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Archives and Special Collections: Documenting the coronavirus pandemic

Documenting COVID-19

When we began our COVID-19 collecting, the various Culture on Campus teams were thinking individually about what they intended to capture. The University's own institutional archive should capture the effect this period had on staff and students, the NHS Forth Valley Archive was concerned with reflecting the experiences of the region, the Scottish Political Archive wanted to examine the impact across Scotland as a whole. 

After initially collecting separately, all these strands have been pulled together to create the Pandemic Archive. The Pandemic Archive will contain everything that has been gathered through our contemporary collecting since March 2020. It will inevitably link out to many other archive collections that we hold here at the University of Stirling and it will complement the information contained therein. 

Contemporary Collecting around COVID-19

In the University Archives and Special Collections, we have been looking for ways to document the strange times we have all been through since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and, to some extent, continue to live in.  

Contemporary Collecting is a practise which many galleries, museums and archive took up during the pandemic, especially during the national lockdowns. It is a way of calling out for specific material to fill in a gap or evidence a particular event/period/theme etc. rather than waiting to see what is naturally donated to the archive which might cover the same information. In this way you can capture ephemera which is often lost, bring focus and diversity to collections and prevent gaps in the record - for example, one of the main reasons we began our COVID Collecting is because of the lack of information we have on the 1918 Flu Pandemic in our medical archives. We know this has been a big research gap in our existing collections.

We have been running the below contemporary collecting strands to provide a personal account of this period in history. Often it is personal accounts contained in the archive which researchers find striking, perhaps because it is such a rare glimpse behind the curtain of the official facts and figures and timelines. The below three main strands were developed so that members of our University community and the community of Forth Valley, where the University lives, can come together to tell history.

Diaries

In 2020 when we first started collecting, we encouraged members of the Forth Valley community and the University community to create diaries documenting their daily lives during the pandemic and particularly the first UK national lockdown. Our guide to creating a diary can still be found below though we anticipate that any diaries donated from now on will be back dated. Information on how to donate your diary to the archive can be found below also.

If you did not write a diary during this period but think you might like to write a piece which reflects on this time for you, we are still accepting written submissions to the archive. The guide to writing Lockdown Diaries will help you if you need prompting.

 

Images

We are also collecting images that will help to illustrate the reality of this period. We imagine these will mainly take the form of photographs but if drawing is your thing then go for it! We would like images of anything that you think will help to illustrate the practical realities of this period for future generations. This could be information posters, markers on floors and pavements, physically distant queuing at shops, empty streets, boarded up shop fronts or the gap on the shop shelves where you hoped your product of choice would be. What about all the amazing rainbows in people's windows! So many of us were taking these photographs on our daily walk and still have them on our phones. Why not donate them to the archive using this quick and simple form.

You can see a selection of images which have already been deposited here.

 

Videos of #ClapForNHS

We are collecting any videos you may have of the weekly 'Clap For NHS' (which had a variety of affiliated hashtags such as #ClapForCarers or #ClapForKeyWorkers). This was a weekly occurrence during primarily the first UK national lockdown. If any of you took videos during the Thursday night pot-banging and pipe-playing then we’d love to see them. You can also deposit these using that handy online form.

 

These forms of documentation will eventually become part of the University's Pandemic Archive which will have connections to many other of our collections - the NHS Forth Valley Archive, the Scottish Political Archive and the University's own records to name but a few. The Pandemic Archive will be used by a wide range of researchers so please be respectful of others while you create and document.

Please note that your contribution to the archive can remain anonymous if you wish. 

Any questions can be directed to the Archive team at archives@stir.ac.uk.  

In the media

Central FM, 2nd April 2020

For subscribers of History Scotland magazine, you can find an article about our oral history project in Vol. 22, No. 2 pages 44-45

COVID-19 images