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Sandy, Alexander receive $5K grant to continue COVID-19 oral history project

ISSUED: 3 November 2020
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Two Shepherd University history professors have received a $5,000 grant from the Albert Lepage Center for History and the Public Interest at Villanova University. Dr. Julia Sandy and Dr. Keith Alexander, both associate professors of history, were awarded the grant in support of their project “Locked Down: An Oral History of the COVID-19 Virus in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle,” which collects stories about how the global pandemic shapes the lives of people in vulnerable Appalachian communities.

Shepherd’s Department of History launched “Locked Down” to collect the stories of individuals living in the Eastern Panhandle, which includes many economically and socially underserved populations; provide oral history training and internship experiences to students who found their planned summer internships canceled because of the pandemic; and share the findings with the public through presentations and forums, and online availability of the recordings.

The project also received a grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council to conduct training and offer internships for Shepherd students, who during the summer conducted and transcribed 27 interviews. Interviewees included Shepherd University students, faculty, and administrators, local teachers and students from grades K-12, community members, business owners, and local government officials.

“I’m very honored that the importance and quality of our project have been recognized by such a prestigious institution,” Alexander said. “This grant will help us expand on our earlier efforts and take them in a new, even more exciting direction.”

The grant money from the Lepage Center will allow Alexander and Sandy to train additional students and expand the collection of oral histories. Alexander and Sandy said during the first round of collecting oral histories it became clear that many people wanted to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement as part of their pandemic story. Alexander and Sandy are developing a new set of themes and questions that more thoroughly explore how these two interconnected phenomena shape the lives and outlooks of the interviewees.

The second phases of the project are being completed this academic year. Students are collecting and transcribing oral histories and create programming for the public that explores these intertwined topics. A virtual event that will be open to the public will take place in the spring during which students will discuss their findings. Audio and video from the interviews will be housed in the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education and the Historic Shepherdstown Commission and will be available to the public online.

“I am thrilled we were awarded a grant from the Lepage Center, and the center’s support really speaks to the quality work our students have already produced on this project,” Sandy said. “The grant will greatly enhance our ability to capture events and perspectives as they unfold in real time. Recording and preserving the interviews will benefit our students, the public, and future generations of historians who will undoubtedly study this unique moment in American history.”

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