The WVU Humanities Center has awarded seven “Life in the Time of COVID-19” grants to research projects that address the pandemic from a humanistic perspective.
Funded by the WVU Humanities Center through a WVU endowment from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, all of the projects offer a voice to those living in smaller towns and rural areas, as well as address what might otherwise be substantial gaps in our understanding of Life in the Time of COVID-19 in the Appalachian region.
“Numbers and statistics are essential as society navigates this pandemic, but they can also distance us from the individual human toll. They alone do not tell the whole story of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said interim director, Rhonda Reymond. “The humanities are particularly suited to bring nuanced understandings to complex situations like pandemics. They examine multilayered facets of human experiences, beliefs and values at play within social and cultural systems of the past and present. They can even help us envision possible futures.”
- Eve Faulkes, professor of graphic design, School of Art and Design
- Nicholas Gardner, staff librarian, Potomac State College
- Lori Hostuttler, assistant director, WVU Libraries
- Jamie Shinn, assistant professor of Geography, Department of Geology and Geography
- Lynne Stahl, Humanities librarian, WVU Libraries
- Rachel Stein, associate professor and director of Graduate Studies in Sociology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology
- Jennifer Thornton, teaching assistant professor, Department of History
“All of the recipients’ projects ask questions such as, ‘whose stories are told or not, who gets to tell them, how are they told, who collects them, how are they preserved, how can they be accessed and who has access to them,” Reymond added. “This is vital humanities work that helps us make sense of life during the pandemic in an area of the country that is often mythologized, imagined, or spoken for or about by others.”
Shinn’s project will use photovoice to document the social impacts of life in the time of COVID-19 in collaboration with residents of Rainelle. Participants will take photographs of hope and hardship resulting from the pandemic and narrate their perspectives in writing or audio recordings.
Using newspaper narratives written by members of Amish communities, Stein and her team will analyze community members’ lived experiences of social isolation and how the pandemic has affected cultural and social practices.
Faulkes will connect seniors in her Graphic Design for Social Impact course with members of Scott’s Run Museum and Trail to identify ways Scott’s Run has been impacted by COVID-19 and co-design products to address community needs.
Stahl will teach a course using information literacy principles and other theoretical approaches that ask students to investigate how pandemic-related information is produced, circulated and discussed. The students will also explore how this cycle reflects, exposes and perpetuates existing social inequalities related to race, gender, class, ability and more.
To bring experiences of the past to the present for comparison and interpretation, Gardner will create a digitized historic newspaper collection from four counties in the Potomac Highlands. These newly accessible resources will provide K-16 educators, historians and public researchers information about the 1918-1920 “Spanish” flu pandemic, which was well-documented in this area of the state.
The West Virginia and Regional History Center in the WVU Libraries is collecting WVU Community COVID-19 Stories to capture and preserve the impact of the pandemic on WVU faculty, staff and students on all campuses. Hostuttler’s grant will aid in expediting the process of collecting, digitizing and preserving materials for the WVRHC to facilitate local community and researcher access.
The pandemic has also had a profound impact on museums and historic sites in West Virginia. Thornton and her team will conduct a state-wide study that will help identify the needs and challenges encountered during times of crisis by the predominantly small, rural, public-facing humanities and cultural institutions typical in the Appalachian region.
The WVU Humanities Center is also working with the West Virginia and Regional History Center to document humanities research focused on Life in the Time of COVID-19. Each project lead has outlined the academic and/or public outcomes of the work and several of the grantees will make their work public and available for posterity by archiving it as part of the Center’s partnership with the Libraries’ WVU Community COVID-19 Stories project.