University Archives seeks contributions to pandemic experience project

Crowd gathered.

The Class of 2020’s impromptu Senior Sunrise on Weeks Bridge. A tradition that usually occurs on the morning of Commencement, this year’s Senior Sunrise was hastily organized in a thousand-person group chat and took place on Saturday, March 14 — the day students had to leave campus. Photo by Diego Garcia

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A public health professor conducting research on COVID-19. An international student attending virtual classes in a different time zone. A staff member still reporting to work on an eerily quiet campus. A group of alumni sharing work from home tips. These are all valuable stories from a pandemic, and the Harvard University Archives wants to capture thousands like them with the new COVID-19 Community Archiving Project.

The project aims to preserve history as it is happening by collecting multimedia, first-person documentation from the broad Harvard community.

It is intended to show how thousands of Harvard students, alumni, faculty, and staff, plus Cambridge residents and business owners, experienced this pandemic. Through the project, Harvard University Archives (HUA) staff hope to learn about Harvard community members’ recent and daily experience; on campus, in the lab, at home, or elsewhere.

“To do this project, we need your help,” archivists wrote on the project website. “We would like to collect the materials you are creating right now that document this time and submit them to this project for archiving and future research.”

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HUA staff think the archive will provide valuable information for future historians, doctors and scientists, public policy experts, Harvard administrators, and others. It will illustrate for them how our community reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the community responded at Harvard and, with others, in helping to support the broader world.

This idea was in part inspired by materials in our archives documenting Harvard’s experiences during the 1918 flu pandemic, which we are learning from today.

Contributions to the project could include documentation of students’ last hours on campus; images of remote work spaces or University spaces repurposed during campus closures; screen captures of virtual teaching schedules or social media connecting Harvard community members; and artwork inspired by the “new normal.”

Materials — in the form of digital photographs, text files, PDFs, spreadsheets, presentations, audio files, or video files — should be submitted using the COVID-19 Community Archiving Project submission form.

If you are interested in submitting materials and have questions about the project, please see our frequently asked questions or contact Virginia Hunt, Associate University Archivist for Collection Development and Records Management Services.