COVID-19 MKE online archive seeks your contributions
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A photograph of a grocery store freezer emptied of pizzas, leaving only boxes as shells.
A Walgreens checkout sign explaining social distancing.
An image of kids waving to their grandmother from across their front lawn.
The marquee on the Up and Under Pub on Brady Street urging Milwaukee to "hang tough."
A shot of an empty playground, wrapped in yellow caution tape.
Welcome to COVID-19 MKE: A Milwaukee Coronavirus Digital Archive, a collection of images and other documentation submitted by the general public showing how the outbreak is affecting the city.
"This site aims to document how the Milwaukee area experienced the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020," explains a page on the site. "It was built by students in Prof. Christopher D. Cantwell's Local History Research Methods class and is hosted by the Golda Meir Library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. All of the material on the site, however, was contributed by members of the greater Milwaukee community. We hope you will consider contributing, as well."
Though at the moment, it appears that most contributions have been photographs, including the ones described above, the archive's organizers are hoping the general public will, in their words, also share stories of isolation and community engagement; recordings of silence in places once vibrant; notifications from employers, organizations or community officials; meditations on health, well-being and ability amidst sickness; and more.
"I built it with UWM's library for my students who now have to take their class online," says Cantwell, an assistant professor of public and digital history. "When they 'return' from spring break they will be conducting oral histories and collecting documents for posterity."
Cantwell – whose students have been working this semester with local places of worship to uncover their histories in a project caled Gathering Places – says that the project is an example of a "history harvest."
"This is pretty established practice for public historians and museum professionals," he says from his home, where he's riding out the storm with his family.
"They're called 'history harvests' (and) at particularly dramatic or consequential moments in history, historians will work to gather material to ensure there is an accurate record of what happened.
"But honestly, the other major reason (for the site) is because of UWM's move to online classes. If we were moving online for the safety of ourselves and out community, I didn't feel comfortable having students going out and working with places of worship as part of the Gathering Places project."
By now, most of those places have canceled services and shut their doors to the public, too.
"So the COVID-19 MKE archive was a chance to give my students a project they could do that would also have impact in the community."
The site has been online for a week now and Cantwell says about 50 people have shared more than 85 items. But he wants more.
He wants the archive to represent, as best it can, what life is like in Milwaukee during this difficult time.
Imagine if we had something similar – created by submissions from our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents – providing us unique insight into how regular folks weathered challenges like World War I, the 1918-19 flu epidemic, World War II, etc. We all have an opportunity to create something just like that for our children and grandchildren.
"I'm trying to spread the word so folks in Milwaukee can contribute," says Cantwell.
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