -- people dealing with stay-at-home orders, remote work and school, isolation and loss, but also sharing stories of resolve and resilience," said Knoepp. "We're reaching out to these interviewees with the hopes of adding their experiences to this important historical archive," said Knoepp.
BPR & Foxfire are launching this partnership with a three part radio and web series highlighting some of the oral histories gathered in 2020. Those features can be heard the first three Fridays in March, at 7:44 am and 4:44 pm.
Additionally, the project is continuing to work with people in Western North Carolina and North Georgia interested in recording their experiences during the pandemic. For information on participating and tips for recording oral histories with yourself or your family members, please see this guide.
For more information about the project go to: https://www.foxfire.org/covid19/