The COVID-19 pandemic will go down as one of the most significant events in recent history — and if Texas Woman’s University faculty have anything to say about it, so will the stories of those who lived through it.
The Special Collections Division of TWU’s libraries and the university’s Jane Nelson Institute for Women’s Leadership are collaborating on a new project that will chronicle the COVID-19 pandemic through the testimony of people as they live, learn, work and persevere through these harrowing times. Titled “Voices of the Coronavirus Pandemic: The Chancellor Carine M. Feyten Collection,” the compilation will feature physical and digital materials that document the lived experiences of students, front-line workers and everyday citizens during the coronavirus crisis.
Members of the university community and the public can contribute in the form of journals, letters, writings, audio or video files, photos, artwork or material in any other medium. Creators of the project hope to collect stories from around the world that will help scholars, students and others better understand this historic period.
“We have a lot of people who are not graduates of TWU but support our mission and our purposes, and they’re going through experiences that need to be chronicled and recorded so that for this time, we’ll have context for others that come behind us,” said professor Phyllis Bridges, who is coordinating the project. “We’ve not had anything of this magnitude and nature in a lifetime, and certainly this period needs to be recorded.”
Bridges said it was important to open the project up to those beyond TWU to get a true sense of the pandemic’s effect globally.
“We want to hear from people in all walks of life who are having different experiences,” Bridges said. “We’re interested to hear how they are coping with things and how they are adjusting, and the compromises they’re having to make.”
Though the project webpage will open for submissions Friday, Bridges said TWU has already had some people eager to submit ahead of time. Members of the committee coordinating the project — which includes not only members of special collections and the leadership institute but faculty from the departments of history and women’s and gender studies — expect they might also receive contributions from students as a part of class projects as professors invite them to reflect on the pandemic’s impact.
The project would not have been possible without the financial support of the Jane Nelson Institute given the financial fallout of the pandemic, Bridges said.
The endeavor is a natural fit with the goals of the JNS, as submissions will help highlight women’s leadership during the pandemic, said Mary Anne Alhadeff, head of the institute.
“One of the greatest ways women lead is by sharing their personal stories and experiences in an open and honest manner — sharing those with each other and with the world,” Alhadeff said. “And those are going to be critically important in the future as people look back and strive to understand what it was like to live through this pandemic.”
Though committee members initially discussed the collection being composed of first-person accounts such as journals and letters, they eventually decided not to limit submissions to a particular medium. Allowing for such a broad range of submissions provides those working on the project an opportunity to curate a more enriched collection, Alhadeff said.
“We broadened our vision to look at creative work — poetry, songs, photographs, videos — [and] I think that’s critically important because it will show how the creative spirit helps people through difficult times,” Alhadeff said. “I also believe in particular that the voices of children who are being impacted by this pandemic in ways we can’t even imagine — the voices of children will be heard most through what they create more than what they’re able to articulate, so that’s why I got really excited about being part of this project.”
The special collections department on the Denton campus will head up day-to-day collection efforts, but committee members hope to eventually have portions of the project on exhibit at the Institute, on the Dallas and Houston campuses, and other publicly accessible spaces.
Though there is not a solid timeline for when the collection will be completed given the ongoing nature of the pandemic, Bridges said committee members will manage the project in whatever way best captures the spirit of the submissions.
“What we gather will give a truthful representation of the experiences of people through this most challenging time,” Bridges said. “I think we have a duty and obligation to gather those materials, and we’re capable, and we want to do that. We feel it’s part of our public service to do it.”
Contributions may be submitted on the project’s website beginning July 31.