Reviews from Scholarly Experts

An image of Professor Catherine A McCarty

Professor Catherine A. McCarty

Associate Dean for Research, Medical School and Professor, Department of Family Medicine and BioBehavioral Health, University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth campus

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Dr. Devaleena Das from the Department of Studies in Justice, Culture, & Social Change and colleagues at the University of Minnesota Duluth undertook an ambitious project to record the diverse stories of more than one hundred people experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic through their personal, intersectional lenses.  With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the researchers recorded these stories in real time.  The stories have a multitude of uses now and in the future, and the importance of this project cannot be understated.

There is so much to love about this project, including the employment of interviewers who had been laid off due to the pandemic, and their stories, and the stories of people in their circles.  Personally, I plan to revisit the website many times to absorb and reflect on all of the stories and the emotion and art and music.  Like a good book, movie or nature trail, there is something new to be discovered with each visit.  I love the organization of stories from the interviews into nine themes: travelers: recreation, nature and the environment; essential workers, a family in a pandemic; equity, diversion, and social justice; community outreach from AICHO; mental & physical health and wellness; relationships, family, and community; and creative life.  I love the national recognition through grant funding that these voices, these bodies, matter.

I teach medical ethics to first and second year medical students.  We discuss the four basic secular principles of medical ethics (autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice) that form the basis of many ethical debates, but ultimately the narrative of the patient and everyone who cares about the patient is what matters.  I will be looking for ways to incorporate the narratives documented through SWaBS into my ethics teaching.  There is so much to be learned from these stories.  I have heard a COVID metaphor about how we are all weathering the same storm, but in different boats; these stories represent the different boats. I encourage everyone to read the stories, listen to the music, and/or view the art within these themes.  Is there a particular story, painting, drawing, or song that resonates with you?  I think that the ultimate lesson from these diverse stories is the recognition that they all have equal value.  All of our stories matter. Congratulations, Dr. Das. Your wisdom, passion and humanity shine through your project to document these personal stories of wisdom from the many bodies separated during COVID-19.  Thank you for preserving these narratives.  Be well.



Professional photo of Professor Judith A. Houck

Professor Judith A. Houck

Professor of History of Science and of Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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"Stories of Wisdom from Bodies in Separation: Archiving the Coronavirus Pandemic Through the Lens of Humanities" is a gem! This collection of more than one hundred oral histories vividly captures the diversity of experiences of Covid-19 in and around Duluth, Minnesota. Its particular strength is the collection’s breadth, bringing to life the stories of young and old, rich and poor, White and BIPOC, straight and queer. We hear from artists, teachers, disability rights activists, bartenders, nurses, and students among many others. People share their stories of grief and fear, but also of hope and resilience. We learn about the struggles of those who have lost their jobs, and those who work unimaginably long hours as essential workers. We discover the challenges of living alone, working from home while “school” is in the next room, and parenting newborns without family help. These interviews capture the stories of lives lived at this remarkable moment that includes a pandemic, recurrent examples of police brutality and their resistance, a presidential election, and an economic downturn. This collection will serve us now and for decades to come as we reckon with how we came through this extraordinary time.



Professional photo of Professor Catharine Coleborne

Professor Catharine Coleborne

Professor and Head of School/Dean of Arts, School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle, Australia

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‘Stories of Wisdom from Bodies in Separation: Archiving the Coronavirus Pandemic through the Lens of Humanities’ is a profound contribution to the medical humanities at a time when we are reflecting on the impact of the pandemic throughout 2019.

This collection of over 100 first-hand accounts of people living through COVID-19 in communities with deep histories of disadvantage, care, and compassion provides us with some strong touchstones for a renewed contemporary understanding of the value of stories, images and creative practices around health and recovery.

Interviews with and by community members share thematic interpretations of life now and how to make the most of families, relationships, services, creative opportunities, as well as the politics of healthcare in place.

This project offers a model of ‘doing’ health and medical humanities through rich personal encounters, framed by our knowledge of how communities thrive.

Stories of Wisdom from Bodies in Separation Artwork



National Endowment for the Humanities Logo

Stories of Wisdom from Bodies in Separation (SWaBS): Archiving the Coronavirus Pandemic Through the Lens of Humanities has been made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

To see the full interviews
and media for this project

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To contribute your own materials to the Northeastern Minnesota COVID-19 Community Archive Project, please Visit Library