I’m writing to keep you updated on the various ways the OHA is responding to the COVID-19 epidemic. This is an evolving situation requiring work in a number of areas. By beginning work now, we hope to get ahead of and mitigate negative impacts on the Association and our membership.
First, let me say I hope you all are staying safe. The seriousness of COVID-19 cannot be overstated. Further, state and federal guidelines on social distancing have impacted many of us in profound ways, the full extent of which we won’t understand for weeks or months, even years. The health and well-being of you and your communities is of the highest priority. I ask you to follow all local and national orders on sheltering in place and social distancing, and I encourage you, as you are able, to prioritize self-care and care for your families and communities.
Second, we are continuing with planning for our 2020 Annual Meeting in Baltimore. It is our sincere hope the current crisis will resolve enough to allow us to move forward with the meeting as planned. I will say it is shaping up to be an exciting and dynamic meeting. The Program Committee has been hard at work reviewing session proposals, and acceptance notifications will go out soon. The Call for Posters is now open, and scholarship applications are also available. We have pushed back the scholarship application deadline to June 10, 2020, and notifications will go out in July. We encourage you to plan for the meeting as you would in any other year, though please review and follow the CDC’s guidelines on travel. It’s also best to not make nonrefundable travel arrangements at this time.
Understanding there are many unknowns in this situation, we have also begun a risk assessment of COVID-19 and the economic implications stemming from it for the Association. For the annual meeting, there are a number of scenarios being considered, including the possibility, if meeting face to face is not safe or feasible, of holding a virtual meeting. These discussions are in early stages, and we are committed to communicating with the membership and meeting attendees about these discussions often and in a timely manner. We are also developing a longer-term emergency plan for the Association. This plan will cover a number of scenarios, and I imagine by the end of 2020 our section on how to respond to pandemics will be particularly robust.
As oral historians, in these times of social distancing, we’ve had to reevaluate the how and why of face-to-face interviewing. A number of resources around this issue have been developed that I’d like to share with you. First, the Association was fortunate to partner with Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History to hold a webinar on remote interviewing. If you were unable to attend, we’ve made available the recording of the webinar, the slides, and additional resources pulled from the webinar chat, as well as a summary of the webinar’s recommendations. The Vermont Folklife Center has also put out helpful tips on remote interviewing, and this week the Oral History Society released substantive advice on remote interviewing. Finally, Sarah Dziedzic (who has worn many hats in the Association, including currently serving as co-chair for the Independent Practitioners Task Force) has written an essay on oral history, immunodeficiency, and disability justice. I hope you’ll take a moment to read it. The Association is also working to develop further guidelines and resources around remote interviewing and we hope to distribute these soon. As resources in other areas impacting our community become available, the Association will work to highlight and connect our membership to them. If there are resources you find particularly useful or areas you’d like to see more resources in, please reach out to the office. If you’re interested and available to help us curate resources in a particular area, please let us know.
Finally, we’ve planned a virtual check-in for Wednesday, April 15 at 10am PDT (11am MDT, 12pm CDT, 1pm EDT). The meeting will be held via Zoom, and you can register to participate here (You can log in using your membership login information). In these times it’s challenging to anticipate our members’ needs. One thing that has helped me is to connect with colleagues virtually and talk through issues I’m dealing with. So, this virtual check-in is a bit of an experiment, and an informal time for folks to connect and talk through issues they are facing. If this proves helpful, I can see us holding check-ins regularly. If not, we’ll continue to look into other ways to support our membership.
I’ll be in touch soon and regularly. Please stay safe and take care.
Allison K. Tracy-Taylor