Journaling project captures the experiences of ordinary people during COVID-19 pandemic

December 9, 2020

The Pandemic Journaling Project, led in part by PSTC anthropologist Kate Mason, is providing an online platform for people across the country to submit journal entries about their day-to-day experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“History is usually written by the powerful, so we want to make sure that ordinary people's experiences are recorded and stored away for posterity,” Mason said. In order to create a flexible and accessible archival process, users are able to submit writing, images, or audio recordings through their computer or phone. Once they sign up, participants receive a survey link and two suggested journal prompts every week and can choose how and whether to respond. The website is available in both English and Spanish, and will soon be open for submissions from adolescents.

One of the weekly prompts always asks how the pandemic has recently affected the user, while the other can address a range of topics including religion, education, racial justice, family, and financial concerns. 

In order to collect submissions without being “extractive or intrusive,” users maintain ownership over their submissions and sign consent forms to share their anonymous entries with researchers. The site also allows people to download an organized collection of their submissions.

So far, the project has collected over 5,000 submissions. They continue to recruit people through social media, word of mouth, publicity, advertisements, and communicating with their network of professionals.

The project team is co-led by Professor Sarah Willen of the University of Connecticut and includes other members of the Brown community, including undergraduates Emily Nguyen and Ana Perez, recent PSTC graduate training alums Becca Wang and Alice Larotonda, Professor of History Nancy Jacobs, and PSTC faculty associates Andrea Flores and Diana Grigsby-Toussaint. Professor Abby Fisher Williamson at Trinity College consults for the project.

The team plans to continue the project until the end of the pandemic, as declared by the World Health Organization. Once the study ends, the materials will be organized and moved to a qualitative data repository for research. In 25 years, all of the materials will become available to the general public in a digital archive.

The team hopes to obtain funding to use the archive to answer specific research questions, and recently applied for a grant with Flores. This project would create a program within the Pandemic Journaling Project that recruits first-generation college students for supplementary interviews and participation in an online photo exhibition.

Mason said that the project has illuminated “a lot of fear and a lot of loneliness” but has also brought to light the “interesting ways in which people are helping each other.” In one particularly memorable entry, Mason recalled a woman describing an endeavor to collect quarters in the midst of a national coin shortage for people experiencing homelessness so that they can wash their clothes at the laundromat. 

In addition to supplying valuable data for researchers, Mason hopes the project provides people with an opportunity to process their emotions. “It gives people another way to express themselves during a difficult period,” she said.