Chronicling COVID-19 at Appalachian Special Collections

This article appeared in the Volume 2, Issue 3 Winter 2021 issue of the Appalachian Curator. Click here to view a PDF of the full issue.

In March 2021, as the pandemic entered its second year, Curator editors asked Appalachian archivists if they were collecting information about how their institutions were responding to COVID-19. Had repositories collected information? If so, why types of information? Several institutions responded, and their reports are below:

Appalachian State University

As Coordinator of Special Collections and the University Archivist, I made the decision not to pursue creating an online location for individuals to submit their COVID stories. The decision wasn’t made lightly but was made for a number of reasons, including working towards what I believed to be higher priorities as they pertained to our faculty, staff, and students. We did receive permission from library administration to “hire” library student assistants to create and keep their own COVID journal as a “work from home” opportunity last spring and into the summer.  Several students took us up on that.  This spring, the library’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee also partnered with App’s Creative Justice Institute to co-sponsor a Zines for Creative Justice project, which culminated in a couple of COVID-focused, student created zines.  There is also the potential for us to receive student journals that were assigned as semester-long projects, but only if the individual students are willing to formally gift them to the University Archives.  Otherwise, I’m confident that in time, other COVID-related will eventually trickle in.

– Kim Sims, Coordinator of Special Collections & University Archivist

Berea College

In early April 2020, I started the Bereans and COVID-19 Initiative to collect and archive not only Berea College records created during and as a result of the pandemic, but also the stories and work of Berea’s staff, faculty, students and alumni as they dealt with and made their way through the pandemic.  In addition to collecting official records of the college, which include everything from official announcements from the president’s office to flyers created by the student-led Campus Activity Board, this initiative invites all Bereans to tell their story and share their experiences during the pandemic. Bereans can share their story in whatever format that fits them – from a single photograph to a piece of poetry. These records and stories can be submitted online, by mail, or in person.  For more information on this initiative, please see:

In addition to official college records and those of the Berea community, I am also collecting COVID-19 related articles written by or about Berea College or Bereans since the pandemic started. The collection will also contain a small number of class projects that focused on the pandemic in some way.

– Lori Myers-Steele, Berea College Special Collections and Archives


East Tennessee State University 

The Archives of Appalachia at ETSU launched the project “Telling Your Story: Documenting Covid-19 in East Tennessee” in May 2020:  The project sought to be a gathering place for residents of the region to contribute stories of how they, their families, and their friends experienced everyday life during the pandemic, as it was happening. Over the past year we have received about 100 submissions, including written accounts, artworks, photographs, business records, audio and video recordings, and social media posts.  While the project is still technically open, there haven’t been any new submissions in several months.  Once the project closes, we will create an online digital collection through the Archives’ Omeka account where the materials can be accessed.

– Jeremy A. Smith, Director of the Archives of Appalachia


Morehead State University

The Covid-19 Oral History Project is a series of video taped interviews conducted on the Morehead State University campus by members of the History Club during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020. The project was conceived and initiated by the Morehead State University History Club during the first few weeks of the 2020 fall semester and the interviews scheduled after September 17th. The objective was to document the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the campus community and record the personal sentiments of the students, staff, faculty and administration.

– Dieter Ullrich, Head of Special Collections and Archives

University of Pikeville 

As the Archivist at the University of Pikeville, I felt personally responsible for recording as much information during the pandemic as I could. Because our archives serves the university, the local community, and Appalachia, it was especially important that I record how the school, local area, and the greater region were impacted. I used social media to request personal experiences and expressions from anyone willing to share. I created a drop box for submissions, so individuals could upload their digital files whenever they felt ready to contribute. I teamed up with our Art Department on a COVID-19 exhibit entitled: “Reflections on a Pandemic: Life during COVID-19.” Throughout the course of this exhibit I collected personal writings and expressions from those involved. Expression formats included art work, a journal, personal essays, and photography which told the individual story of their experience, all now collected for the university archives. I gathered facemasks printed with branding for local businesses, digital photos of signage used to encourage community support and resilience, and various changes throughout the town during the earlier stages of the pandemic. I collected email correspondence from the university administration in reference to the changes taking place within the university based on CDC regulations. I also collected documentation as it became available that denoted the changes within the community (mask requirements, social distancing, etc.). Many of my coworkers contributed by bringing in items they found during their daily lives. Pamphlets, facemasks, and infographics were picked up whenever they saw them and delivered to me for cataloging. Though some photographs were provided by the university community, the majority of them were taken by me during daily commutes to and from work.

-Elisha Taylor, University Archivist

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *