COVID-19: Albertans share stories, reflections on unique moment in history

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Albertans share COVID-19 stories, reflections on unique moment in history
It’s been a challenging, emotional and downright strange few months as the entire world grapples with the worst pandemic in a century. As Morgan Black explains, a new project is asking you to reflect on the current crisis, in a creative way. – Jul 30, 2020

A project at the University of Alberta is collecting your stories and experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stories of the Pandemic acts as an open-source archive where Albertans can submit poetry, music, visual art, journal entries and other mediums that reflect on the last few months.

Curators ask you to share a range of COVID-19 related experiences with “self-isolation, quarantine, uncertainty, downtime, working from home, grocery shopping” as just a few writing prompts.

“We are interpreting stories really broadly. It’s really wide open. There’s no preset theme,” said Amy Kaler, a sociology professor and co-curater on the project.

Stories of the Pandemic is a sub-project of another initiative called Stories of Change. 

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Stories of Change is a signature area of the Faculty of Arts at the University. Faculty, students and other people realized we shared in common the way people use stories to understand their own experiences of living through the historical changes of the 21st Century,” Kaler said.

Kaler, who has a PhD in sociology, said that includes political, economic and environmental change. The university group had been working on Stories of Change for nearly a year.

“One way that we make sense for ourselves is by creating stories that kind of act as a witness to what we are experiencing,” Kaler said. “These stories can also be drivers for social change. We get inspired or cautioned by other people’s accounts of what they’ve experienced.”

Then, came a monumental change in the form of COVID-19. Stories of the Pandemic was launched by Kaler and her colleagues near the beginning of April.

“There was this feeling of helplessness. What can I do? I’m not a physician, I’m not a public health expert. Our leadership team thought this could be something we could contribute,” Kaler said.

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The project invites you to work through your emotions and thoughts during a unique point in history.

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“It was obvious that we were embarking on a period of rapid and unpredictable change and dislocation that may alter some things forever,” Kaler said. “People are trying to figure out ‘Where am I in all of this? What am I going through and how is this affecting me?'”

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Marlena Wyman started sketching various rooms in her house at the beginning of the pandemic.

Marlena Wyman – Pandemic Sketching Journal 1. Courtesy: Marlena Wyman

“I sketched a corner of the bedroom where a bookcase was because reading has become really important to me. It not only is a pastime, but also gets you away from the anxiety of the pandemic.”

Wyman said the project was a natural fit for her.

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“I was an archivist at the Provincial Archives of Alberta for 28 years and the previous historian laureate for the City of Edmonton so documenting both words and visuals has always been really important to me.”

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Wyman said personal experience is an important thing to share with others.

“It’s really important to document how each of us is experiencing this. History is being made right now and it is hugely impacting every life in the entire world. That is extremely rare,” Wyman said. “I would encourage anyone out there to document this, so for the future we will know how people experienced this.”

Kaler said they have received submissions from about 50 people so far. About half of contributors are affiliated with the U of A in some way.

Marlena Wyman – Pandemic Sketching Journal 2. Courtesy: Marlena Wyman

“But we are also getting people in Edmonton and Alberta who have heard about it and are sending in their material.”

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Kaler said the project mirrors many like it around the world.

“There are hundreds of these archives that sprang up in the month after things started shouting down. We are one drop in an ocean of stories of the pandemic,” Kaler said. “It really is meant as a community service,” Kaler said.

You can submit your own piece here.

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