Covid-19 Oral History Project to Cement Pandemic in Andover History

The Phillips Academy History Association (PAHA) and Student Advocates for Climate Awareness (SACA) have initiated the Covid-19 Oral History Project to document the Andover experience during the pandemic. According to Will Situ ’22, Co-Founder of PAHA, the project features individual opinions free from the biases of mainstream media and government sources. 

“I was quite worried about the current state of the media and documentation here in the United States and investigative journalism is on the brink of extinction… We wanted to create a project that diversified the narrative and taught students that history is not about the stories told by those in power,” said Situ.  

According to Frank Zhou ’22, a member of PAHA, each participant will take part in a 15 minute interview upon agreeing to partake in the project. 

“The goal is to capture as extensive a recollection as possible—from quarantines to heartbreak, every member of the Andover community has a place in Andover’s story of 2020, and we’re hoping to tell that story with candor and respect,” said Zhou. 

Once the clubs receive the testimonies from the Andover community, they plan on organizing the transcriptions in a journal for the Archives. Eshwar Venkatswamy ’22, Co-Founder of PAHA, ensured that the transcriptions will not be altered by the board members in any manner. 

“We plan to publish the journal in the [Andover] Archives, who have already expressed their support for this project. Our filter and editing will only be used to take out unnecessary and filler words like ‘um’ and ‘hm’ out of the transcription,” said Venkatswamy. 

SACA board member Carlos Cepeda Diaz ’23 finds that collecting these perspectives will benefit future students when tracing Andover’s history. According to Diaz, the journal will also enable members of the community to understand the experiences of others and create mutual connection.

“When you get to freeze time a little and see how everything was in the past, it gives you a better idea of a time that’s now gone. Obviously, we’re not cherishing the pandemic and we would like it to be gone, but it is important to tell everybody’s stories during this time… Hopefully later on when this is in the Archives, people will get a better idea of what it was like to be on campus and be a boarding student, teacher, or faculty member here,” said Diaz. 

Diaz continued, “We can see how people from all around the Andover Community are doing. What’s on their mind, what’s been on their mind for the last seven months or today, trying to get a holistic idea of how everyone is. I found myself out of touch after having to mask and distance and not go to school. A reflection on this time would be a good way to ground ourselves.”

Situ hopes that students will not only form a more complete picture of the Covid-19 pandemic but also practice skills, such as field research and interviews, that are not typically taught in Andover’s history courses. 

Situ said, “One of the skills that we want to focus on is to help students gain skills that are not necessarily available in history classrooms, such as field research or interviewing. 2020 is definitely a precedent year that will end up in most history textbooks 30 years from now. I think it is very important for us to capture the stories of people living through this history.”