Making History Today
As the COVID-19 pandemic marks a seminal moment in time, the University Archives is actively preserving that history.
“What’s Your Story? COVID-19 and the University of Illinois Community” looks to document the virus’s effect on individuals in the campus community—from building workers to students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Headed by archivists Bethany Anderson and Jessica Ballard, the effort seeks your story of how the pandemic and its ramifications are affecting you.
The call went out in late March, using email, social media, listservs, webpages, and other means to corral reactions in a range of formats—whether text, audio, video, art, or images. Within a matter of weeks, more than three dozen responses had been received, embodying a diverse array of styles, including photographs, journal entries, video, a rap song, and even a sculpture.
“It’s just been really remarkable to see how candid people are,” Anderson said. The submissions have caused her to reflect on her own experience while working at home during the statewide shutdown and provided some comfort with the realization she’s not alone in her reactions to the crisis.
In recognizing that uncertain times affect people physically and emotionally, the archivists are treating the items “with a little bit more sensitivity,” Ballard said; for one thing, respondents may reply anonymously. In addition, the unique situation the archivists find themselves in—that is, documenting a history that they themselves are part of—has necessitated taking some breaks for emotional relief. The “heartbreaking stories” take their toll, Anderson said. “It’s hard to understand the emotional effect that . . . archival contents can have on you.”
The final form of the project has yet to take shape, and at present, items (excluding the photos accompanying this story) are not accessible to the public. Submissions are actively sought through December 31. To participate, visit archives.library.illinois.edu/about-us/initiatives/covid-19/.
“I think there’s a lot of people that walk through the campus of the University of Illinois . . . [that] don’t always realize the fact that their presences on campus is very significant,” Ballard said. “We just really encourage people to . . . document what their experiences have been like.”
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