Announcing COVID-19 Stories Project

What began in March as an activity for library student employees to record their experiences with COVID-19 has expanded into a project with a much broader scope. Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) is inviting not only the ISU community, but also folks throughout Iowa and the Midwest, to participate in COVID-19 Stories, a group of projects that ask people to record their experiences with the pandemic on specific topic areas:

  • ISU Stories: Open to the entire ISU community, this project seeks to record how faculty, students, staff, alumni, and others are responding to and dealing with the effects of COVID-19.
  • Agriculture, Food, and Rural Stories: Open to the broader community, these projects focus on the effects of COVID-19 on rural and small-town life, people’s relations to agriculture and local food systems, and cooking during the pandemic.
  • Chronicling Race and Ethnicity During COVID-19: Open to the broader community, this project seeks to record the experiences of communities of color that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and/or have experienced harassment and stigmatization.

Stories can take a many forms, such a journal, notes, essays, photographs, or creative works. They can be submitted digitally or physically. If you need inspiration for what to record, prompts are given on the website.

Black and white photo of a large gym acting as a hospital ward. Beds with patients fill the entire space in six rows. Cloth barriers are set up between each bed. Nurses and men in uniform wearing masks across their nose and mouth stand throughout the room.
State Gym converted into a hospital ward during the 1918 influenza pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a significant historic moment. Just as today historians look back to see how the University responded to the 1918 flu pandemic, so researchers in the future will want to know how students, faculty, and staff, as well as alumni, are handling the challenges of this historical moment. ISU Stories helps to add these current narratives to the University Archives.

Text reads: Serving Our Community. East Poweshiek Ambulance Service. Community Cookbook, Brooklyn, Iowa. Call 911 for Emergency. Images include a bald eagle in front of an American flag, a 9-1-1 graphic, a caduceus symbol, a red cross, and an ambulance.
Cover of the East Poweshiek Ambulance Service community cookbook. Call number TX715.2 M53 E27x 2002.

The Agriculture, Food, and Rural Stories project includes three components, and participants can engage with one or more of these:  Rural and Small-Town Life, Gardening and Local Food Systems, and Cooking During COVID-19. These aspects of the project correspond to the some of the existing strengths in the Agriculture and Rural Life area of Special Collections. The cooking component also ties in with the Iowa Cookbook Collection, which gathers together community cookbooks from around Iowa. We know many people are doing “quarantine baking,” trying new recipes or sticking to old favorites, and adapting recipes when staples are not available on grocery store shelves. We hope that many of you will capture your experiences in these areas and donate to the COVID-19 Stories project.

Across the country, communities of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, as Black, Latinx, Asian, and American Indian individuals make up a significantly higher proportion of confirmed cases of and deaths from COVID-19 compared to their percentage of the population. Additionally, Asian Americans have experienced harassment and xenophobia in relation to the pandemic. Here in Iowa, a high percentage of the Latinx community has been exposed to the virus as the result of negligent labor practices in meatpacking and meat processing plants throughout the state. The inclusion of these stories in archives is  critical to keeping an accurate historical record of this period. Historically, and still today, institutional archives such as this one have routinely failed to adequately include the perspectives of people from a range of marginalized groups. The Chronicling Race and Ethnicity During COVID-19 project is a step towards rectifying this. If you are a person of color living in Iowa or the Midwest, we welcome your stories of your experiences during COVID-19. If your stories include sensitive content, we are more than happy to work with you to determine an appropriate amount of time to keep your story restricted (not available or advertised to the public) until it is safe to release it. We also welcome feedback and suggestions for ways to make this project more inclusive and welcoming.

For more information, please check out the COVID-19 Stories webpage. Please send any questions or comments to archives@iastate.edu.

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