Vermont Historical Society receives major grant to create COVID-19 oral history project

Vermont Business Magazine The Vermont Historical Society has received a competitive Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services totaling $136,585 to create a major, three-year oral history project, Collecting COVID-19: A Vermont Story, which will document the state’s response and experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is one of 120 institutions across the country receiving grant funding. The Institute of Museum and Library Services has long been supported by Vermont senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders.

This grant will be used to capture, preserve, and share the stories of Vermonters during the pandemic, which will include 100 oral histories from first responders, healthcare workers, educators, retail workers, and others. This funding will support four new field interviewers, who will be trained by the Vermont Folklife Center, and who will be responsible for collecting the majority of the oral histories for this project.

In addition to the collected oral histories, VHS will partner with acclaimed author and journalist Garrett M. Graff (author of Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11, Watergate: A New History, and Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself–While the Rest of Us Die), to produce a book documenting the state’s response to the pandemic based on those interviews, as well as a limited-run podcast.

Vermont’s response to the COVID-19 project was widely recognized, and the Vermont Historical Society began documenting the outbreak starting in March 2020, collecting photographs, oral histories, data, and items related to Vermonters experiences during those early days. Presently, the collection contains more than 650 items, ranging from signs, to masks, to vaccine vials, and more. Collecting COVID-19: A Vermont Story will build upon these early efforts by preserving the stories and objects related to the pandemic.

There is historical precedence for this project: during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers, journalists, and policy-makers turned to the Vermont Historical Society’s collection of items related to the 1918 Influenza pandemic to glean lessons for our own public health response. This project will preserve the lessons of COVID-19 for the researchers, policymakers, and Vermonters in the years and generations ahead. This grant will build on the successes of a previously funded grant opportunity by IMLS, which enabled the Vermont Historical Society to preserve oral histories, archival materials, and objects from Vermont’s counterculture movements in the 1970s from 2013 – 2016.

The project will be overseen by Director of Collections & Access Amanda Kay Gustin, who will be involved in collecting the project’s high-level interviews, oversee the team of field interviewers, and support the production of the book and podcast projects. VHS staff will be responsible for processing and cataloging the oral histories and items related to the project, coordinate with Vermont’s 190 historical societies, and advise the project’s progress as it unfolds.

Gustin says “We are thrilled to see this project funding, which will allow us to do crucial, timely work in documenting an historical event that so deeply impacted all of our lives. We relied heavily on personal reminiscences of the 1918 flu epidemic to inform our historical understanding early in COVID-19. Our new archive will provide that same opportunity for research and reflection for future generations.”

Vermont Historical Society Executive Director Stephen Perkins says “So often historians wait decades to record and preserve first-hand reflections of historic events. I'm honored we have received the support to preserve the stories of this trying time for the benefit and instruction of future generations.”

Senator Patrick Leahy says “Our state is fortunate to benefit from the essential work of the Vermont Historical Society. This is part of why I have long fought to ensure the Institute of Museum and Library Services is well-resourced and able to provide federal support to those charged with recording our local histories. I am grateful that such a profound time in Vermont will be properly preserved with this funding.”

Senator Bernie Sanders says “Given the unprecedented times we are living in, it’s more important than ever that we preserve the stories of Vermonters, especially our front line workers. I congratulate the Vermont Historical Society on receiving this “Museums for America” grant and thank them for doing this important work. I very much look forward to seeing the results of this COVID-19 oral history project.”

About the Vermont Historical Society

Founded in 1838, the Vermont Historical Society serves to engage both Vermonters and "Vermonters at heart" in the exploration of our state's rich heritage. Our purpose is to reach a broad audience through our outstanding collections, statewide outreach, and dynamic programming. We believe that an understanding of the past changes lives and builds better communities.

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. IMLS envisions a nation where individuals and communities have access to museums and libraries to learn from and be inspired by the trusted information, ideas, and stories they contain about our diverse natural and cultural heritage. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Museums for America program supports projects that strengthen the ability of individual museums to benefit the public by providing high-quality, inclusive learning experiences, maximizing resources to address community needs through partnerships and collaborations, and by preserving and providing access to the collections entrusted to their care.

Barre, Vermont: The Vermont Historical Society 8.4.2022