JMM Insights: Sharing Our Stories

This week’s edition of JMM Insights comes from Archivist Maggie Hoffman. Often when we think about the stories museums tell and the materials museums collect, we think of the past – our parents, grandparents, and further back through time. Here, Maggie reminds us of the importance of collecting the stories of now, and shares multiple ways you can start sharing your stories with us!


Did you know that archives often collect current material? In addition to preserving 19th century daguerreotypes and scrapbooks from the 1930s, we value contemporary collecting as a means to fill gaps and lay a foundation for future collecting efforts. By documenting current events and social movements as they occur, we strengthen the historical record, avoid the loss of important content, and generate collections that invite critical thinking about our present experiences.

When the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic began sinking in last March, archives and other cultural heritage organizations across the country hit the ground running, sending out requests for materials and launching surveys to record their communities’ experiences. For many organizations, including JMM, efforts around pandemic-related collecting have waned some in recent months. Speaking personallybecause I know that I am not alonethe initial shock of the pandemic has given way to longing, heartache, and dread. People are no longer snapping photos of “store closed” signs or tweeting their amazement at the toilet paper shortage. While the pandemic rages on, our emotional responses have shifted. And in many ways, it’s more challenging to document dread than it is surprise. How do you document life in a pandemic when every day feels the same?

Preserving the Present

While the realities have changed, the importance of sharing our stories hasn’t. By documenting our experiences now, we strengthen the record of this turbulent time. Though this past year has felt impossibly long, one day this will all be history. And someone, someday, will take an interest in the boredom, frustration, and longing that we’re grappling with daily. Consciously or not, they’ll turn to us for lessons about their present. After all, a key reason to study history is to contextualize the present in an effort to build a more equitable future. While I can’t predict the takeaways that might emerge one hundred years from now, I know that my story will have value to offer. And I know that yours will, too.

Preserving the Present logos - 4: Relflections in Quarantine, Collecting These Times, Marking the Year, History is Now.

Here at JMM, we’ve been reflecting on how to thoughtfully and responsibly document our communities’ experiences. We recognize that individuals have reacted differently to these times. Many of us have limited bandwidth, but the activities we find challenging vary. We also find healing and catharsis in different areas of our lives. With these differences in mind, JMM has created Preserving the Present a project featuring several contemporary collecting initiatives.

If you’ve found solidarity when sharing stories with strangers, you may be interested in recording an oral history. If writing has been an outlet, you might consider participating in our upcoming Marking the Year. And if creative expression is getting you through these times, we’d love to add your photos, drawings, or poems to our History is Now project. Here are a few ways that you can share your story right now:

Marking the Year

Marking the Year logo

Reflect on the past year by responding to a series of prompts. Whether you write a sentence for each or a collection of short essays, this project offers a space to review the year and add your voice to our records. Marking the Year will close on March 31st, but keep your eye out for a follow-up project.

Record your responses today.

Collecting These Times

Collecting These Times logo

In partnership with the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM), JMM is proud to participate in Collecting These Times: American Jewish Experiences of the Pandemic, an oral history initiative.

Interested in being interviewed or in interviewing others?
Email mahoffman@jewishmuseummd.org to get involved.

This project is made possible with the generous support of the Chronicling Funder Collaborative.

Reflections in Quarantine 

Reflections in Quarantine logo

We’re partnering with the Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA) and the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) on Reflections in Quarantine: Sharing Jewish Stories with Story Aperture. We invite you to share your story with us using Story Aperture—JWA’s video story-collecting mobile app that guides people of all genders through the process of conducting an interview or telling one’s own story.

The app features a set of suggested questions, “Reflections in Quarantine,” to help us capture this cultural moment as it continues to unfold. As you save your story in the app, please make sure to include “Jewish Museum of Maryland” in the title of the recording to ensure the story is properly catalogued and shared with us. Download Story Aperture today from your go-to app store, and together we will preserve our communal narrative!

For more information about Story Aperture, visit jwa.org/stories.

History Is Now 

History is Now logo

Interested in donating materials directly to JMM? Use this form to easily submit your work. Whether it’s a poem, an essay, or a snapshot that captures life right now, we’d love to see it. Photos and drawings can be used to illustrate your words, or they can stand alone as a record of your experience.
 
Interested in donating an object to our collections? Email jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org to learn more. Keep an eye on our current collecting initiatives for more ways to add your story to our collections.

Questions? Email mahoffman@jewishmuseummd.org.

For many, sharing personal stories has been a means of catharsis. But at times, telling stories can weigh too heavily on us. If the thought of sharing feels uncomfortable, we encourage you to hold off. You may share your experiences another day, or not at all.

Know that your story matters, regardless of who you choose to share it with.

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