Date February 16, 2024
Media Contact

Entries from Brown anthropologist’s Pandemic Journaling Project now accessible to researchers

Accessible through a long-term home at Syracuse University, the vast repository co-founded by Brown’s Katherine A. Mason includes nearly 27,000 personal stories, photos and more from people living during the COVID-19 pandemic.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — For two years, through the Pandemic Journaling Project, more than 1,800 people in 55 countries shared their personal reflections, images and audio recordings in response to the question: How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your life right now?

Now, the project’s rich repository of qualitative data, collected between May 2020 and May 2022, has been made available to researchers through a partnership between the Pandemic Journaling Project — co-founded by Brown University Associate Professor of Anthropology Katherine A. Mason and University of Connecticut Associate Professor of Anthropology Sarah S. Willen — and the Qualitative Data Repository at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Katherine A. Mason
Associate Professor of Anthropology Katherine A. Mason

“From the beginning, we wanted to create an archive of the pandemic, and we wanted to focus on making it as broadly accessible as possible,” Mason said. “We want to share this with other scholars because we can’t possibly analyze all of it ourselves.”

Through the Qualitative Data Repository, the collection of 27,000 online entries is expected to be examined by other anthropologists, as well as researchers in sociology, history and public health, among many other fields.

“There are several large quantitative surveys in the social sciences that are broadly used, but qualitative datasets that are large enough to be analyzed from so many different angles are very, very rare,” said Sebastian Karcher, associate director of the Qualitative Data Repository. “The Pandemic Journaling Project data are going to be a treasure for social scientists for years to come, and we couldn’t be more excited to be the permanent home for them.”

For the next five years, the data will be available to researchers who apply for access with the repository, obtain approval from their university’s institutional review board — which review and monitor studies involving human subjects — and secure permission from Mason and Willen. After five years, permission from the founders will no longer be necessary.

“The Qualitative Data Repository was the organization that was best set up to work with us,” Mason said. “We want to see what others can do with it, and we are very committed to data sharing.”

The data will become available to the general public after 25 years, in 2049. The Pandemic Journaling Project researchers said they felt that participants would be more comfortable revealing personal information if they knew it was not going to become immediately publicly available.

“Each journal, and each person’s story, matters on its own terms,” Willen said. “Taken together, this collection of materials offers an extraordinary window into how the pandemic challenged us and changed us, as individuals and as members of broader communities.”

Many of the stories shared, including experiences dealing with death, isolation and long COVID, are deeply moving, Mason noted.

“What stands out to me are those real-time emotions — just people struggling with something really scary and unknown,” Mason said. “But it’s not all doom and gloom. We also saw the resilience of people just soldiering on during this extremely difficult time.”

Already, the data have been used by scholars at Brown, UConn and other universities to explore questions ranging from the impact of the pandemic on different groups’ mental health and students’ experiences during the public health emergency, to the human rights aspects of the project itself, considered a form of “archival activism,” Mason said.

Many Brown students have been involved with the project since its inception in 2020. They have helped catalog audio and visual files, conducted follow-up interviews and assisted with data analysis, among other tasks. Brown’s Population Studies and Training Center, where Mason is an affiliated faculty member, was an early supporter of the Pandemic Journaling Project, providing seed funding in 2020 and subsequent support for personnel and special projects.

Researcher requests to access the data can be submitted directly from the dataset’s page on QDR. A significant subset of more than 2,000 entries is publicly available for searching and browsing through the Pandemic Journaling Project’s featured entries page.