Expansive project involves recording oral histories and collecting artifacts to preserve pandemic experiences that profoundly affected daily life, on campus and around the world

HACKETTSTOWN, NJ, Jan. 11, 2024—A group of Centenary University history students has set about chronicling the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of the University community. During the fall semester, a Public History class taught by Associate Professor of History Noah Haiduc-Dale, Ph.D., interviewed students, faculty, and staff to record their experiences through the pandemic, from the transition to online teaching and learning, to the response by the University’s Health Office, loss of jobs, illness, and other factors that altered everyday life. In addition, the students collected artifacts related to the pandemic, including masks, campus signage, and communications sent to the Centenary community.

The ongoing project examines the innovative ways that Centenary professors and student organizations quickly transitioned to online platforms for learning and extracurricular activities. The history students are also recording how the University and related groups, such as Centenary Stage Company, found ways to safely reopen in person as the pandemic began to abate.

As a guide, the student team consulted the University’s archive about effects of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic on Centenary. However, they were shocked to find no mention in the artifacts preserved from that era. Dr. Haiduc-Dale said, “We checked news clippings and yearbooks from the era and found no mention. The students did find a reference in a newspaper to all the schools in Hackettstown being closed because of the pandemic, but there was no reference to Centenary.”   

The lack of local information on the 1918 pandemic points to the critical need for public history, which tells the stories of everyday people within the context of important historical events, according to Dr. Haiduc-Dale. “Our job as public historians is to preserve those stories, in a place where everyone can have access to them,” he explained.

The project has proven to be so expansive that it couldn’t be completed in one semester. Dr. Haiduc-Dale said members of the University’s history club will continue collecting artifacts for inclusion in the Centenary University Archives during the spring semester. Students are currently researching ways to digitally preserve and catalogue the COVID-era artifacts so they will be easily accessible to future generations.

“Through this project, students have learned about the importance of saving items of historical significance,” Dr. Haiduc-Dale said. “Our failed hunt for artifacts from the early 20th century flu pandemic has given students a greater appreciation for the role of archives and their own responsibility to preserve the history that surrounds us.” 

 

ABOUT CENTENARY UNIVERSITY                                             

Centenary University offers extraordinary learning opportunities that empower students to develop intellectually, emotionally, and interculturally—keys to career and personal success. Under the leadership of President Dale Caldwell, Ed.D., the University aspires to advance its reputation as a world class institution offering innovative programs, including the world’s first Master of Arts in Happiness Studies, to lift the future for our students and local communities.

 

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