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History department, Civil War center, Byrd center receive CARES Act grants

ISSUED: 30 June 2020
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — The West Virginia Humanities Council has awarded three Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Emergency Relief Grants totaling $30,000 through the Shepherd University Foundation to the Department of History, George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War, and Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education. Each received about $10,000.

The Department of History will use its grant to collect and present oral histories documenting the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on residents of West Virginia, with a goal of generating 100 hours of interviews with transcriptions. Interviewees will include local teachers and students from grades K-12, community members and business owners, university students, faculty, and administrators, and local government officials.

Three public history student interns will be hired to collect the oral histories via Zoom. Dr. Keith Alexander and Dr. Julia Sandy, both associate professors of history, are the faculty supervisors who will train and supervise the students. With permission, audio and video from the interviews will be made available online. Interview transcripts will be housed by the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education, the Scarborough Library, and the Historic Shepherdstown Commission.

“Students in the historic preservation/public history concentration are required to complete a 400-hour internship in a public humanities field,” Alexander said. “These internships disappeared overnight, with internship providers forced to rescind offers due to the COVID-19 virus. This project represents a small but important chance to help meet the financial and professional needs of some of these students, as well as a unique opportunity to meet another critical need—to use the tools of oral history to capture a regions experience of the pandemic, an event of worldwide historic importance.”

The project will limit its focus to the three counties in West Virginias Eastern Panhandle and will capture the communitys memories and current impressions of this unprecedented crisis while they are still fresh, as well as document experiences as the region reopens.

The George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War will use its grant for staffing to meet the demand for programming that has moved online due to COVID-19. The center created two student internships through the CARES award. Both students will help advance an ongoing research project on race and slavery in the lower Shenandoah Valley by engaging in primary source research through a series of newspapers from the region as well as the Ferry Hill Plantation journals.

“We see an exciting opportunity to not only enhance our mission but also to create a meaningful dialogue with the public about race and slavery,” said Dr. James Broomall, center director. “Years of working with regional audiences have revealed that many remain misinformed about the Shenandoah Valley’s involvement in slavery, the plantation complex, and forced labor in industry. We seek to enhance public understanding through museum and traveling exhibitions as well as public programming.”

When COVID-19 forced cancellation of in-person events, the center created a series of online programming in the form of Facebook live moderated discussions and is expanding that programming to include livestream programs from nearby historic sites and battlefields. Part of the CARES grant is being used to purchase the equipment necessary to offer these programs.

“CARES funding will help the GTM Center transition into an exciting new role as an online hub for the history and culture of the Eastern Panhandle and the Greater Shenandoah Valley,” Broomall said. “We are developing some centralized, online means to more easily and quickly access both past programming as well as source materials.”

The Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education is using its grant money to address operational needs and expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including transitioning the center’s public programs to a digital format in the coming months.

“The Byrd Center is greatly appreciative of the West Virginia Humanities Council’s recognition and support,” said Dr. James Wyatt, Byrd Center director.

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