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NEWS | June 3, 2020

Joint Base Charleston Historian documents history during a pandemic

By Airman 1st Class Sara Jenkins Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs


Historians are people who devote their career to the past, but recently, they have had to change their focus to documenting the present. 


According to Josh Mayes, 628th Air Base Wing historian, history is always in motion. 


“History for me is not a dusty subject that sits on a bookshelf, but is more of a dynamic field of study,” he said. “History, contrary to some people's belief, is very dynamic and is literally changing constantly.” 


People often think of historians as people who study the past, or a particular period of time, and document their findings based on evidence and facts. 


According to Mayes, historians are more than information seekers of the past.  


“To understand what a historian does we first ask, what is history?” he said. “At the most basic level, history changes over time and by studying the ebb and flow of time we see trends, complex connections, and in a way… into the future.”


According to Mayes, military historians have different roles than other types of historians. 


“We act as professors, archivists, and in my role with the 628th Air Base Wing, as an advisor to the commander by recording past events that influenced decision making in the wing,” he said. “As an Air Force historian, it is vital to understand not only our respective wings’ fundamental mission but also that of the Air Force in order to provide leadership with a useful historical perspective to make informed decisions. Also, Air Force historians provide displays and briefings on the importance of Air Force heritage.”


Mayes states his day-to-day consists of gathering and recording information 


“On a day-to-day basis, I read, write, repeat,” he said. “I gather massive amounts of information from all levels of the wing and it is my job to go through it and find what merits recording. If we recorded every aspect of what the Airman do we would never finish, so in that case, we align larger mission goals with the primary documents we collect and we write an annual history of the entire Wing, which then gets sent to Air Mobility Command History Office and then is sent to Maxwell Air Force Base to be archived by the Air Force Historical Research Agency.”


Mayes’ day-to-day operations, along with most people, were affected by the global pandemic. 


“I am certain no one is untouched through work or personally by the pandemic,” he said. “It is a strange new world we live in that will produce a massive load of new studies on the effects in all social sciences. I am not able to talk to people and pry into their work duties as much as before, so I am relying on phone calls, talking with other Wing historians, and moving COVID-19 related documents around on my laptop.”


Mayes also said the pandemic has made his work more challenging and will continue to do so in the future.


“It has arguably made my work more difficult,” he said. “The Air Force must still complete the mission, but now there is a twist to it with the virus. For me, once we return to work, the documents, COVID-19 briefings and effects of lockdown will increase and that is when my work will truly kick into high gear.” 


As stated by Mayes, the pandemic isn't any more significant than other parts of history. 


“Isn’t every moment of life significant enough to be recorded?” he said. “Yes, it is a significant time to be living because of the pandemic. There have been others before in many different forms but we are living in an age of extreme communications and connections. The world has become a smaller place because of it!”


Mayes believes that we should learn from what is happening in our present so that we do not repeat mistakes in the future.


“Mark Twain supposedly said, ‘History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme,’ and with those words it is vital that we really take a vested interest in our present circumstances, to learn from mistakes and successes, in order to adapt and overcome,” said Mayes.