ATLANTA—A digital exhibit devoted to the successful effort to stop the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa has been produced by faculty, staff and students from Georgia State University and Emory University working with the David J. Sencer CDC Museum.
The original exhibit, “EBOLA: People + Public Health + Political Will,” was developed as an in-person experience by the museum at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2017. It explored the history of Ebola in West Africa from 2014-2016, and how the CDC, global partners, governments, organizations and individuals came together to stop the epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people.
The digital edition of this exhibition allows access to wider audiences and enriches the experience with additional features, including documents and oral histories, a virtual tour, 3D objects and interactive maps. Lesson plans and curricula will be added as they are developed.
“CDC is thankful for the contributions of Georgia State and Emory students and faculty that helped make this project a reality,” said Judy Gantt, CDC Museum Director. “This interactive exhibit enables us to not only take a public health success story beyond the walls of the museum, but also to highlight how CDC and its partners impact the lives of real people around the world.”
Georgia State graduate students from History, Historic Preservation and Public Health and undergrads from Computer Science and Biology indexed and mapped oral histories, created 3D models of exhibit artifacts and helped organize exhibit material into a digital format, said Brennan Collins, associate director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning & Online Education at the university.
“Students working on large, public-facing projects have to problem-solve in a way that they often don’t in regular classroom experiences,” Collins said. “There often aren’t clear right or wrong answers to the many problems they run into, like how to 3D capture an outfit without a mannequin or how to reorganize content to better fit an online context.”
Spencer Roberts, digital scholarship librarian for Emory’s Pitts Theology Library, said students from the university’s Rollins School of Public Health also took part.
“Emory’s public health students brought valuable education and experience with public health, religion and culture to this project,” Roberts said. “Their expertise was critical in reviewing, revising and contributing additional content for the exhibit, including the interactive timeline and oral histories map.”
Exploring the Ebola epidemic and the global response resonates today in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Challenges and lessons learned from Ebola echo in the current response, such as contact tracing, the importance of prevention and infection control, and training healthcare workers.
Kim Ramsey-White, director of undergraduate programs for Georgia State’s School of Public Health, said the digital exhibit is a valuable tool for students, instructors and others seeking to understand the complex factors at play in successfully addressing a disease outbreak.
“In my courses,” White said, “I have been able to use the exhibit to discuss the concept of contact tracing, and the oral histories in the exhibit allow the students to hear first-hand what the process was like in the Ebola response and compare it to what we are experiencing now with COVID-19.”