Interview with Gabriel Loiacono, 03/17/2022

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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BM: This is Brenna Masloroff interviewing Dr. Gabe Loiacono on Thursday, March 17 2022. For Campus COVID stories. Campus COVID stories is a collection of oral stories from students and staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh about their experiences in the time of COVID. Thank you for joining us joining. Thank you for all I'm going to have to restart I'm so sorry.

GL: No problem. Also, on the script, that first c, you can get rid of it. It’s- in my name, my last name, it’s L O I A C O N O. So that first c is not supposed to be there. Which would make a difference.

BM: I don’t know where we’re getting these.


GL: Yes.

BM: So Grace must have spelled it wrong. That is ok.

GL: Too many vowels in a row.

BM: All good. Take two. This is Brenaa Masloroff interviewing Dr. Gabe Loiacono on Thursday, March 17 2022. For Campus COVID stories. Campus COVID stories is a collection of oral 00:01:00stories from students and staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh about their experiences in the time of COVID. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. Before we could before we get started, could you please state your name and spell it for us?

GL: Yes, Gabriel G A B R I E L Loiacono L O I A C O N O

BM: Perfect. Thank you so much. Now for the purpose of getting good audio recording. Can you please tell us again who you are in your title here at UW Oshkosh?

GL: Yes, I'm Gabriel Loiacono. I'm an associate professor of history at UW Oshkosh.

BM: Thank you. And before we dive into your campus COVID stories, we'd like to get to know you a little bit much a little bit. So Where'd you grow up? What's your background?

GL: Yeah, I grew up in San Francisco, California, in the mostly in the 1980s and 1990s. And when I was young, I loved history already. I in when I was in high 00:02:00school, I had really good history teachers. And so that it was part of what set me on a trajectory to become a history professor.

BM: Wonderful. And where did you earn your degrees? Where'd you go to school? What degrees did you get?

GL: Yeah, after high school, I went to City College of San Francisco for one semester. So that's like a two-year college. And then I transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, and I've spent four years there and got a bachelor's degree in American history. And all through college, I worked in a law firm, and it was good money for someone like in my situation, and it helped pay some bills. And it also helped me see I did not want to become a lawyer, which was very valuable. I always tell my advisees that trying something and realizing that you hate it is a really great thing. It's a good, it's good progress. And so then I spent about three years doing different jobs, including 00:03:00as a park ranger in Washington, DC on the National Mall, which was fun for me because I got to talk about history and be outdoors instead of inside a skyscraper at the law firm. And but then I got laid off and had to think about whether I wanted to like, keep doing this and get a better, better job security in the National Park Service. And I decided to go to graduate school instead. And I got a PhD at Brandeis University, which is a small university in Massachusetts.

BM: So how did you get from California to Wisconsin or California to DC to Wisconsin?

GL: Yeah, well, it kind of went from California to DC to California to Massachusetts, to North Carolina, where my first job was, to Wisconsin. And so what brought me to Wisconsin was UW Oshkosh, they offered me a job as a tenure 00:04:00track professor and you know, if you if you want a tenure track history, Professor job you kind of have to go where they want you and yeah, so that's what brought me and, and I've lived here since 2009. And really enjoyed it and I have three children. And I think for them this this this is this is right. Like this is what they know this is what they like. And they you know, they've seen other parts of the world where they have relatives, but they're they love Wisconsin, and I really appreciate a lot of things about it.

BM: That's awesome. Tell us about your position at Oshkosh. What is your day-to-day life?

GL: Yeah, that's a good question. So there's lots of wonderful people who do different than At UW Oshkosh, and those of us who teach classes, might have a 00:05:00job that is mostly focused on teaching courses, or might have a job that is focused on teaching courses, but also requires some amount of research and scholarship and writing. And I think for all of us includes elements of service to the university, and even peoples whose jobs is more focused on teaching might also do that research and writing and scholarship as well. So technically, my job as an associate professor of history is divided three ways between teaching, research and service. And, you know, every day is different. As long as I have a course at the moment, that is usually the most immediate thing that I really want to focus on. So that means preparing. And when I started out, I might prepare, like, more than 10 hours for a one-hour class. And thank goodness, I'm become much more efficient. And now I can prepare much faster. But that's still 00:06:00a big part of what I what I do. Of course, grading is a big part. And, and then, you know, in order to teach, you have to keep up with the production of knowledge with like, what, what is what are people learning about history, and people are learning new things about the past all the time. And they're also reinterpreting and really understanding things that we thought we already knew well. And so keeping up with that, which is usually reading new books, reading journal articles, and reading book reviews, is a big part of what I do. Sometimes when I eat lunch, I sit there and read book reviews, and it's kind of nice and downtime for me, and then I also have, you know, big research commitments, and I am very happy that I published the book last year, actually, thank you. And so that is something I've been working on for a really long time. And, and now it's out there. And so, so every day is a little different. And you 00:07:00know, some days are really teaching focused, some days are more research and writing focused. And then usually, there are various kinds of service, which often involve meetings, say, have a curriculum committee or an advising committee, all in the interest of helping us do what we do a little better.

BM: How was writing your book? What path took you down to do that, besides just them saying you got to do research here?

GL: Yeah, that's a good question. And you know, you don't have to write a book as your research. What's much more common is to write journal articles, scholarly journal articles, and I've done that too. History is a little unusual, our field has a lot more books, I think, than other fields. It's just kind of a tradition of how we get stories out there. But I, you know, I loved history in the beginning, because I loved the stories. And I wanted to do that, too. I 00:08:00wanted to tell good stories. There's a lot of important history that is told in a difficult way. And it kind of has to be like, you know, when you're first figuring things out, it's, it's, it's just either impossible, or really difficult to tell a story like story about it. But I think part of our work should be to figure out how to tell new things in narrative style in a story like ways because I think that people understand that better often. So my goal was, the book is called how welfare worked in the early United States, five micro histories, which means that it's five tiny little stories about people who either received welfare or gave it out or somehow had their lives shaped by welfare in the very early United States. So like the time of George Washington, that that period.


BM: Interesting.

GL: Thank you.

BM: So going back to your position of at Oshkosh, what did you do pre COVID. Was it kind of same thing that you do now? Or did things kinda change?

GL: Yeah, well, it it's feeling more and more like pre COVID to me now in March of 2022. And I hope that it stays that way. But this in the middle of the semester, and I'm sure this is true for you both also, this is a really intense time of the semester and it's midterm time and so, you know, it feels to me as if the semester gets really busy by midterm time and then stays really busy. And so that's, I think that's where I was at that point right in the middle of the semester, preparing grading, and for me, usually, I'm pretty good. at keeping up research and writing in the first half of the semester, in the second half of this semester, it's really hard by then the amount of grading and prep in other 00:10:00work just like pushes that away until the end of the semester.

BM: I fully concur with that. So let's move into the early COVID days. What was the first time that you remember hearing about COVID?

GL: So good question. I mean, certainly, early in 2020, I was hearing about this, but I imagined that like other epidemics that I had heard of before, including SARS. And H1N1 was like a big scare about the time I moved to Oshkosh. And there were, there were shots that you could get with regard to H1N1, I think at that time. And so I think I imagined that it would be like that, that it sounded frightening. But that it was going to be that the experience would be similar to those.

BM: What changed your I don't know what your outlook is on it. But what kind of 00:11:00brought your eye to the idea of COVID more than just what you thought it was?

GL: Well, I guess once we started talking about not having classes that, you know, had never happened to me before. And so that was about the time I thought, wow, this is different from those other experiences.

BM: Totally. What was your first initial reaction to the news of Oshkosh getting shutdown?

GL: I guess my first I mean, I was a little concerned, you know, how serious is this gonna become? Are I am I and my family gonna get ill? And then, you know, the other half of it was, how am I going to teach online? Up until this point, I had never taught online. And I also didn't think I would like it, I didn't think that it was a way that, at least for me, was good for teaching and learning. And 00:12:00so I was a little worried about how this was not going to be a complete mess. I was grateful that we had an extra week to kind of prepare to think about it. And I also read a lot about how to do it. And in retrospect, I think I made some mistakes that I wouldn't repeat. But in other ways, it went better than I expected. And so

BM: What mistakes do you think you made?

GL: Well, you know, professors were talking to each other a lot, especially over social media about how to do this. And one piece of advice that was out there that made sense to me, at the time was your students are really stressed out, they have family obligations, other responsibilities, and who knows, you know, if people are ill in their family, so don't require them to come to online class meetings. And this was, you know, this was up to us, right? We got to make this 00:13:00call. And so I thought, Okay, I understand like, this can be stressful internet connections are weird. Learning from home is weird. Maybe lots of people are sharing the internet connection. So I'm going to make it very clear to my students that while there's going to be lots that they have to do coming to. And now I'm blanking on the word I have, it's almost like I blocked it out coming to a class A sink, what did they call it

BM: Asynchronous?

GL: Not the opposite of that a synchronous? Yeah. So coming to one of those would might be too much of an ask. In retrospect, I think making that optional, also made it possible for a lot of people to just totally fall off the wagon of completing the course. And maybe would have been on it, maybe it would have been wiser if I had dealt by dealt with those situations on a case-by-case basis, but 00:14:00otherwise, continued the expectation that you come.

BM: How do you describe your feelings about the disease itself?

GL: Yeah, I mean, this, it's been two years now. And I've had this conversation a lot. The I would say that in 2020, especially the spring and summer of 2020. Almost immediately, I could sense this huge gulf between the way I was thinking about this disease and the way the news was reporting on this disease, and then the be on the one hand, which is to be really concerned, and then just the behavior of a lot of my neighbors in Oshkosh, on the other hand, like it just seemed like these were two separate worlds. They almost didn't even hear each other. And it was it still to this day, it's a little dissonant like, in the 00:15:00sense that I like I can't quite put it all together like it didn't always compute. And so then I was constantly left, kind of like a ping pong ball, like wondering how serious or not serious is this? It just so happened that in the summer of 2020, there was roadwork in front of my house. So the whole summer, there was a crew that dug up the road and replaced this like century old sewer in the middle of the road. And clearly, none of them were worried about masks. And granted, they were outdoors. But like, I kept hearing that, you know, this, the wave is coming. And I was I was like, worried for them. And but nothing happened. And so then I was I was just, I was of at least two minds, like I couldn't, couldn't quite figure it out.

BM: I feel like that's how a lot of us were, we were just kind of like well, let's see where it goes. Yeah. Do you know anyone close to you, or yourself that 00:16:00guy in contact with COVID and got really sick or anything?

GL: Um, well, you know, for a long time of my family really, really did hunker down, we, we just, we, we isolated ourselves. And part of how we could do that is that we don't have close relatives nearby. They were all far away anyway. And, and then a lot of our friends were also of the opinion that, that we should really isolate. And so we did substitute face to face contact with, you know, digital means of communication and the telephone a lot. And so the first person that, that I knew, was a man from church who like sat in a pew nearby, and I read in his obituary that he had died, and he had died of COVID. And so this was the first time that I was like, oh, there's somebody I know. And then it was, it 00:17:00was in the fall of 2020, when, finally this surge that had been kind of forecast for a long time seem to come, at least in my experience, it seemed to come to Wisconsin, and then the family that we had, quote, unquote, bubbled with, lost their father and grandfather, like really fast, and really, surprisingly, to COVID. And at the same time, my wife's father was ill, not with COVID. But he seemed to acquire COVID in the hospital. And he wound up dying in April of 2021. And not necessarily of COVID Though he had had it and like, it's unclear how it interacted. But he, there were some other things going on as well. And so you know, that like from December of 2020, to April of 2021. Was more scary for me.


BM: Well, I'm very sorry for your losses. That's very, thank you very hard, because the same thing kind of happened to me too. So. Um now let's talk about your situation at the university was closed during mid-March of 2020. What were your feelings? Is everything how the UW went about it shutting down kind of where you went from that?

GL: Yeah, so Well, it was after spring break, and we're, we're now recording right before spring break. Very exciting. So yeah, it was, you know, for the, I mean, in some ways, I think we were very lucky, our, my family and we weathered it very well. My children all had an internet connection, and even a device that they could use to tune into school. And at first, it was kind of exciting, you know, like, everyone had their own little workspace and, and mine was in the 00:19:00living room. And, and I was, you know, as exciting to see my students, I kind of re-formulated all the classes so that it could be done asynchronously. But I encourage them to come even so I would say a small fraction of my students came like to live sessions, which were for two of my courses where were also recorded so that they could watch it later if they wanted to. And I you know, I, as I said, I was thinking this would be flexible and good for them. And we had nice discussions. They were never as long as the like, especially for my upper division course they were never as long as our normal classes would have been and then in my upper division, indigenous North America history course, we had 00:20:00had, I think, a really good community up until spring break, and then maybe five of them regularly came out of like 25 to 30. And so I was a little surprised, but and we had good conversations. And it was nice to just like talk to people in the midst of this isolation. So, you know, all in all, I would say, we got the job done, or at least I felt like I got the job done. My students who stuck with it got the job done. But a lot of my students, you know, and I don't necessarily blame them for a lot of different reasons, just kind of stopped doing class and, and so there was there, there were a lot of people who did didn't complete the class. Unfortunately, there was the possibility to withdraw without really penalties as far as I can tell.

BM: Well, both of us were seniors in high school, and everything kind of 00:21:00happened. So we kind of understand the idea of that it just all got pushed aside.

GL: Yeah

BM: And it was like a spring break for three months, kind of that's kind of how a lot of students went about it sometimes. Can you describe the moment you realize that you would not be coming back to teach in person during the 2019 2020? school year?

GL: I can't I actually don't remember it. I know that I didn't expect that. At first, I expected that we would be back shortly. And I don't know when I realized that that wasn't happening.

BM: Okay. Can you describe what happened in your in the history department? Was there specific teams? Were there COVID teams, special groups of people that were able to stay on campus? Or things like that?

GL: No, I'm no the history department. I mean, I think there were some people who were able to use their offices on campus a bit more, because working at home 00:22:00was not as possible. But for the most part, we could all work from home. And we did all work from home. And so we talked to each other on a regular basis, you know, again, because it was nice to talk to someone and to compare notes about how things are going. But we were unlike other parts of the university. We didn't none of us absolutely had to be on campus.

BM: Sure. What was discussed, like during your guys' board meetings, was there a specific talk of coming back in fall? 2021? And things like that?

GL: Yeah, I mean, we were constantly talking about that. And actually, at the time, I was also the interim chair of a different department, the Department of Social Work. And we were also talking about this all the time. And, you know, 00:23:00mostly, we were waiting to hear about decisions that were made in the administration in parts of the university that we're really trying to tackle these questions. Occasionally, we would, you know, send our input about how we were feeling about things, but we were not really making the big decisions about when we would come back. And so mostly, we just wanted to know, like, what to expect, what should we be preparing for? And how should we expect to be working in the fall? And also, how are we going to make digital learning work better and better for our students?

BM: How did you become the Interim Chair of the social work department, when you're a history professor?

GL: Yeah, occasionally this happens where for, for a variety of reasons, one example could be that there are no tenured faculty in a department and the chair 00:24:00should be. And so then they borrow a faculty member from a different department to be that person. And at the time, they were searching for a new chair and found a new chair who's wonderful in it, and the department is thriving. But sometimes they ask someone to step in to a different department, really, just to do the administrative part of that departments work.

BM: So you didn't really have to pick up a ton of extra work, or was it just you sign a couple documents a day? And

GL: I would say it's somewhere in between that it was more than a couple documents, but it was, you know, running meetings and, and being the conduit for information from other parts of the university to the department and overseeing you know, some of the personnel things that come And, you know, approving hours and all of that. And, and then, you know, my research area of the history of 00:25:00poor relief for what we now call welfare definitely overlaps with social work that said, I'm not a social worker, there's a lot of things that they do that I just don't even know how to do. But there was a little bit of connection there,

BM: did you? I don't know what the process is for writing a book. But did you take any of your experiences from Oshkosh and put it into the book,

GL: my, the, the subjects of my book all lived in Rhode Island, between the 1750s and the 1850s. And so the the archives like the, you know, really old pieces of paper that are most of the evidence for what I even know about them. Most of those are either in Rhode Island and are like one of a kind pieces of paper that you can only go and see they're or they're digitized. So they've been like, you know, scanned and you can actually access them. And so that's that was 00:26:00the bulk of my book. And actually, I wound up finishing my book in the summer of 2020. Like, while isolating at home. And so, you know, in some ways, the isolation didn't hurt that at all right, I was kind of stuck there. And that's when I had to make the final drafts and, and so a lot of that work happened while we were all isolating.

BM: Awesome. Some employee roles also deemed a Well, you said that no one ended up working on campus. Right?

GL: Not because it had to be done on campus.

BM: We will skip that. Let's move to your teaching. During this time, how many classes did you have online? Or that went online?

GL: I'm pretty sure it was three. I should be able to remember this. But yeah, I'm pretty sure I had three, a normal semester for me is three.


BM: And did you What was your method of teaching? Did you I mean, you said that you allow them to possibly come online due to zoom Collaborate Ultra?

GL: Yeah, at the time, the university was using Collaborate Ultra over the summer of 2020, I think we switched to zoom, which is a kind of a funny time to make that switch. And ultimately, both of them worked for me, you know, there are little differences between them. So but at first, it was it was Collaborate Ultra. And I basically would have like, one big lecture with slides for every week. And then we would have small discussions. And, and students could, you know, I recorded the lecture, a lot of people listen to it live, but some people would listen to it later on, at their, at their own leisure. And that was kind of my bread and butter was like one big lecture that was recorded per week, plus 00:28:00other forms of discussion, either like actually, on video chat through Collaborate Ultra or using Canvas and their discussion.

BM: Sure. Was it really hard for you trying to transition from in person online? I know you already talked about how you were able to move it. But was that process really hard for you?

GL: I mean, it was daunting. I was worried. But in the end, I don't think it was that hard. And it really helped, at least in my opinion, that I had good books that we were supposed to read. And, and this is also my own, like, prejudice, I guess, that I think it's, it's really important for us to learn by reading books, in addition to other things, and by books, I mean, not digital books, but like books in print. And so my students already had these books that that had 00:29:00been assigned. And for instance, for introductory US history. The second big book that we were going to read was a biography of a woman named Sojourner Truth. And I think it was like the perfect book, like it was a way for you not to have to be on your screen. Because, for me, one of the hardest parts of teaching online was that I was always sitting in front of my computer and I got so sick of it. And, and so I was grateful for me and, and I hope my students appreciated this too, that part of our work was to get away from the computer curl up with a book and you know, literally be in a different physical position. And, and then read it and for a lot of them, they said that this was is a really good book for them to read at this moment. And also, they seem to enjoy it. That 00:30:00particular book is designed well, in the sense that it has really short chapters, like it's a long book, but the chapters are short. So you, you kind of, you know, make a lot of progress quickly, or it feels like a lot of progress. And then for some of my students, too, because Sojourner Truth, was an African descended woman, who was born in the 1790s in New York, and became famous as both a women's rights activist and an anti-slavery activist and sort of like a supporter of the Union effort during the Civil War. A lot of my students felt that that this was a good book to read, just by coincidence, because when, when George Floyd was killed that this this also brought up a lot of history. So that turned out well, without any planning, obviously. But yeah, so I feel like the books, the books were good, and the book saw us through some 00:31:00of some of this time,

BM: That's awesome. The connection they were able to make between what was actually happening in our daily lives to what you were able to teach online. Do you prefer teaching online or in person?

GL: In person! No question.

BM: What was the biggest thing that made you want to come back to campus?

GL: Well, for one thing, like, I don't have no home office, so all my work was either gonna be done in the living room or in my bedroom. And it was like I never had, I was never away from it. I could always see, like, implements of work from wherever I was. And I love my office at UW Oshkosh. I like working there. I like being there. And I like being at home when I'm at home and not having to work and, you know, not being distracted from my children and my wife. And, and so. So that's one thing, and then I actually I forget the question, I 00:32:00had something else to say.

BM: I asked if what was the biggest handoff between in person and online.

GL: Oh yeah. And then, you know, like, what was class, like, for me? Online, it was staring at a screen of names. And, you know, I didn't want to insist on anybody turning their cameras on, and who knows, you know, maybe there were other people there, and they really didn't want to, and that's fine. But it was also like, you know, I would ask a question, and then just a week, and stare at names and like that, you know, that I think goes better in person. And you can also see people and read people's, you know, like, you know, are they thinking, are they completely flummoxed? Is this a stupid question like, you know, all like you that you can figure out better in person?

BM: Yes. Do you still teach remotely? Or are you 100% in person?


GL: I still. So in cases of illness, I encourage students to tune in by zoom. So I guess, you know, we don't have to do that. But I thought that as a nice compromise position, if someone feels like they're ill, but they're well enough to like, be able to listen, I want them to be able to do that. It is tricky, though. Because once that option is out there, some of my students will say, Well, you know, like, I have an errand to do, or I'm going on vacation. Can I tune in by zoom? And I'm not comfortable with that. Because, in my opinion, while let me like, let me say, I do think online teaching can be done well, like I think it is a real thing. It's not fake. It's, it's it is, it is quite 00:34:00possible. That said, my course that is mostly in person was not designed to do that. And I also worry that his students are tuning in online, that there's too much temptation to let your mind or even, like, you know, other parts of you wander off and do other things while you're sort of, like, you know, not really paying attention. I think, I think online learning learning can work really well. But everyone needs to take it quite seriously. And there were times when my students were at work, let's say and like had had zoom on. But like, you know, couldn't pay attention the whole time because they were not only not physically there but not mentally there either. And, you know, there were times when this leak was was Made embarrassingly clear, like when the mic was on, and someone came up to ask them a question. And like, you know, 50 of us are 00:35:00listening to this conversation.

BM: Yeah. So you are fully back on in person?

GL: I am fully back in person, but occasionally my students are on the Zoom when they are ill. And, you know, I think that's a good thing that's nice to be able to do and better that than then worrying about making other people ill.

BM: So do you think that you were able to deliver the same quality of teaching to your students while you were remote?

GL: That's a that's a challenging question. I would say that, for me, teaching in person is better, and for my students is better. Because that's what I've trained to do for a really long time. And I know how to do it better. That said, you know, like I said earlier, things didn't go as badly as I thought they 00:36:00would. And I actually think that for students who stuck it out with me, we did it. We got the job done. We learned what we needed to do. We we kind of we did the job. And, you know, if if there were other if there were reasons to do it again, I think I could do it better. Like I don't think it was horrible either the first time but I think we could do it better. I know a little better how to do this. I'm sure many of my students know a little better what works and what does not. But, but yes, in my current stage of where I am, I think I know better how to do it in person than online. But I can do it online if necessary.

BM: Sure. So we are going to take a brief pause and Brenna Masloroff is now going to switch to Vanessa Jenneman.

VJ: This is now Vanessa Jenneman, interviewing Dr. Gabriel Loiacono. This is 00:37:00part two. With whom did you work most closely with executing your response to COVID? Was this with other professors in your department or just individuals within the University in general?

GL: Yeah, it's a good question. I mean, the first answer that I would think of is with my students, like we were in the middle, literally right in the middle of a semester. And so figuring out with them, what was going to work was really important. And then yes, absolutely, my, my fellow faculty members in both history and social work, we talked a lot about what was going to work, what wasn't gonna work, how we were each individually going to do this. And I know that one of my colleagues who is a criminal justice professor, who also teaches a social work class, was incredibly helpful to, the rest of us in figuring out these digital tools, and like, knowing how to use them and how this was gonna go down.


VJ: You mentioned working with students, did you find that they were able to ask questions through email? Did you set up like office hours? Or how was that done during the remote learning?

GL: Yeah, I think we, we used email a lot. I did have virtual office hours. But as happens with non-virtual office hours, a lot of times I just sat there, which is fine. But mostly, this was through email. And then occasionally, we would set up like individual students and I would set up, you know, we would go into the Collaborate Ultra classroom, when class wasn't on and use that to talk. And that also worked.

VJ: We kind of mentioned like a bunch of challenges you've had to go through, was there anything else you would like to touch on from the time of March 2020 to December of 2021? That was challenging in work or with students or anything in general?

GL: Yeah, that's, that's a good question. I mean, in my head, the biggest challenge in retrospect was isolation. Like I think, in my opinion, we learned 00:39:00as a society that isolation is really hard and that there are like health effects of isolation like negative health effects of isolation that that we probably just didn't think about ahead of time because we just how could we have remembered them like how would we know? And that affects everything. I think it affects life, it affects work, and it's hard and then I love having a desktop computer and my work computer has a very big screen and I really like, it's a great tool. And I brought it from my work office home and set it up. As I said, first in the living room and later in my bedroom, but I got so sick of sitting there and looking at it. And I think, you know, I had known theoretically that 00:40:00your posture and your eyesight, and just your like health could be affected by sitting in front of a computer for long. And that that absolutely happened, I used to pride myself on my eyesight. And I think it's still pretty good, but it's not as good as it was. And I know I'm getting older, but like, I blame COVID, I blame the just having to stare at the computer because now, I both taught and graded at the computer, which I used to do not at the computer, which I did in person. And then I graded on paper. And so when I say now I meant like after isolating in 2020. And I taught both fall of 20. And most of my classes in spring of 21 were also online, which I did have some choice in only one of them in spring of 21 was hybrid, it was half and half we met in the classroom, one 00:41:00day a week. But all my grading was now on canvas. And that was hard for me. And I just gave a midterm on paper again for the first time in two years. And I hope my students don't mind, but I'm excited to create it on paper again.

VJ: I would agree with that I like in-person tests.

GL: Oh, good. That's good to know.

VJ: um, what are three things you're most proud of regarding your response to COVID?

GL: Well, A. that we got through it. And B. that we got the job done. And C. that, you know, in my own little family that we you know, we found ways to cope with this, like a really different and new and weird situation and spending a lot of time together all the time.

VJ: Um, how was your job changed because of the global pandemic? Do you think that there's certain aspects that COVID has changed your job that is not going 00:42:00to go back? That it's permanent now?

GL: Yeah, that's a good question. One positive thing is that, you know, historians, like other scholars, we like to talk to each other frequently and share research and, and a lot more of that is happening online so that I can attend lectures that I could never have attended before. And that can be a very good thing. And I even last month attended a conference online that like that, that would never have happened that way before. So there are some good aspects, and I'm, you know, promoting my book, and I can have online lectures about it, which I did also last month, and that was great. And, and so that's a good thing that has changed. And, you know, in some ways, I think this is true of me, I 00:43:00think this is true of some of my students. This time in this pandemic allowed us to really realize what's most important for us, you know, really like, made you think about what, what you care about, like what do you really want to do with your life, with your time. And, and that's a helpful thing. I'm not totally sure how this has affected students in general. But you know, I think it has made students think well, you know, I do want to go to college, I don't want to go to college, I do want to major in this like I, I think there's been a lot of that kind of crystallization. I want to be near family or you know, I want to go and see the world like all of that kind of stuff. I feel like there's a little bit more of that now, which is also not a bad thing. It's a good thing. And then I 00:44:00think we're also much more careful about germs in general. I think that that is also true. So there's less handshaking, it's coming back. But I like to shake hands, but I also understand when people don't want to and I think there's lots of changes, and I'm only thinking of a few but if I think of others, I will I will bring them up.

VJ: Thank you. So in fall of 2021 vaccines are readily available on campus, and they're strongly encouraged by the administration, the CDC. So what were your initial thoughts of the vaccines?

GL: Yeah, that's a that's a good question. And for me, it was it was a little bit mixed. It was both excited but also a little worried and this, you know, I have I have a, not in Wisconsin, but beyond Wisconsin, I have a kind of a large 00:45:00extended family with lots of different opinions about things. And so I was hearing in conversations with family members, all sorts of things. And I sort of grew up, like, in a mildly vaccine skeptical, like, mill you. And, and I, you know, I also, I have a tendency to, to question what I'm being told by anybody you know, so like i i generally, I usually, as a historical philosophy think that things are complicated. It's not always simple. And while I think there definitely is truth, I also think that there's a lot to it, right? There's a lot of different angles, a lot of different perspectives, a lot of things can be true all at the same time. So I guess, long story short, I was I was feeling 00:46:00mixed, but also hopeful.

VJ: Yeah, that makes sense. Like, I feel like you needed to, like, take your research or find out what the best option was, for everyone. How do you think things are getting back to normal? And like, what would you describe normal as? Do you think we're slowly going back to a normal world?

GL: Yeah, I mean, enjoying things that that I, at least in my family, like, kept from ourselves for a long time, I think we all enjoy that. That is within my family, we love going to restaurants, and we love eating. And doing that has been nice. And we, you know, we kept away from that for a long time. I don't know, if, you know, I feel like it was you know, not as long as some people we know, but also a long time. And I'm happy to do that again. And to see people again, to travel again, you know, for for my wife and I visiting our parents, 00:47:00visiting our siblings is a big trip. And we did it a lot before COVID, we kind of took a year off, and it it kind of hurt, you know, that was sad. And, and so doing that, again, has been really nice. I will add that, like going back to the question of how my job has changed, and also like just the world in general. I guess in terms of negatives, I feel like this period of two years, has exposed how little trust there is in the United States and perhaps around the world. Like I literally don't believe what you're saying to me about the truth. And I think you also might be lying to me because you want bad things for me. Like I 00:48:00feel like that's more out there than before. And that certainly affects my work as a historian, because what is the history, it's a story, a historian is telling you about what happened in the past. And often you can point out also, through things in the past that contradict or at least, like make more complicated what the historian just said to you. And so without trust then it's, it's kind of easy to get to a position where we don't talk to each other, we have separate histories, separate news. And when we when we do talk to each other, we can't even understand each other, because like our base of knowledge are two totally different, sealed off worlds. And that certainly affects my 00:49:00work. And I, I don't like that, I don't want that I think it's very important that we have areas of commonality, I don't think we have to agree about everything. And there are really important things to disagree about. But I also think that if we don't try to make some connections, this is really going to be really bad that it's not going to work in the long run, that you need that for a country for, like for a community and for a political system to work.

VJ: I would definitely agree with you on that. Going back with your student's curriculum, do you think that with the pandemic and COVID, you'll start teaching about it years from now or do you think that'll get brought into like what you're going to be teaching about?

GL: Yeah, absolutely. And already that's true. I mean, you know, I'm an early Americanists. So I teach about things that happened quite a while ago. I in most classes, don't go past like about the year 1870. And, and yet, right away, of 00:50:00course, we were all interested in the history of pandemics and things from the Spanish Flu of 1918. Or in my period in the American Revolutions, smallpox epidemics, or in the very early USA, yellow fever. It you know, it turns out that when you start paying attention, there's actually a ton of pandemic history. And all of a sudden, people wanted to know it and compare. So we did do that right away. And also, I think the way we understand the past is by comparing our own experience to it. And so we now have this bank of experiences in the COVID 19 pandemic, that, that, that we can use as teachers and as historians to say, well, you remember what that was, like? Like, compare that to this thing that happened 500 years ago?

VJ: What has living and working during the time of COVID taught you about 00:51:00yourself or others? Did it make you grow as an individual, or what have you learned about yourself?

GL: Yeah, I don't I don't know. I mean, I guess I have learned a little bit about what's important to me and what what I want to do, and you know, that, that spending a lot of time not being with people I love is, you know, I worry about that. So there's that. And, and then, you know, if I was bored a lot, and and that was good, in some ways, I developed a, you know, a couple of hobbies, I made a table, I made a garden box, I did things that I normally would never have done, because I wouldn't have had the time, so that was fun. And, and then I do think that at home, we got along with each other pretty well and learned some 00:52:00things about each other.

VJ: Yeah, I feel like it was nice spending some more time with family.

GL: Yeah.

VJ: Yeah. Getting to do things you never thought you would ever get to do.

GL: Yeah.

VJ: Yeah. So knowing what you know, now, with everything that went down with the university, would you have done anything different? Just maybe the university as a whole or in your department? I mean, if you could go back and change anything?

GL: Well, I think I would be more strict about attendance online. In synchronous classes, I think that would have helped a few more students finish that semester of spring 2020, in particular. And you know, I often think to about the summer of 2020, when my family and a lot of our friends were being super careful. But there weren't really any cases yet. And, you know, how, how could I know, like, at least around us, right? In retrospect, my understanding of what is a 00:53:00dangerous time? Changed, right? And so, I don't like that that's a little bit unfair to us in summer of 2020 right, there's a lot we just didn't know, then. But, but yeah, now now I've I've changed a little bit in what I think is, is risky and isn't risky. And I also, I think I've become a bit more understanding of a wider array of responses, you know, like, there, there, there was a time when I would see someone who was responding quite differently for me, and I would be resentful and mad and I have become a lot more kind of, I think, tolerant of that. And, you know, again, like, members of my family have dramatically different opinions. And, and, and so we, you know, I also think 00:54:00that it's important to keep close and to get along, even with these different opinions.

VJ: Yeah, thank you. Um, as long as we still have some time, I wanted to ask you a few questions about how you personally in your private life fared during COVID. Would that be okay?

GL: Yes.

VJ: Okay. Perfect. Thank you. Um, so we were sent, well, you were sent home a week before spring break. Did you do anything for spring break of the week of March 22, to the 29th. in 2020.

GL: I prepared to teach online like that was the time that we had to make this happen and learn some new technologies. So that is what we did.

VJ: Did you work with IT a lot, or were you given like, any kind of instructions on what to do?

GL: Yeah, we were given a lot of instructions. I think our our Instructional Design people and Center for Teaching and Learning, as well as our IT people 00:55:00were all kind of heroic, like they really did pull it out and did for us as much as they could. Brian Ledwell, who is kind of the canvas guru, just like, I mean, I don't know if the guy slept like he just, he just kept answering questions and coming out with updates, and, and so I think we got a lot of support in making this happen.

VJ: Um, do you remember how long you thought the university was going to be closed? Did you think it was, oh, a couple of week and we'll be back?

GL: I did think that. Yeah, I did think that we would be back before the end of the semester.

VJ: Yeah, I feel like a lot of us thought,

GL: yeah,

VJ: a couple weeks off, and then we'll be back at school. Um, you kind of touched on this a little bit earlier, but where were you living and with whom when first COVID protocols came about?

GL: Yeah, I mean, I that's part of why I feel so lucky is I was living in, in my house with my family. And, you know, we have like, a tiny backyard and like, a 00:56:00little place to walk around. And, we share a driveway with our neighbors. And they were very nice. And we were very cooperative with each other. And, and, you know, like, the, the children were all in school online, and, and so there was a lot of that a lot of like, you know, get to your first class and, and get going. And then we had to leave them alone, right? Then they were up, they were on, on duty by themselves. And it turned out that one of them who you know, is a good student, just like, really didn't like this and, and we thought she was working on on schoolwork. And she was actually writing a novel instead. So like, if she was hunched over her keyboard typing, it looked like she was, you know, doing what we thought she was, but she wasn't. But so so yeah, so that was that was 00:57:00interesting. But we spent a lot of time at home, we took we took walks, we played with the basketball hoop in the back and that was it.

VJ: So your like immediate family, you were all in agreement of social distancing? You kind of mentioned you have like, family farther away? Was there any friction? Or you felt like you lost connection with maybe family members that you didn't or weren't agreeing with about COVID and how COVID came about?

GL: Yes. Yeah, I mean, I think within within the larger family, there were definitely people who weren't speaking to each other, or who just like, you know, felt that you were so utterly wrong, that I don't even like I can't even you know, that that happened. But, you know, for me with the people that I disagreed with, partly I had to tolerate them, like, you know, if I if I wanted 00:58:00to keep talking to them, and this was all they wanted to talk about, like we you know, we had to, and we disagreed, and we still disagree. But, you know, I'm glad that we kept we kept the connection

VJ: With everything that happened and so quickly, how are you doing emotionally? And how is your family coping with everything?

GL: Um, you mean now or then?

VJ: If you could answer both for me, please?

GL: Yeah. I mean, I think again, we were kind of lucky that we had each other we were, we were close to each other. I think, you know, one, one of my close family members who lives far away, was kind of on his own now, like, and, and was a little depressed, like, you know, I think this was awful. And, and so I think if I had been by myself, it would have been much harder. But having my 00:59:00wife and our children together, made it a bit more cheerful than it would have been. And the most difficult part for us was when my father in law was ill. He lives in Europe. And that's where he grew up and where he wanted to stay and, and we'd normally visit him every summer, but we didn't visit him in the summer of 2020. Thinking that this would be risky, we'd risk bringing him a disease from the airplane. And, and then his health, which had, you know, he'd been struggling with for a long time, started to fail in the fall of 2020. And he had a lot of ups and downs and my wife just went she went three times I think from, from Wisconsin, to, to Serbia to the former Yugoslavia, back and forth a few 01:00:00times. And at first, we were really worried and scared about this trip. And then things were fine, thank goodness, and I'm so glad that she went. And then it sort of, to our surprise, he, he, he died shortly after she returned from one of those trips, and, and then she went again for a funeral. And so that that was hard. And I still, you know, I still don't quite know how, you know, how, what the impact is for her. It's, it's, you know, it's almost a year now. But that's, I don't think that's that long when someone that close to you dies and so, so that, you know, there were some hard part's, but I also think we, we did pretty well.

VJ: I just want to say I'm very sorry for your loss.

GL: Thank you.

VJ: Yeah. Um, so I guess as a whole your family is what kind of kept you together? That without having them, it would have been a lot more difficult.


GL: Yes, yeah. And I and I really, you know, I see and empathize with people that either, you know, had a more difficult situation at home, or didn't really have, you know, many people at home that they could be with and, and as I said earlier, I also think that it, at least for me, and for a lot of people I know, it's just really hard not to be around other people, and coming to my office and even if I don't have like, a conversation with other people, just saying, hello, is something it's, I think it's, it's, it's good for me, and so, I appreciate doing that again,

VJ: Is there anything else you'd like to add about your time during COVID, or anything that you're going through now with COVID in school?

GL: I just hope it gets better and continues to get better. And I really am appreciating, you know, like, it's a beautiful sunny day outside and, and so far so good with this semester, and, and seeing and being with students in the 01:02:00classroom, and I hope it continues this way. And thank you for taking this oral history. And as an historian, I think it's very important that we gather evidence of what happened and, and so on behalf of future historians, I thank you.

VJ: Well, thank you so much for sharing your stories with us. We appreciate your

contribution to the campus COVID stories at UW Oshkosh. Thank you. Thank you both.