By Jacob Bransky, Rebecca Hicks, McLain Sidmore
Our exhibit engages in the issues and disparity of experiences along generational lines, with particular emphasis on children, elders, and schools and communities. While news stories at the outset of the pandemic often highlighted tropes of endangered and isolated seniors and elders, while pointing to children or young adults as unwarry, or even dismissive Coronavirus spreaders, this disease has affected people of all ages and we set out to preserve this full range of impacts in our collection.
We came to this project from very different areas that, inadvertently, became a major influence on the character of our collection and stories that define our work. Jacob came to us from Gay Mills, Wisconsin, a rural community with an aging population that gave him insight into the ways the pandemic affected various generations disparately in the upper Mid-West. Rebecca was working from her home in rural West Virginia with a particular interest in the ways in which various family structures, nuclear families and multigenerational households, changed conversations and dynamics during the pandemic, particularly in rural Appalachia. McLain was working from her home in Juneau, Alaska, a comparatively small town with a strong ethos of intergenerational learning and a recognition of elders as the backbone of the community.
These circumstances allowed for an in-depth examination of the ways in which the pandemic has affected communities in rural or isolated regions across the country, exploring the unique circumstances of these often underexplored areas, and the ways in which age has impacted experiences during this spring. We were by no means always successful. The voices of children and elders have always been underrepresented in archival records and in a moment when these groups are being disproportionately impacted by illness, isolation, poverty, and lack of technology, these silences have only been exacerbated. Through our work, we have tried to capture the realities of this period for these people, from sweeping policies affecting the education of children, down to the individual reactions of students and elders in a few areas around the country, which we hope will offer some sliver of memory from these people in this time for future generations.