A year plus into the pandemic, much has changed for Long Beach residents and businesses. Bars and restaurants have fully reopened, employees are trickling back into offices and conventions are expected to return next month.
But as life returns to normal—barring interruptions from emerging coronavirus variants—the Long Beach Historical Society continues to build a record of life under lockdown and the reopening process in the form of a crowdsourced archive fed by survey submissions.
“There are some very, very interesting stories,” said Julie Bartolotto, executive director of the historical society.
One that stuck out to her in particular was a submission from a psychotherapist, who said that, unlike before, none of her patients canceled their appointments during the pandemic—a possible indication of the level of stress people were experiencing as a result of the public health crisis.
“Whole parts of our culture or society have been affected,” Bartolotto said. Creating a record of those changes, she said “is definitely something that, in the future, we will find useful.”
The idea to build an archive of the pandemic was in part inspired by the lack of material documenting the experiences of local residents and businesses during previous health crises, like the 1918/1919 Spanish flu.
Historians have been increasingly interested in documenting local history in recent years, said Craig Hendricks, a retired history professor and member of the historical society.
“We thought it would be important to get on record how people in LB felt about it: how it changed their life,” said Hendricks, who is currently building collaborations with historians in cities across the country doing similar work.
Traditionally, Hendricks said, there’s been more of a focus on national history. But, he noted, “it’s just as important and just as significant for the health and welfare of the nation to know how these things are playing out [locally].”
From journalists to public health officials, there are plenty of people who will likely seek out the historic records being created right now, Hendricks said.
“If you’re going to have a conversation with the past, it’s good to have a lot of ideas and facts about what really happened,” he added. “That’s what history is, it’s a conversation with the past.”