PPL and RI Historical Society Launch Digital Archive of COVID-19 in Rhode Island

April 14, 2020

Public digital archive to record stories, photographs, artwork, oral histories, social media and memories of the COVID-19 pandemic in Rhode Island

Providence Public Library (PPL) and Rhode Island Historical Society (RIHS) have partnered to create a collaborative public archive in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Rhode Island COVID-19 Archive project encourages all Rhode Islanders to document their experience during this historic moment and to contribute those items to this public archive. 

RICovidArchive.org is accepting contributions from the public that document their lived experience during the COVID-19 public health crisis. The goal is to create a virtual archive that documents the ways that individuals and their communities are affected by social isolation, quarantine and illness, and mutual aid. The archive hopes to serve Rhode Islanders now and in the future by providing a way for Rhode Islanders to connect with one another as well as preserve the stories of this time for future researchers.

“We are excited to be able to collaborate with our colleagues at Rhode Island Historical Society on this “real-time” archiving project. COVID-19 is historic on multiple levels as is this opportunity for us to begin collecting a vast array of Rhode Islanders’ experiences as they are living through this incredible time,” said Jack Martin, PPL Executive Director.

“The collections of the RIHS and PPL hold within them the stories of moments and events that have changed the world. This time is no different, but what is different is how many people we can reach, and how quickly. This project allows us at the RIHS and PPL to do some of the work we treasure most: working with great partners to gather and share the stories of this state. Every day researchers mine the past to help better understand not only what happened, but also what may happen. This archive is an investment in a better-informed future,” said Morgan Grefe, RIHS Executive Director.

Richard Ring, RIHS Deputy Executive Director for Collections and Interpretation noted, “This collaborative is an attempt to collect a wider range of perspectives than is represented in the major press outlets–examples are the quarantine diaries of Jen Cowart (Cranston Herald) and Vanessa Lillie (Providence Journal). The RIHS and the PPL are committed to making voices from diverse populations heard and remembered.” 

“PPL’s Rhode Island Collections are centered on the belief that everyone’s lived experience offers a contribution to documented history. This project promotes the voices of those who are directly impacted in this historic moment and facilitates a community archive for prosperity,” said Kate Wells, PPL Curator of Rhode Island Collections.

“Historical memory is so often constructed from the viewpoint of a select few interpreting the lives of many. By gathering the COVID-19 experience directly from the community, this project seeks to give voice to all Rhode Islanders as we tell this story for ourselves and for those in the future.” said Becca Bender, RIHS Film Archivist & Curator of Recorded Media. 

RICovidArchive.org was launched on April 14, 2020. Contributors are encouraged to submit individual stories, memories and creative work made in response to the crisis. The site supports text, photographs and artwork, sound and video recordings. The site provides sample prompts and ideas for crafting a response, but welcomes a wide variety of contributions. Contributed items will be open to the public and preserved by the Rhode Island Historical Society and Providence Public Library Special Collections. 

About Providence Public Library

PPL is an independent, non-profit organization founded in 1875, governed by a Board of Trustees, and supported primarily through private funding sources, including its own PPL Foundation. The Library also serves as the Statewide Reference Resource Center holding unique collections and resources.

About the Rhode Island Historical Society 

Founded in 1822, the RIHS, a Smithsonian Affiliate, is the fourth-oldest historical society in the U.S. and is Rhode Island’s largest and oldest historical organization. In Providence, the RIHS owns and operates the John Brown House Museum, a designated National Historic Landmark, built in 1788; the Aldrich House, built in 1822; and the Mary Elizabeth Robinson Research Center, where archival, book and image collections are housed. In Woonsocket, the RIHS manages the Museum of Work and Culture.