The COVID-19 Oral History Project

Humanistic Methodologies for Social Good

The National Humanities Center launched its COVID-19 Oral History Project in 2021 to capture and preserve experiences of a unique time in our medical and social history. The project is dedicated to representing the diverse perspectives of those who have been directly involved in pandemic response efforts in hospitals and clinics but whose stories have gone untold.

To accomplish this goal, we have partnered with institutions and individuals across the country to train student interviewers to ethically and responsibly collect oral histories. This is the first step in a larger initiative to use personal narratives to catalyze conversations at the local and national levels and influence positive structural changes in healthcare.

Mission Statement

The COVID-19 Oral History Project connects the next generation of humanists and healthcare professionals with today’s frontline workers to tell the unheard stories of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project is committed to interviewing diverse medical professionals around the country and building strong connections between student interviewers and their local medical communities. We believe that narrative medicine has the power to address issues of equity and accessibility in healthcare, and we are dedicated to facilitating conversations that will catalyze positive structural change.

Voices from the Project

“I hope as we recover from the pandemic that we are really thinking about how to put more money into building stronger communities, better public health, better education. With the pandemic there is more of a sense coming from everyone about the importance of social justice and that keeps me hopeful as we move forward, because it is really the tragedies in life that help us reflect and re-engage and prioritize better.” —Uyenvy Pham, Washington

Get Involved

If you would like more information about the project or are interested in scheduling a consultation with us, please use this form to get in touch.

If you are a student who would like to be an interviewer in your area, or if you are a medical professional who would like to share your story and we have not yet launched a partnership in your area, please connect with us here.

University of Washington student Emma Linde interviews Jeanette Hungerford, a Certified Nurse Assistant at St. Luke Community Hospital in Ronan, Montana.

Current Data

9

states

81

video interviews

51

audio interviews

13

transcripts

The COVID-19 Oral History Project is still in the collection phase and these numbers are rapidly increasing as the project expands. Data will be updated on the first of each month. Our audiovisual and transcript-based holdings will be published in full archival form in late spring 2022 through a separate site currently under development.

Participating Institutions
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Cleveland Clinic
  • Duke University
  • University of California, Irvine
  • University of Washington

Voices from the Project

“I truly believe that the term hero for healthcare workers being tossed around so freely during the pandemic has been flattering to all of us whether it’s a physician, a CNA, a pharmacist, whoever. But also, too, I want to say I think we should have had that title or should have been given that pat on the back sooner than now. We’ve all been heroes and I think we’ll continue to be heroes. How much the public wants to amplify it has yet to be determined, but we’ll be there.” —Anonymous

Student Reflections

This virtual exhibit contains selected footage from video-based interviews conducted as part of the project alongside research posters and written reflections produced by medical students at Duke University and the University of Washington, who acted as interviewers for the project. Together, this material sheds light on the ways that the humanities are enriching medical education today and allowing the clinicians of the future to engage deeply with their professional communities, respond to structural forms of inequity, and prepare for new challenges of caring.


Project Leadership

Jacqueline Kellish
Jacqueline Kellish (Project Founder and Director) is the Public Engagement Coordinator for the National Humanities Center. She holds a PhD in English from Duke University, as well as an MA in the Social Sciences and a BA in Political Science from the University of Chicago. Kellish’s work is motivated by her commitment to using humanistic and social scientific methods to bring together scholarly research and social justice initiatives. She has designed and taught interdisciplinary courses on the role and cultural representations of women in twentieth-century media and on the politics and ethics of the literary canon. Previously, she served as the associate editor for the Duke University Press journal NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction.
Jane McGrail
Jane McGrail is the Head of Community Engagement and Outreach for the COVID-19 Oral History Project. She is a PhD candidate in Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and holds a BA in English from the College of the Holy Cross. McGrail is committed to building bridges between academic and public communities in service of social justice. Her publicly engaged scholarship has been funded by the Humanities for the Public Good Initiative and the Maynard Adams Fellowship for the Public Humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. McGrail has designed and taught both writing and community-based learning courses and works closely with the COVID-19 Oral History Project’s student interviewers.
Robin Haley
Robin Haley is the Head of Digital Collections for the COVID-19 Oral History Project. Originally from Wilmington, NC, she is currently a Master’s candidate in the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Haley specializes in archives and records management, with emphasis on digital archives and curation. Haley designed the database for the COVID-19 Oral History Project and manages the project’s digital holdings. She also leads the project’s metadata and transcription efforts, specifically focusing on accessibility and preservation.

Voices from the Project

“Nobody knew the right thing to do but everybody was willing to do it. What we never saw on the news was the people risking their lives and the people that built masks. Those people worked for 48 hours straight and went home for 6 hours and went back and did it again. There was so much sacrifice and humanity and just general care for each other that I don’t think got any recognition whatsoever. [All of these] unsung heroes were just doing an amazing job and they weren’t doing it for the money. They were doing it because they wanted to help, they wanted to be part of the solution, and none of them got any recognition. Watching those people do the best they could with nothing and still manage to smile once in a while and be kind… if there was one thing that was recognized after all was said and done, I would want it to be that.” —Orion Pullen, South Dakota

News and Events

If you’re interested in the medical humanities, don’t miss the National Humanities Center’s 2022 conference, A Crisis of Caring: The Humanities and Our Health, April 11–14, 2022. This interdisciplinary conference seeks to consider the ways that knowledge drawn from humanities disciplines and methodologies can inform and help address the ongoing crisis in healthcare. This virtual conference features presenters from across the medical field and the humanities disciplines and will catalyze conversations about the role of humanistic approaches in the future of medicine.

Crisis of Caring