Posted 4:27 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021

Elisabeth Primrose, student archivist in Special Collections/ARC from February 2019 until graduating in December 2020.

Archive project collects stories about COVID's impact on UWL

By Laura Godden and Elisabeth Primrose 

We are currently living through a major moment in history, akin to events like the Spanish Flu, World Wars and Great Depression. Historic events like these have significant effects that impact life right down to the local level. During one of the biggest crises in modern history, archivists all over the world are proactively collecting and preserving materials that document the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their communities, including here at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse. By collecting these stories now, archivists are helping to prevent gaps in the historical record before it’s too late.

Many past historical events lack this documentation. For example, regarding the Spanish Flu’s effect on UWL over a century ago, records in the Murphy Library Special Collections/Area Research Center (SC/ARC) show that classes were halted, and students were encouraged to move back home, but details beyond those are hard to find. Sadly, SC/ARC archivists don’t know of any firsthand accounts about the Spanish Flu’s impact on UWL. As a result, not much is known about how students coped with the situation or finished their remaining coursework.

Establishing historical record 

Three students working on the COVID-19 archive project at Murphy Library Special Collections/Area Research Center include, from left, Amber Boesel (psychology and art), Erin Spierings (archaeology), Brittney DeChambeau (history education). They are documenting what UWL alumni, students, faculty and staff have been experiencing during the pandemic.

To ensure this isn’t the case with COVID-19, UWL senior in history and student archivist Elisabeth Primrose approached Murphy Library’s Paul Beck and Laura Godden, assistant professors and archivists in SC/ARC, with an idea. She offered to coordinate a UWL COVID-19 archiving project, with their assistance and the help of fellow student archivists Brittney DeChambeau (junior, history education), Amber Boesel (senior, psychology/art) and Erin Spierings (junior, archaeology). Primrose had the idea to create a project like this at UWL after learning about other archives undertaking similar endeavors. Her goal is for UWL community members to create and share their own accounts regarding this historic moment so this information can be preserved long-term for historians and researchers in the future. 

Precedent already exists for archiving firsthand accounts of UWL community members regarding major world happenings. For example, there are two collections in SC/ARC of Second World War experiences written by UWL students that were compiled by English Professors Emerson Wulling and Edgar Knowlton in the 1940s. Additionally, during the spring 2020 semester, SC/ARC Archivist Laura Godden collaborated with UWL English Associate Lecturer Kate Errthum, who assigned her ENG 110 class to journal about their COVID-19 experiences with the option of archiving the final product in SC/ARC. 

With the UWL COVID-19 Archiving Project, Primrose hopes to expand on the ENG 110 journals and provide everyone in the UWL community the opportunity to preserve their experiences.  She recognizes that COVID-19 has had varying effects on every person at UWL, no matter their area of study, age or living situation, and she hopes that this collection can reflect the campus’s diversity. By participating in this project, UWL community members will be creating valuable resources that will grant unique and detailed historical insights about the university during this unprecedented time. It is likely that they will become a highly valuable resource to researchers, much like the World War II recollections written by UWL students 75 years ago. 

Share your story

Student archivist in Murphy Library Special Collection/ARC, Brittney DeChambeau (junior in history education)

Students, faculty, staff and others connected to UWL are invited to contribute their COVID-19 experiences to this project by submitting written accounts or other types of material (like photographs) documenting how COVID-19 has impacted their lives on campus and beyond. Submissions will be accepted via the UWL COVID-19 Archiving Project form through the duration of spring semester (and possibly longer, if COVID-19 continues to affect our lives).

Participants can submit as many times as they want to update previous entries, highlight any changes or developments, or document new experiences. Accounts can be either short or long in length; no recollection is too small or insignificant as, once collected, they will all work in concert with one another to fill the historical record. Anyone who wishes can choose to remain anonymous.

As long as the contributor is the original creator, artistic and other creative expressions of UWL life during COVID-19 such as poetry, drawings and handwritten compositions are also welcome. Physical copies of materials can be submitted in-person if that is more convenient than the submission form. All participants in the project retain ownership and copyright of their work. However, by submitting materials, contributors grant the library permission to add the works to its collections, which are publicly accessible for educational and research purposes.  
 

To submit materials, visit https://forms.gle/S4D4z5HU1Z2ayy166  

Email questions to: specoll@uwlax.edu. 

For more information about COVID-19 policies, updates and resources, please visit the Murphy Library COVID-19 FAQ webpage or the UW-La Crosse COVID-19 webpage.