Life is made up of stories, moments in time captured as snapshots in our memory, of relationships and encounters, of tangible adventures and fleeting thoughts, of all that we experience both inside and outside of ourselves. Life in a pandemic is still all of these things, but we have perceived and experienced them differently over this past year. The Berea College Special Collections and Archives (SCA) wants to document it all.
One Hundred Years
What might the documented 2020 pandemic experience look like to those in the 22nd century? When the Spanish Flu pandemic ravaged the country in 1918, Berea’s archived documentation allowed today’s administration a telling look into the past.
President Lyle Roelofs notes that he was grateful for assistance from Berea’s Special Collections and Archives (SCA) for information from the first pandemic that Berea College experienced 102 years ago. Knowing the trauma the community endured then and the resilience that was shown helped put the current situation in context, he said. Courtesy of SCA, Roelofs was able to share a scan of the letter then-president William Goodell Frost had received from what was then the local public health authority, Dr. Bosley of Richmond, advising of the measures that needed to be taken at the beginning of that ordeal.
“President Frost’s journal entries throughout the experience were haunting,” Roelofs said, “as the Bereans of 1918 suffered through an experience considerably more grave than the pandemic of 2020, with much less in the way of medical resources and virtually no reliable information, even as a world war was also raging.”
“We want anything that lets people tell their own story and lets them be part of history and how this pandemic and how this year has affected and impacted their life,” said Lori Myers-Steele, SCA collections archivist.
Immediately after the College closed the campus to in-person learning due to COVID-19, Myers-Steele and the SCA staff knew they were experiencing history in the making. They moved quickly to create the Bereans and COVID-19 Initiative to begin collecting data for the archive to document this moment in the life of the College’s faculty, staff, students and alumni. Through documenting a variety of experiences, SCA hopes to foster connections within Berea’s community and preserve a record of the individual and shared experiences for posterity.
Part of this collection includes institutional records such as documents released by the Administrative Committee, copies of the daily emails sent by President Lyle Roelofs, videos and articles written about Berea during this time. Marketing and Communications photographers deliberately visited all facets of Berea’s workspaces to document what campus life was like in those first few days and weeks. But records don’t tell the whole story. So in addition, the initiative sought input from individual members of the community. All Bereans were encouraged to submit anything they felt captured their experience during the pandemic—or as time would tell, the new way of doing life that lasted much longer than anyone anticipated.
“Even if someone submits just one photograph that captures their life during the pandemic,” Myers-Steele said. “We want to capture life during this time period and anything that has happened—not just COVID-19—and how it affected our lives.”
Submissions have come in the form of prose, poetry, self-reflections, excerpts from diaries and journals, photographs, hand-written correspondence, fliers, screenshots of social media posts, art- work and interviews, to name a few.
“We wanted to make sure we were collecting things that reflected what was happening at the moment,” Myers-Steele said. “This is the first time we’ve had an initiative where we are gathering a collection of the crisis while still in the midst of crisis. This is a whole different thing for most of us.”
SCA has extended the deadline for submissions to the Berea and COVID-19 Initiative twice because the experience of the pandemic has lasted longer than originally foreseen. All Bereans are encouraged to look back at this past year, think about what has been significant to their experience and submit something that documents those moments.
“In five, 10 or 20 years,” Myers-Steele said, “I think it will be very interesting to people to see how we reacted in this time.”
Make Your Own Submissions
Please help add to the richness of Berea’s record of this experience. You can make submissions online, via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail them
to Berea College Special Collections and Archives, CPO LIB, Berea, KY 40404.