The goal of this project is to collect accounts of daily life during the coronavirus, particularly life in the Shenandoah Valley, but anyone can contribute. The idea comes from the Mass Observation project begun in England in 1937 as a way to record daily life in Britain. In August 1939, founders reached out to a broader group to record everyday life during the war. Four hundred and eighty people responded to this invitation and their diaries are now collected in the Mass-Observation Archive in Sussex, England.
In his book In the War Now, Simon Garfield says the archive is “universally regarded as a unique and invaluable record of quiet lives transformed by events far beyond their control.” The only direction given the diarists was “to record their daily activities as frequently and fully as possible.” The volunteers recognized that despite its difficulty, it was a moment like no other. “What a great thing to have been born in the 20th Century,” wrote Pam Ashford in September 1940. “This supreme moment in the nation’s history did not come in my great-grandparents’ time, it is not something lying in wait for my great-grandchildren, but it is here in my time.”
What I like most about this effort is the recognition of ordinary lives. Many books have been written about Churchill, but how many accounts tell us what it was like for people trying to shop for food or sending their children to strangers in the country while they stayed in London to work? We hear the accounts of soldiers, but how often do we hear the accounts of mothers or grandmothers? Of postal workers or clerks?
Life was upended for Britains in 1939. Our life is upended by the coronavirus today. Certainly, most of us have never experienced anything like it. While we don’t know how long the pandemic will last, most experts say a vaccine will take a year to 18 months to develop, and the side effects of the pandemic will last long after that. It would be valuable to create an archive like the one in England that tells future researchers what life is like right now for people of all walks of life in all parts of the country. If you would like to volunteer to be a diarist, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All you need is a notebook or a computer, and a commitment to write — as little or as much as you want.
This website was started in spring 2020 by Professor Sarah O’Connor in collaboration with Libraries and Educational Technology at James Madison University.