U of S launches digital archive to document life during COVID-19

The food court in the University of Saskatchewan's Lower Place Riel has been fairly empty as a result of the global pandemic. The university is asking for submissions to its digital archive, which will document what life is like throughout COVID-19 for future researchers. (David Bindle/Submitted)

The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) has launched a digital archive to document the public’s experiences throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The archive will be community-driven, according to history professor Erika Dyck, who’s also the Canada Research Chair in the History of Medicine.

“Our goal is to help facilitate the process and not really guide it,” said Dyck.

“It will be a resource that will be whatever people want it to be, in a sense. We kind of just wanted to create the platform so that people could participate in it.”

The archive can include submissions in the form of photographs, social media posts, videos, creative projects, email, blog entries, journals, and personal reflections.

The project team will also gather documentation such as news releases, policy changes, essential services declarations, and the U of S VIDO-InterVac response.

The purpose is to provide a resource for researchers, including faculty, students, journalists, historians and writers. It will give them a sense of what life was like throughout the global health crisis.

“A number of us historians have studied the impact of diseases in the past and this is something that we wish we had. We’ve been asked a number of times ‘How did people deal with the Spanish flu in 1918?’ and there’s bits and pieces and fragments of information, but it’s really incredible to think about capturing all of this in one place,” said Dyck.

The university did a soft launch last week for teachers and students to test the system, and publicly launched the archive on Monday.

“The response so far, even within just a few days, has been really interesting to see how people see this as kind of the process of coping, so beyond it’s value for history or for the future I suppose. It’s nice to bring the community together and kind of share what we’ve been doing behind our closed doors.”

The project is a partnership between faculty in the Department of History in the College of Arts and Science and units in the library, including University Archives and Special Collections and the Digital Research Centre.

“It will be exciting to see the archive develop into something that can be used for everything from reflection to research for decades to come,” said Craig Harkema, co-director of the Digital Research Centre, in a news release.

Dyck said the project team will be reviewing the submissions and removing anything that is discriminatory or inappropriate.

She said eventually, the team will add material to the archive that’s more fact-based, capturing numbers related to COVID-19. To view or submit to the archive, visit covid19archive.usask.ca.