The Hub Share your COVID-19 experiences with AU

Share your COVID-19 experiences with AU

There probably is no one in the world whose life has not changed in some way as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic—and for many, these changes have been profound.

Regardless how you have been spending your time during the pandemic, the Thomas A. Edge Archives & Special Collections at Athabasca University (AU) wants to hear about your experience. They have launched the COVID-19 Memory Archive Project in order to create an archive of our individual and shared experiences during this unprecedented period in our lifetimes.

Why launch this project?

Picture of a social-distancing warning at a playground.
Warnings like this one have become commonplace in public spaces during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Playground closures and other social-distancing measures have had a significant impact on many families.

Archives Assistant Jesse Carson said he was inspired to develop this project after seeing similar projects at other universities, and realizing the great potential for a similar project with the AU community.

“The diversity in age, background, and location of our staff and student population makes us pretty unique, so being able to capture that population’s experiences during a global event like this is a rare opportunity,” he said.

The project has two components. First, participants are asked to submit digital material—such as photos, videos, audio recordings, stories, poems, diaries, and essays—reflecting things they have found interesting, relevant, or important about their experiences of COVID-19.

The second component is a survey that will prompt participants for specific kinds of information, to get an idea of how people are doing during this time, how things are affecting them, and how they are feeling about it.

University Archivist Karen Langley, who worked with Carson to launch this project, said they plan to accept submissions for a full year, but if there is a strong response they may continue accepting submissions for longer.

“The goal is to preserve all this in the archives so that we have a record of how it has affected staff, students, and the community at large for future reference for researchers,” she said.

They are calling for submissions not just from the AU community, which is spread across the world, but also from people living within Athabasca County and the Town of Athabasca, where the university has its main campus.

Langley said an additional benefit of collecting this information from local residents is to support the Town of Athabasca Archives in preserving materials relevant to the area.

What should you submit?

A closeup shot of hands holding a bottle of hand sanitizer.
Hand sanitizer is playing a more significant role in many people's lives during the COVID-19 global pandemic as an important component of the hand hygiene practices public health officials recommend.

Other than limiting submissions to digital files only, what participants choose to submit is up to them—but submissions should in some way reflect their experience with COVID-19.

“We’re asking them to submit things they find interesting, or relevant, or important about their experiences,” Langley said. “Whether that’s work-related or personal, things they see in the news or things they see on the street or in their own houses, whatever comes to mind.”

Carson suggested things like pictures of empty shelves, a journal describing your daily routine, and audio log of a child “helping” with your work, and anything else that is novel or tells a story about your new lived reality.

“Personally, working from home has let me catalog my dog’s daily traversal of the house in search of sunbeams, so I think I’m going to contribute some pictures of him,” he said.

For inspiration, he suggested looking to other similar projects like Brock University’s, Duke Kunshan University in China, and A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19, which is a collaboration between several institutions.

How will the material be used?

A picture of trees next to a river.
Submissions to the COVID-19 Memory Archive Project may be included in an online exhibit, like this one featuring photographs taken by Robert Holmberg.

Langley explained the purpose of an archive is primarily to preserve artifacts and information. Researchers in the future can devise their own questions and determine how the materials might be relevant to their research.

But she also plans to mount an exhibit of the submissions at some point in the future, displaying the materials collected for the public.

“In my experience as an archivist, when I go back and see little tidbits here and there in our files, that staff members have created 25 years ago, they become incredibly significant in ways you can’t even imagine when you’re in the moment,” she said.

And as Athabasca University celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2020, thoughts are turning to what experiences will be like over the course of the next 50 years. What might students and staff in 2070 look back upon as they celebrate the university’s centennial?

“I try to put myself in the shoes of an AU student 50 years from now, wondering what this time was like,” Carson said. “I can’t think of a better way to capture it than asking for the community to choose for themselves what should be remembered.”

You can find more information about the COVID-19 Memory Archive Project by visiting this page, or by contacting

  • May 11, 2020