Many times during the past year, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Archivist Alesha Shumar has been asked by reporters, historians, and scholars for student or faculty accounts of their experiences of the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918–19.
As it happens, there are newspaper accounts and photos of the campus closing for much of the fall of 1918, and, said Shumar, “The parallels between this pandemic and that one are astonishing. If you look back at the rates of infections and debates about wearing masks, we can say that this is what’s happening, almost to a T.”
But what Shumar doesn’t have in her archives are first-person words from UT students or faculty members: “Many male students were serving in World War I. There were only 500 or so students, most of them female, and most didn’t live on campus. So in our archives we don’t have a lot from the student perspective of what they were facing here in Knoxville.”
Thinking of future reporters, historians, and scholars, Shumar and her UT Libraries colleagues are actively seeking input from students, faculty, and staff to submit their own stories of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic at UT.
“If ever in the future people want to look back on what it was like,” said Shumar, “I want to do everything I can to make that possible. Submission can take many forms. So far, we have creative works and essay responses from more than 200 individuals. These include paintings and photographs. A lot of them are personal accounts. Some even describe their family losing a grandparent or loved one. Many students write about the adjustment to going to school online and the challenges they have faced.”
As of now, all the submissions are in digital form, but once the University Archives opens up to taking in-person donations, Shumar will gather the originals of paintings, drawings, and other media. Submit your own account online.
Brooks Clark (865-310-1277, firstname.lastname@example.org)