Yellow Springs News: Wright State Archives collects pandemic memories


How will we remember the coronavirus pandemic years from now, and how will those memories be presented to future generations?

These are among the questions that archivists from Wright State University’s Special Collections and Archives began asking themselves in early March. The department has since begun a project that collects journals and diaries documenting the pandemic, with the documents to be available for public research in the future.

Archivist Dawne Dewey spoke with the News by phone last week. She said that other, similar projects from archivists around the country prompted the Miami Valley institution to begin their own as the nation began to respond to the crisis.

“We’ve always been really proactive about collecting historical materials about things that are happening today — you don’t wait until it’s over, you collect it now,” Dewey said.

The response to the call for submissions has been good, according to Dewey, with nearly 50 people participating and more than 10 diaries submitted so far, with additions to those submitted documents being made periodically. Since the Special Collections and Archives department is still closed to the public, most of the materials received have been submitted electronically.

“People are anxious to tell their stories — we’re all going through something that these generations, for the most part, have never experienced,” Dewey said.

Though the project’s website indicates that submissions are open to Miami Valley residents, the archives has received submissions from all over the country. Dewey said this is, in part, due to the publicity the project has received, including an interview with Dewey in the April 13 NY Times story, “Why You Should Start a Coronavirus Diary.”

“People have discovered our project and want to be a part of it — and we’re happy to have them do so,” Dewey said.

Eventually, the Special Collections and Archives will make all of the submissions to the project available for public study. The department has both physical and electronic archives and is working toward posting a sample of the submissions available in its online repository, though efforts are slowed as archivists continue to work remotely.

In the meantime, Dewey encourages any who are interested in participating in the project to get in touch and start submitting work. She stressed that submissions don’t need to be perfect and that any record could be helpful to researchers.

“I think a lot of time people think that what they have to say isn’t important,” Dewey said. “People’s feelings and thoughts about what is happening are important, and people really will want to read about them in the future.”

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