COVID Confessions: A Digital Pandemic Archive

Keridwen CorneliusNovember 28, 2020
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A digital archive is collecting stories and images about people’s experiences with the pandemic.

The “Angsty Bride” posted a photo of herself wearing a lovely lace wedding dress and a pink face mask. She described how she had to cancel her wedding because of COVID-19, then replan it, then cancel it again. “I live in fear about what the future holds,” she confided.

Another woman related the experiences of pregnant African-American women during the pandemic. She wrote that some women, fearful of the virus and high rates of birth complications among black mothers, chose to have their babies in birthing centers with an Afro-Latina doula.

“Angsty Bride”; Photos courtesy

These are just two of the stories submitted to A Journal of the Plague Year, a project started at Arizona State University that has become one of the world’s largest historical archives of people’s experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic. As of press time, the archive had received nearly 10,000 essays, photos, videos, memes and more.

The curators are making a special effort to collect submissions from people who are underrepresented in digital archives, including LGBTQ+ and BIPOC people, seniors and rural communities.

“One of the reasons there are huge gaps or silences in the [historical] archive is that people have to believe their story matters,” says public historian and project co-creator Mark Tebeau. “So one of our challenges is how do we tell people their story matters?” With funding from Arizona Humanities, the curators will visit rural communities to encourage people to contribute writings and images.

After seeing thousands of entries, Tebeau says he is most struck by an “extraordinary human resilience,” evidenced by everything from dark humor to people’s habituation to the new normal. That’s certainly the case with the “Angsty Bride.” Two months after her first entry, she submitted a voice recording saying 2020 has helped her learn to live in the moment: “We’re all starting to realize what’s important and what’s not important, what we can let go of and what we can’t.”

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