COVID-19 will make a mark in history books to come, and as the pandemic unfolds, the University of Georgia Special Collections Library is making a plan to document it.
The Special Collections is currently accepting submissions representing peoples’ experiences during the coronavirus pandemic. Georgians may send in written reflections, poetry, photographs and other recordings showcasing how COVID-19 has affected their lives, businesses and families to preserve for future generations.
University Archives and Electronics Records Archivist Steven Armour said the Special Collections began this collection in April and will continue to take submissions “as long as the pandemic persists in a way that’s having a significant impact on peoples’ lives.” This impact can touch a range of aspects, such as health, finances, education and social life, Armour said.
The collection and processing of materials is ongoing, and the number of contributions from people across Georgia has been high. Nine months into the project, the Libraries have received 150 files from roughly 80 individuals, adding up to over 400 MB of data, Armour said.
Not only can this collection help future generations understand the current crisis, but documenting our experiences can also help us today by “encouraging us to slow down and be thoughtful about how we handle the crisis,” said Scott Nesbit, assistant professor of digital humanities in UGA’s College of Environment and Design.
Armour hopes that the collection of submissions will be made public later this year. However, the future of the pandemic remains unclear, and there are further steps to be taken before the project can be considered a complete collection.
COVID-19 information permeates current media and government communication and will remain readily available for future reflection, Armour said. However, this collection focuses on the experiences of the community and — most importantly — the individual.
“It's one thing, for example, to read a news article dating from the 1918 flu pandemic and another thing to read someone's personal diary of the same period,” Armour said.
Newspapers can provide a macro-level understanding of an event while personal records can offer key details of the human experience. Rachel Allen, a UGA senior and English major, contributed to the pandemic collection to provide these kinds of personal details.
“We’ll always remember the events of 2020, but what we might not recall as clearly are the thoughts, feelings, and ways we coped during this turbulent year,” Allen said.
Contributors will retain copyright of their submissions. However, UGA Libraries may use these materials for educational purposes such as broadcasting materials in classrooms, across campus and appropriate off-campus venues. These documents will be housed virtually but could be showcased in the Special Collections building in the future.