Wistariahurst seeks Holyoke’s COVID-19 stories

  • Wistariahurst in Holyoke. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/13/2020 7:15:25 AM

HOLYOKE — Imagine that centuries from now, a historian researching the COVID-19 pandemic is looking for primary sources from everyday people in western Massachusetts to get a grasp of what life was like during the time of social distancing. Where would they look?

Thanks to the Wistariahurst historic house museum, one place to search could be the cultural center’s digital archive of stories, images, video, and audio files about Holyoke that were crowdsourced from community members themselves. The project, which was launched by the museum earlier this month, aims to give current area residents the ability to virtually contribute their own COVID-19 story to the history books. 

“We really want to save the community’s story. The people and the city of Holyoke — that story is what’s important to us,” said Penni Martorell, curator at the museum and the city historian. “So whether you live there, or work there, or travel through there, or saw something there, that’s what we’re trying to collect.”

Submissions can be made over the internet on the museum’s website and will become a part of the digital archival collection held at Wistariahurst. Forms for submissions are available in English and Spanish, and acceptable contributed materials can be a digital image, a digital audio or video file, a text document, a link to a website or web archive, or a plain text submission. Those who contribute will have to sign a release form and provide an email address.

Martorell said the project is a way for the museum to continue its goal of becoming more reflective of Holyoke’s community. A lot of official histories, she said, are recorded through the City Council and other public meetings, “but this is the more personal perspective.” 

“The more points of view you can have in historical research the better,” Martorell said.

So far, Martorell said the museum has received a few entries to the virtual archive. She pointed to a similar archive of coronavirus history at Arizona State University called “A Journal of The Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19” as a partial influence for the museum’s project. Amherst’s Jones Library is also looking to start collecting first-hand experiences of the pandemic and the Smith College Archives recently announced a project to document the experience of students, faculty and staff during the pandemic.  

Anything submitted to the archive will be a public record and will not be available until May 2025, according to a statement from the museum. This is because the museum still needs to process the submitted materials and find a way to make the content cataloged and searchable, Martorell said.

“Part of that five years is giving us some time to process what we’re given so that it is searchable and more readily available for access,” Martorell said.

Owned and operated by the city and supported by The Wistariahurst Foundation, Wistariahurst is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the former home of William Skinner, a prominent silk manufacturer. It was built in 1874. 

Anyone looking to submit materials to the digital archive can do so online at www.Wistariahurst.org/Corona-Archive-Holyoke. The museum can not accept any material that references the health of anyone other than the submitter because of HIPPA laws, the statement said. The museum asks submitters to not use names or other identifying information “when discussing other positive cases or health details.”

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com. 


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