Historical societies, museums, and governments often use archives as a way to “preserve historical material and make them available for use.” And while in the past archives have been predominantly physical, in recent times, archives are increasingly becoming digitalized.
In particular, Athabasca University’s Thomas A. Edge Archives and Special Collections, the official repository for AU’s Archival collections, has recently begun the COVID-19 Memory Archive Project as a way to commemorate individual and shared experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. AU students, staff, and alumni, as well as Athabasca residents, are encouraged to submit all types of digital materials, including photographs, artwork, audio or video recordings, blog posts or journal entries, poetry, essays, short stories, screenshots, memes, gifs, oral histories, and social media posts.
The Voice recently reached out those involved to the learn more about the project, culminating in an interview with AU Archivist Karen Langley, who along with Archives Assistant Jesse Carson, leads the project.
Archivist Karen Langley revealed that the project was inspired by Brock University’s initiative, when Archives Assistant Jesse Carson “thought it would be worthwhile to see if we could do something similar.” Langley reveals that this project has not been externally funded, and is solely the result of her own work, the work of Carson, as well as certain AU folks, including the Student and Academic Services team.
She stated, “The purpose of the project is to collect people’s stories and experiences during COVID-19, to create an online exhibit of them, and to preserve them for researchers in the future.” In particular, “[t]he main goal is to collect digital submissions that are reflective of people’s experiences during COVID-19. We also have a survey that we would like folks to fill out that asks some general questions about their experiences. People can submit multiple digital items, and/or complete a survey.”
Although the Archive Project is not taking physical submissions, they are “looking for pretty much anything [digital] that anyone can think of: poetry, audio/video, favorite COVID-19 memes, stories, anecdotes, artwork, etc.” Submissions will be accepted for a year, with the possibility of an extended the current deadline if material is still coming in.
Although the main goal is to preserve artifacts, the Archive Project will also be putting together an exhibit of submissions in the future. Langley stated, “We are in the early stages of planning the exhibit. We hope to allow folks to search the submissions based on the type of item submitted, and other various criteria to be determined. We also hope to have a map that will show generally where submissions are coming from, and will likely send out submissions on social media (Facebook/Twitter) over time as well.”
On a final note, Langley revealed, “We hope that folks will realize how important it is to preserve everyone’s experiences during this time, and ask that they let everyone they know about the project. And if they have any seniors or folks in their family that do not have ready access to a computer, to help them fill out a survey or submit an item. We think this is a great project that families can do together while they are spending most of their time at home.”
Further inspiration can be seen at Brock University’s COVID-19 In Niagara, Duke Kunshan University’s The COVID-19 Memory Archival Project, and A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of Covid19, a collaborative effort by various post-secondary institutions.