You don’t have to be a professional writer to contribute to a pandemic archive

Have you considered submitting your materials to a pandemic archive? You don’t have to be a professional writer for your pandemic story to become history.

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The coronavirus pandemic has affected almost everybody. Whether you’ve experienced minor inconveniences or more serious issues, the effects have been felt across the globe.

In response, many organizations are compiling pandemic archives.

Some of us are trying to stave off depression while single and isolated. Others may feel that it’s a daily battle to maintain sanity while surrounded by kids, pets or roommates.

Whatever your story is, consider documenting it for yourself or your kids and grandchildren. Maybe you’ve chosen to write about your experience on a blog.

If you want to want to go even more public, maybe you’d enjoy submitting your materials to a pandemic archive.

Woman wearing a cloth mask carries a camera outside. Text says, "You don't have to be a professional writer for your pandemic story to become history."

Prompts

Each organization may have their own guidelines for materials. I recommend checking the website for the pandemic archive you’re interested in. If you’re creating art, diaries, audio recordings or other materials for yourself, feel free to explore what interests you.

  • What was your first thought when you learned about the novel coronavirus?
  • At what point did you realize that this had the potential to disrupt daily life? What was your first reaction?
  • How did you prepare? Where did you get your news?
  • Which events and plans did you have to cancel? What are you going to try to do to make up for them in the future?
  • How did you explain the pandemic to your kids? What questions did they have?
  • Did you and your partner have different reactions? (Example: Maybe one was stocking up on food and the other continuing life as normal.) What was that like?
  • Is there anything in your routine that changed in a positive way that you’d like to maintain? (This could include having more family dinners, going on more walks, gardening, or whatever changes you’ve made that you would like to keep.)
  • What were some good things that happened while you were stuck at home? Which memories do you want to hold on to?
  • Why did you decide to begin a pandemic archive?
  • How will you explain the pandemic to future generations? What will you tell them about what it was like to live through it?

I’m a writer, so naturally that’s the first way I think of to document the pandemic.

But whether it’s for your personal collection or a larger pandemic archive, maybe you can start with screenshots or downloads of your social media posts.Can you make a scrapbook with photos of your children, pets, or you and your partner during the pandemic? Have you kept newspaper clippings? Maybe you’ve made videos, choreographed something, or pulled out your art supplies. Think of ways to express your feelings and reactions about this moment in history.

Man wearing a medical mask carries a camera and backpack across a city street.
I suggest following coronavirus safety recommendations in your area as you gather materials for your pandemic archive. Photo by Free To Use Sounds on Unsplash.

Pandemic archives for groups

If you are part of a larger organization, such as a local club or church, you may want to consider documenting how your group responded.

For example: Church leadership could request materials from members to show how they participated in worship from home, made face masks for the congregation, or wrote in a journal about their experiences. Leadership could include notes about what changes the church made for services during and after restrictions in their area. This collection could be kept in a scrapbook or digitally available on the church website.

Did your club take food to high-risk groups? Did your YMCA distribute masks? How did your library reach patrons? Did your Rotary Club or Boy Scouts of America group raise funds?

Each group has had its own experiences. Think about what your organization has done and consider documenting it for internal or public pandemic archives.

Pandemic archives to consider


The State Archives of North Carolina, operated by the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, is looking for first-person stories related to the pandemic. Suggestions include photos, diaries, oral histories and more.

Eastern Kentucky University is piecing together a pandemic archive with material from students, staff and faculty. Even if you aren’t a student, they have a list of ideas that you may be able to use as you document your own experience. Many of these ideas can be used for personal collections or for an audience.

The Kingsport Public Library in Tennessee is looking for submissions from those who live or work in Kingsport. You can submit your materials here.

The Austin History Center is also accepting donations for its pandemic archive. This could be art, posts from your social media accounts, audio files, etc. Check their website for a list of prompts and accepted file types.

Vanderbilt University students, staff, faculty members or 2020 graduates can contribute to the university’s pandemic archive. Those with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center can also contribute.

The Yale School of Public Health’s Humanities, Arts and Public Health Practice Initiative is also accepting submissions.

If you don’t see one that interests or applies to you on the list, I recommend that you search for “pandemic archive” along with the name of your area. You may find one on a statewide level, for your school, through your county or library, or through another organization.

Final considerations


Check the requirements for each pandemic archive before submitting. Note that you may sign over the copyright. You also may need to submit materials in a certain way, arrange for an interview (in the case of an oral history), or follow other requirements.

Don’t assume that your experience is too insignificant to document for yourself or others. It can be therapeutic and help future generations understand what people did and thought on a daily basis. I strongly suggest that you check out InfluenzaArchive.org to see collections from the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic.

As you collect materials, please remember to follow coronavirus safety recommendations for your area.

What kinds of materials have you created during this time, intentionally or not?

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