Foxfire Museum’s crowd-sourced COVID oral history project

This article appeared in the Volume 2, Issue 3 Winter 2021 issue of the Appalachian Curator. Click here to view a PDF of the full issue.

By Kami Ahrens, Curator and Educational Outreach Coordinator, Foxfire

In March 2020, the Foxfire Museum responded to the nation-wide shutdowns by launching a crowd-sourced oral history program, as so many museums and archives did. For over 50 years, Foxfire has been collecting oral histories, including experiences during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. This project aligns with our organization’s mission to preserve, protect, and promote Southern Appalachian history.

Initial submissions to the project were largely from a class assignment out of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, which created an unintentional regional bias in the collection. Around the same time that the first waves of submissions were coming in, reporter Lilly Knoepp with Blue Ridge Public Radio (BPR) reached out to us about a possible collaboration. Throughout the pandemic, BPR has been actively collecting and reporting on covid-related stories. This communication began the initial conversations that led us to grow a healthy partnership dedicated to capturing stories of the pandemic throughout the Southern Appalachian region.

Foxfire Museum COVID Oral History Project graphic
Foxfire Museum COVID Oral History Project graphic

In the summer of 2020, the local high school students who participate in the annual Foxfire leadership program dedicated their fall magazine issue to investigating the impact of covid on their community. For this project, they collected over 40 oral histories, adding a substantial amount of content to the special collection. Their interviews focused on local businesses, teachers, and students. This material, along with oral histories submitted by the general public, became the focus of the partnership with BPR.

The partnership was formally announced at the beginning of March 2021, in honor of the first anniversary of covid in the United States. BPR released a series of four short pieces share excerpts of just a few of the many interviews submitted to and collected by Foxfire. BPR has also submitted select interviews from 2020 to be archived at Foxfire as part of the special collection. As they continue to acquire related materials, we hope their contributions to our archive will grow and fill in some of the collecting gaps that have inherently grown out of a crowd-sourced program.

Our workflow for the project is relatively simple: submissions are sent to a project email ( with completed release forms and optional demographic data, along with a digital file containing the oral history, photographs, written pieces, etc. These are then assigned a unique accession number and entered into a shared log, with descriptive keywords. Any audio is transcribed, and all documents are printed and filed in our paper archives. The digital materials are copied to external hard drives for long-term storage.

Working with BPR, we review the materials and select some for broadcast. While BPR produces short non-narrated audio features, we have also worked together closely to produce long-form podcast episodes for Foxfire’s podcast It Still Lives.

The next phase of the project will focus on public outreach and education, to collect more oral histories. As noted by several museums and archives in the region, public interest in documenting covid has waned. Our crowd-sourced submissions are coming in slowly, but we want to seek out more stories. Beginning in June, Foxfire and BPR will lead virtual information sessions and workshops in collaboration with regional libraries to promote the project and increase submissions. Foxfire staff and BPR reporters will also continue strategic interviews as part of larger projects.

Ultimately, we see this project evolving into chapters of a Foxfire book and an interactive digital project where the general public to access and explore submission from the region. We would also be interested in partnering with institutions who’ve conducted similar projects somewhere down the line to create a covid collective that will serve as a comprehensive resource for future researchers to better understand the effect of the pandemic from a holistic perspective.

We welcome any questions or feedback regarding the project. Please contact Kami Ahrens at or Lilly Knoepp at

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