The College of New Jersey is creating an oral archive of the memories from Superstorm Sandy survivors.
Eighteen students in Matthew Bender’s history class interviewed about a hundred New Jersey residents who shared detailed, emotional stories about the 2012 storm.
“We have a wide range of experiences, people who lost homes and businesses, people who were first responders,” Bender said. “We even have some stories of people who were not from the Shore, but felt so compelled to help, they have been active volunteers for the past two years.”
The narratives capture the ordeal of the storm and its aftermath, he said.
“They create a more vivid historical record than we are accustomed to,” Bender explained. “In 50 years, a person will be able to look back on this archive and really get a sense of what the storm meant to people, how they experienced it as it was happening, the challenges they have gone through in the recovery and rebuilding process.”
Many of the Sandy survivors said they would have done things differently if they had known how much damage the storm could cause.
“For people going on in the future who are trying to figure out the best way to build a house on the Shore, or what kind of insurance coverage to have, or whether to evacuate if there is a storm, these memories serve a really powerful reminder of what can happen,” Bender said.
The project has been a tremendously rewarding experience for Bender and his students.
“I’ve never had a class where students were this enthusiastic,” he said. “Most of them were history majors. This was a way to take what they were learning in the classroom and apply it to something that really mattered to them. Many of the students in the project are from the Shore, but I think they see the Shore in a different way as a result of having done these interviews.”