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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

SMC professors showcase research on South Bend's pandemic experience

On Tuesday, the St. Joseph County Library hosted “How We Remember the COVID-19 Pandemic: reflections from South Bend Oral History Project,” lead by two Saint Mary’s professors, Julia Dauer and Jamie Wagman. This event showcased how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the members of the South Bend community through a series of audio clips from interviews.

Saint Mary's Professors Julia Dauer and Jamie Wagman present their research on South Bend citizens' experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than a year ago, the professors began working together on pandemic narratives. “Our South Bend pandemic oral history project documents, preserves, and interprets local residents' stories and memories,” Wagman said. 

They collected testimonies with the help of students. “For two spring terms, I trained students in 'History 392: Doing History: Oral and Public Histories' to interview South Bend residents about their experiences throughout the pandemic,” Wagman said.

Wagman estimated that in total, there was around 22 hours of unclipped audio interviews. “Students who are here in the audience who transcribed, they could probably comment on how many hours of labor that took, usually like they say, three hours of transcribing for every hour of audio.”

“We learned from past experiences and oral histories of coming up with a set of guide … It's nice to have a set of guide of like 14 or 15 questions, open-ended questions that can't be answered with yes or no to elicit stories from people,” Wagman said. 

“We kept hearing themes of isolation and loneliness, we kept hearing themes of kind of ingenious ways to connect with others,” Wagman said. 

There were many themes including “remembering uncertainty,” “memories that stood out,” “what we notice” and “we are still processing.”

Focusing on the theme of remebring, they said, “We hope that all will learn about South Bend residents' experiences and recollections during the pandemic,” continuing on that, “We also hope audience members will reflect on the use and act of memory.”

Wagman said, “I most enjoyed teaching students the art of doing oral history and learning how to curate an oral history listening session for audiences. This stretched me and encouraged me to use new digital tools.”

Wagman also mentioned this event is the conclusion of a series of audio history collections she and Dauer have worked on.

“This event is our third and final pandemic oral history listening session we've held since last fall,” Wagman noted.

Wagman further explained how, “Our first two events occurred last fall at Saint Mary's College and the Civil Rights Heritage Center, and that work was supported from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Indiana Humanities as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.” 

They plan to put together another podcast saying, “a curated audio program drawn from our first two oral history listening sessions is available as an episode of the Civil Rights Heritage Center's podcast, ‘South Bend's Own Words,’ archived online at We plan to put together another podcast for the CRHC, too.”