I’m writing to update you on the Oral History Association’s continued response to COVID-19, especially as it relates to the annual meeting.
First, as shelter-in-place orders begin to lift or relax within parts of the United States and internationally, it will be a challenge for all of us to navigate shifts (or the lack thereof) in our work and home lives, in those of our loved ones, and in our communities. As I stressed before, following social distancing guidelines, including wearing a face mask, is as important as ever. I will say I have been dismayed to see not only COVID-19 disproportionately impact vulnerable communities in terms of infection rates, death, and economic impact, but also the lack of response from local and state officials in some parts of the country to combat this. I want to take a moment to highlight the OHA’s Statement on Diversity and Inclusivity. Though our ability to practice oral history in these times may be limited, our commitment to respect, inclusivity, equality, and dignity has not wavered. As we negotiate these times, centering the well-being of our fellow humans is and will continue to be essential.
Second, work continues on our 2020 Annual Meeting, though admittedly it looks increasingly different from previous years. Typically we open our conference registration portal in May, but we’ve decided to postpone registration. There are many unknowns that we are still working through, and given this we feel we need more information and decisions in place before we can begin registration. We hope to open the portal later in June, but if there are any delays, I will let you know as soon as possible. I thank you all for your patience on this.
Unfortunately, it is also still not yet clear what direction the meeting will take, whether all in-person, all virtual, or a combination. As projected timelines for when large group gatherings can resume only increase, though, we know the likelihood of having an all-virtual meeting increases. Accordingly, we’ve taken multiple steps to begin concrete planning for this possibility. This includes convening the Virtual Meeting Task Force to assist the Program Committee and Local Arrangements Committee with planning the annual meeting. This task force is assisting in a variety of ways, from reviewing available best practices for virtual meetings, to assessing potential digital platforms, to thinking about how we maintain essential aspects of any meeting, like networking. All these capable people are also continuing to develop the meeting program. Sessions, plenaries, the keynote address, workshops, tours, and networking events all will be held no matter what direction the meeting takes. One important tradition at our meetings is honoring the annual award winners. And fortunately there is still time to get in applications! The current deadline is June 1, and you can find more information about the awards and how to apply here. The Call for Posters is still open as well. This would be a great way to feature any recently started projects or efforts.
As we continue to plan, we need your help. The Program Committee, the Local Arrangements Committee, and the Executive Office have developed a survey about the annual meeting. You can access it here, and I hope you will take it. It will help us assess considerations related to an in-person vs. virtual meeting, travel restrictions, registrations costs, potential digital platforms, and the recording/accessibility of sessions. All of this information will be vital in our work, especially as we continue to navigate so many unknowns.
Finally, as this crisis wears on and getting back to “normal” seems more distant by the day, it’s understandable our sense of well-being may erode. In my own self-care efforts, I have found a few things helpful, including these tips on self-holds, the New York Times At-Home special section, Zoom happy hours, meal planning to limit grocery store trips and nourish my body, and daily walks. What self-care means for everyone is different, but I’m mentioning it again because I sincerely hope you have space in your day for it. It helps sustain us (something very different from increasing productivity, which is a pressure I encourage you to say “No, thank you,” to), and it helps us to be present for ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities.
I’ll be in touch soon. Please stay safe and take care.
Allison K. Tracy-Taylor