Archiving Today’s History

The Morton Museum in Collierville, TN has been collecting and archiving current-day, historical accounts written and submitted by the local community. On this episode, Lydia Warren, the museum’s director, explains how residents young and old have submitted personal recollections of this extraordinary period to the museum to be archived forever.

See the transcript below.

Anna Bell: Hello everyone. I’m Anna Bell. Today, I’m thankful to have Morton Museum Director, Lydia Warren, on the phone with us to talk about how she and her staff are collecting information from the community to preserve the historical times we’re living in today due to the coronavirus pandemic. Lydia, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.

Lydia Warren: Thank you.

AB: Yeah. So first off, kind of tell me how are you and the staff doing over at Morton? Is everybody healthy? 

LW: Everybody here is healthy. We are town employees, so we have been approved for now to work remotely. So, right now I’m working remotely and then the visitor and education services person, Katie Bailey, she’s also working remotely and our collections person who does our archives and our rentals, she actually left to go to grad school last month. So that’s the position we are hiring for if anybody out there is looking for a job and has archival experience. But it’s nice because we’re a paired down staff right now it’s just the two of us. So we can focus on events planning and collecting stories from the community.

AB: Yeah. So as nice as it is being remote, I’m sure you’re probably missing the stained glass windows of the Morton Museum that is so beautiful in there.

LW: We miss it and Katie lives near the museum. She lives near enough so that she can go get the mail a few times a week and take pictures of the museum and posted on our social media.

AB: Oh good. Well, I’d love, Lydia, for you to kind of start by telling those who are listening and might be new to the area or have not yet visited. Can you tell us a little history on the Morton Museum and maybe your role and responsibilities as the director? 

LW: Yeah, so as the director, I’m in charge of basically the administrative duties of the museum and also overseeing the strategic plan and overseeing a lot of the events planning that we do. We have several exhibits every year that need curating by ourselves. We also sometimes have traveling exhibits that we bring in from places like the Smithsonian. And we have a Friends of the Morton Museum organization that we work closely with to sort of plan what we want to have in terms of those traveling exhibits. We’re also, with them, unveiling an internship program for next year. We’re hoping to do it for this year, but we think next year will probably be better. So I do a lot of the sort of administrative and overseeing sort of tasks. And then Katie does the tasks of visitor services and field trips and educational programming.

LW: We have summer workshops. She plans all of those and then our collections person does our archival work and also takes care of our wedding rentals. And reception rentals, which we have a good deal of and we just love having people in our space. The museum itself, for anybody who hasn’t been there, is an old church. It was donated to the town by Morgan Morton. And he was a Collierville resident, and just a great guy who we are still in touch with and so thankful that he donated the space. He used to go there as a child and we have a plaque commemorating his mom in the museum, but it’s a beautiful space. And like I said, we do have all sorts of different exhibits in the space that’s more noticeable as a church. And then we do have a permanent exhibit when you first walk in and that’s more of the history of Collierville.

AB: It kind of is like, I don’t know how else to say it. It’s a beautiful white church that’s a gateway into the, the Square, you know, it just like welcomed you right on into the Town Square. I feel like.

LW: Yeah. And one of my first… I’ve actually only been working at the museum for about four months and one of my first tasks was a news reporter needed information on local family and came in and you know, I’m thinking, Oh my gosh, I’ve just started, how am I going to get this information? But we have this rich archive full of current Collierville resident history. And then downstairs… it was actually the Leake family and downstairs, there was all this stuff already in our permanent exhibit for the Leake family because they were a prominent family, they owned the land that is now the town square and they were like a surgeon and we have their surgical implements downstairs. So there is just so much history packed into this old church.

AB: That’s so true. It is, it’s like a wealth of knowledge and the Morton Museum is known for archiving historical events in Collierville. And I would certainly say that we’re living in historical times right now when you, and so you guys are making an effort to preserve this Collierville history in a unique way. Isn’t that right, Lydia? 

LW: It’s true. Yeah. We have a few programs going on. One of them is, our sort of more long form journaling and if anybody wanted to get involved in that, all they would need to do is keep a journal and then send it along to us in a few months or at the end of the year next year.

AB: So the physical journal.

LW: Yeah, well they could even if you wanted to take notes on your phone, but that’s sort of a longterm plan that we have. We have a relationship with several classroom communities, several teachers and they’re having their students journal, you know, maybe once a day or once a week, whatever time commitments they can do. And we have a number of local community residents who are doing that as well. Yeah, if anybody wants to get involved with that, just that, just go on the website, send us an email or keep a journal and some to us later. And the short survey form is what’s sort of getting a lot of what going along now, getting a little bit popular.

AB: Sure. And so kind of take us through that. Yeah. Take us through the steps of, of what we would need to do if we wanted to go this, the survey route. 

LW: So if you just pop onto our Facebook page, we have a link to a short form survey and basically you can enter your name and your age or you can remain completely anonymous and we’re just collecting any amount of your story that you want to share about this time. And then we are preserving it in our archive. And we’ll be preserving it digitally. And this is in tandem with what Katie Bailey is doing right now. The other staff member, she is collecting local newspapers. She is making a timeline of, you know, when things were closed and then when things will be reopened so that in the future people will be able to look back and see, not just one newspaper article about this pandemic, but actual stories from real Collierville residents along with newspaper articles along with diverse opinions and experiences. So we’re looking forward to getting as many participants as we can.

AB: So to kind of recap too, we can go to the colliervillemuseum.org as a place to find the survey or we can go to the Morton Museum Facebook page to find that link to the survey and you have the option to submit your name and your age. But you could also remain anonymous if you choose to do so.

LW: Correct.

AB: And so maybe we can talk a little bit deeper about what kind of you’re looking for. I mean, do you have to be a formal writer or are you accepting any recollections or submissions from anyone?  

LW: Any recollections from anybody, any age, any length, anything you want to focus on. And we have had some, you know, our submissions that we’ve received are really so diverse. It’s everything from, you know, 15 year olds who are, you know, I think everybody’s afraid, but it’s a lot of 15 year olds giving their view of, you know, they’re sad school is out. And then you know, people who are 65 giving their view of what it’s like to have maybe an immunocompromised family member that they’re trying to protect. So anyone, any amount, some people are writing three sentences, some people are writing like a whole novel in there.

AB: Oh, that’s great to know. Yeah. So any length you can write whatever, whatever your heart’s desire, right? 

LW: Yes, exactly.

AB: You know, you know what I immediately thought about is our high school seniors right now who are missing their proms, missing graduations. They would be really good ones. Also, I would think too, to write up something about how they’re feeling and experiencing right now.

LW: Yeah, definitely. And a lot of the, on the flip side, it’s always interesting to capture the stories of, you know, parents who are now living at home. And one of the main themes that we’re seeing in the responses that we’ve received so far is just the overwhelming sense of community that Collierville has, even though everybody is apart.

AB: I love that.

LW: Yeah. It’s really heartening to see that everybody’s really focused on how do we protect each other, how do we protect ourselves? And we’re all kind of doing a lot of the same things but apart. But everybody has the sense of like, wow, we’re all doing, we’re doing this, we’re doing an okay job here. It seems like I’m proud of my community is a big running theme. And that’s great to see.

AB: It really is. I mean, what is your hope in archiving the impact of COVID-19 on our town? What is the really hope of kind of collecting these stories and what are you hoping to get out of out of them?

LW: There’s two main things. One is there is a lot of evidence if you study archival collection and museums, a lot of the times what gets preserved is not everybody’s voice. So if you look back at the archive from the days when African-Americans were enslaved, you often don’t have a lot of narratives from African-Americans. So it’s an ongoing theme that archives usually represent sort of the elite. So people who had letters and papers and the time to write, it’s not always true, but that’s the most dominant thing that you get in archives. So this is an effort to really say that the archive at the Morton Museum is for everybody in Collierville. I don’t care who you are, what your job is, how old you are, what you want to say. We’re here to preserve that.

AB: That’s awesome.

LW: So it’s really to get an accurate snapshot and the other, I guess the other side of that is it’s important, you know, for history to not repeat itself. We want to learn any lessons that we can from this experience. And I don’t know what we’re going to learn. I don’t know what we’re going to collect, but hopefully this information will be useful in the future and people can look back and say, well, we did that right.

AB: Right, exactly. Or learn, learn from what we’ve done. You’re exactly right. I mean if there is one thing out of all of this, we’ve been given as a little bit more time. So we’d like to encourage all those that are listening to go to colliervillemuseum.org or go to the Morton Museum Facebook page and find that link to submit your story and your recollection of this, you know, crazy emotional time of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States in 2020. So Lydia, thank you so much for your time and your insight today. We really do appreciate it.

LW: Thank you.

AB: And for all who are listening, I would like to send well wishes from my home to yours. Until next time, I’m Anna Bell.

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