ASU Historians Founded "Journal of the Plague Year" to Document the Pandemic in Real TimeHistorians in the News
tags: archives, primary sources, COVID-19
“You want to be boring to historians,” said Katherine Landdeck, a history professor at Texas Woman’s University. “If you think back to your high school or college history classes, there are entire periods of history that get skipped—you usually skip to the part where there’s conflict or struggle of some sort. As a historian it’s fun to study those times, but it’s not fun to live through them as an individual.”
Historians prize diaries because they offer a glimpse of everyday life not often found in newspaper articles or other official documents scholars use to understand historical events, Landdeck said. They capture our habits and rhythms, as well as the subtle shifts in our emotional states. In March, when we began entering quarantine, many of us were overcome with fear and uncertainty, moods that may have been reflected in our accounts of those early days of self-isolation. Two months later, most of us have adapted to our new reality, and restlessness or what some are calling “quarantine fatigue” have set in.
The first time I wrote in my journal during quarantine was March 17, a little more than a week after VICE’s offices closed. I tell “the reader” (me) about estimates that, in a worst-case scenario, as many as 1.7 million people could die from the coronavirus, how I’d gone to the grocery store in a panic, and how my roommate had already lost his job at a Manhattan restaurant. He’d found out while we were watching what would be the last Democratic presidential debate, between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. In this entry and the few that followed, I’m interested in facts and figures. Later, I write more about the routine I’ve fallen into—daily walks in the middle of the day or right after work, attempts to get better at running outside, descriptions of delicious meals I’ve cooked with my roommate or boyfriend.
More recently, I’ve written with irritation about life under quarantine. I want to see my friends. I want to go outside. I can’t believe there are so many dishes to wash; I can’t believe humans are supposed to eat three meals a day.
“Journals are so important because they show how one person’s view or experience of something changes over time,” Landdeck said. “When you look back to the month or two ago when this started, you’re going to be worrying about different things than you are today.”
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