On March 23, the Historical Society of Haddonfield announced the launch of its “Virus Year Project,” a way for borough residents to record their experiences dealing with the encroachment of the novel strain of coronavirus which is sweeping its way across the globe.
As the pandemic has forced most populated portions of America — Haddonfield included — indoors, it’s an undertaking which will occur completely online. Dana Dorman, HSH’s archivist, will head the effort, which may be the first of its kind in the 100-plus-year existence of the organization. It arrived thanks to the suggestion of board member Jessica Lucas, who wanted to find a way to gather the postings from folks from various social-media outlets.
“I am not aware of a previous project like this. Although, the Historical Society has always been interested in documenting what life is like in Haddonfield under a variety of circumstances,” Dorman said.
“Although we haven’t done something exactly like this before, we have certainly encouraged people to think about how to preserve the community’s history and consider donating archival materials to do the same for future generations.”
Although Dorman has worked with the society for the last half decade as archivist, she calls Philadelphia home. That has provided some unique perspective during this crisis, regarding the differences between coping in the big city and within a small borough.
“I think that, from my own experience, I’m seeing all the ways that people are adjusting and coping to the many changes that are outside their control,” she offered.
“While there’s lots of scary things in the headlines and (scary things) impacting our day-to-day lives, there are also lots of hopeful signs: though it’s solely online now, we find new ways of connecting with people and a renewed focus on helping all of us get through this together.”
Dorman mentioned the suggestion of a teacher from Haddonfield Friends School, who was attempting to put together a “bear hunt” for families who need to stretch their legs a bit to avoid being cooped up too long.
“I’ve seen emails, where (residents) would be leaving teddy bears on front porches, so that when families are on walks, they could find them and count them. There are things like that, where people are using virtual platforms to maintain a sense of community when not able to be there in person due to the restrictions.”
Dorman is hoping that whoever decides to participate in the project will do so without feeling the anxieties or stress inherent in potentially life-threatening circumstances.
“I think this project, for the HSH, is about documenting personal points of view. This is not meant to be a traumatic experience,” she stated.
“We’re encouraging people to participate if they feel motivated by this idea of recording what’s happening for future generations. Not everyone who is impacted wants to document it, and not everyone who participated will be recording the same experiences, and that’s OK.”
As a historical archivist and mother of a daughter, Dorman wants the community to know that she’s right there with you. While collecting the stories and pictures of others, she also will have a story to tell.
“People forget that all of history is personal experience, and this is a perfect moment to remind everyone that that is true. If you dig into any past historical moment, it’s made of individual experiences. This will become a story that’s shared within my family, but it’s impossible to predict which moments will be stories that are passed on,” she offered.
“I’m hoping we’ll inspire people to document what’s going on and not assume they’ll remember when these closures and restrictions eventually pass.”
The HSH has set up a web page solely devoted to the new undertaking, complete with detailed instructions on how participants can contribute: https://haddonfieldhistory.org/historical-society-launches-haddonfield-virus-year-project/