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Groups working to preserve Butler County stories through pandemic journals

Butler County institutions are asking residents to journal about their experiences to capture area communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking to record this historic time is Miami University’s Walter Havighurst Special Collections and University Archives, which is asking for volunteers to journal about their experience.

Historically, diaries and journals have served as “fantastic firsthand accounts of events,” but the importance of the Miami University project goes beyond making sure there’s a written record for historians to study, according to Rachel Makarowski, special collections librarian for the archives.

“A variety of disciplines, from sociology to social work to journalism, will be interested in examining these journals,” Makarowski said. “The beauty of a project like this is that even things that normally seem mundane to us, like grocery shopping, become important and are notable.”

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Although the focus is on members of the Miami community, journals from other people in the Oxford area are being accepted, as well.

The Butler County Historical Society will be accepting journal entries from area residents once the pandemic is over, according to Executive Director Kathy Creighton.

She said it is “very important” for people of all ages, especially children, to be writing their thoughts and emotions during the pandemic.

“That’s how 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now we’ll have first-hand accounts, primary sources for kids to look at for what people did when they lived through this,” Creighton said. “It’s a way that they can personally have a turn in how history will be remembered. They can leave a legacy for future generations.”

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Makarowski said the Miami University project is looking to capture the resilience of the local community, even if students and others are not able to be in the Oxford area during the pandemic.

“When people go to look at what was Miami doing this time, what were the experiences of that community?” she said. “Even if we’re geographically apart, I think that there’s going to be definitely some similar scenes to some of these stories. We’re just trying to capture that so that people in the future that want to know about that will have those snapshots available to them.”

Creighton said local examples of past efforts to document Butler County history are numerous, including Journal-News precursor the Hamilton Evening Journal publishing first-hand accounts from schoolchildren following the 1913 flood as well its editor-publisher-owner, Homer Gard, publishing “every single letter” written home by local servicemen during World War I in the newspaper.

“It is absolutely the most outstanding collection we have of first-hand accounts from World War I,” she said. “There are hundreds of them.”

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An example of local journaling during the coronavirus pandemic is being created by third-grade students at Morgan Elementary in Morgan Twp.

“That is what school kids are going to want to read about 50 years from now, not how adults went through it,” Creighton said. “They’ll want to know how kids went through it.”

Makarowski said those keeping a journal for the Miami University project are not limited to typed or handwritten journals. They may also blog their journal entries, transcribe news by writing headlines and summarizing stories, create memes or compose poems. They may also interview family and friends about their own experiences and record the interview in their journal as long as they have the interviewee’s permission.

“One of the exciting things about this project, to me, is just seeing the vast variety of media that people are going to use to capture their own experiences and convey that,” she said.

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To participate, start journaling now and complete the online form at www.tinyurl.com/lifeduringcovid19. Additional information about submission procedures will be soon be made available. For more information, write to speccoll@MiamiOH.edu.

Both paper and digital submissions will be accepted. Makarowski said the emphasis is not on good grammar, spelling or style, but rather self-expression and candor.

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