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ASU virtual archive documents impact of coronavirus on people’s lives

A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19

PHOENIX — Do you have a story to tell about how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted your life? Several history professors at Arizona State University want you to share it with them.

They’ve created a virtual archive to collect these stories.

“The website is an open forum for people to share their images, their stories, their thoughts about what they’re doing, and what they’re not doing during this really strange time,” said ASU history professor Catherine O’Donnell.

It’s called “A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19”. It contains more than 3,000 posts from people in Arizona and all over the world, including photos of children doing school work through Zoom, parents working from home and empty store shelves.

“The first wave of photos was all empty shelves,” O’Donnell said. “That was sort of the common experience of the time.”

Then people started posting photos of empty airports, streets and hiking trails. Some also posted moving images.

O’Donnell pointed to a drawing of two people behind a glass wall saying goodbye to a person dying at a hospital of COVID-19.

The person who uploaded the drawing titled it “Goodbye” and wrote that it showed “the sadness of not being able to be in the same room with someone as they are claimed by the virus.”

There are also social media posts, journal entries documenting the fear and disruption to everyday life that the coronavirus has caused, as well as the joy and laughter people have still managed to find.

“There’s one series I love because it’s so hopeful and beautiful, and it’s called the ‘Rainbow Series,’” said ASU history professor Katy Kole de Peralta. “It’s from a student who’s gone around documenting people who are putting rainbows in their windows.”

Kole de Peralta added there are also memes and a collection of songs that artists have created on the coronavirus.

“I think that these are funny, but they’re also showing the ways that people are using humor to cope with what’s a really difficult moment in time,” she said.

The idea for the virtual archive came in March soon after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic. Its name was inspired by Daniel Defoe’s 1722 novel “A Journal of the Plague Year,” which documented the experience of London’s 1665 bubonic plague.

ASU grad students and a team of professors are curating the virtual archive, making it easy for people to upload their content and browse through what others have posted.

“It’s really the community contributors that bring it to life,” O’Donnell said, adding the goal is to collect content for a year and preserve it as “a time capsule” so future generations can “understand this moment in time.”

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.

Arizona open and hiring: If you’re looking for job openings, visit ktar.com/arizonahiring.

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