With the temporary closure of our bookstore and galleries, and much ambiguity about when things might return to normal, staff at CHS began thinking about how to stay engaged with our community and address what was happening around us. In April 2020 we initiated an online project to enlist the public’s help in documenting the moment. Tell Your Story—California in the Time of COVID-19 is a collection of stories and photographs of everyday life in California during a historic crisis. Since the project launched, more than four hundred people from across the state have contributed. They tell of lost loved ones and lost jobs, anxiety about going out and the toll of staying in. There are stories about the difficulties of dating, of parenting, and of living life through a screen. We received stories from the front lines at hospitals and at protests.
As an archive, we know that these powerful personal accounts will become primary-source material that shapes future understandings of our present moment. Just as researchers come to our library to read letters and diaries written by ordinary people living through the Gold Rush or the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, the stories we have collected will bring a human scale to the momentous events of the past year.
Equally important is that the material is available to people right now—people who may be seeking a sense of shared experience and connection in a turbulent and isolating time. To that end, we created an online gallery at our website where we periodically add new Tell Your Story selections.
Our sincerest gratitude to all who contributed stories and photographs.
Please enjoy this video compilation of images from the project.