Why we should all be keeping coronavirus journals

Epidemiologists, doctors, researchers and even hospital administrators are already busily studying how this pandemic has happened, what it is doing to ourbodies and how to respond. But historians, while busy now putting current events into historical context, will not begin actively studying our times for another 30 years or so. By the 2050s, they will have more perspective on the causes and effects of this moment, as well as plenty of sources—government documents, transcripts of press conferences, newspaper opinion pieces. After researching the government sources and other traditional evidence about their work flying for the U.S. Army Air Forces during the war, it was clear an important part of the history wasmissing that only the women themselves could tell. Oral histories, from the slave narratives of the New Dealeratoexperiences during Hurricane Katrina, add a richness to historical understanding unlike any other source. But oral histories, collected 30 years from now when we all know who survived and who was lost, who is blamed and who are the heroes, while incredibly valuable, will carry their own taint of bias. They want to look good to the person asking the questions, to please them with the“right” answers, thus the herculean efforts of professional historians to earn enough trust that their interviewees will be honest. In my own work on the WASP of WWII, I wanted to corroborate the memories I’d learnedabout through the oral histories, so I turned to the women’s letters home and especially their diaries. The young women pilots wrote for themselves both to relieve stress and to help remember their experiences flying within the continental United States during war. Things that worried them early on become second nature, events that they mention in passing become life-changing.Theiropinions, hopes and dreams change over time. Someday, as WASP Elaine Harmon told me she experienced as the war ended, we will suddenly walk around the streets again, the burden of worryandfearlifted from our shoulders.