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The Thompson Library Blog

Archiving in a Time of Pandemic and Protest

by Liz Svoboda on 2020-06-03T14:02:00-04:00 in Local History, Archives, Genesee Historical Collections Center, History | Comments

The Genesee Historical Collections Center at the University of Michigan-Flint is beginning collections to document the personal experiences of members of the Flint community and campus during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, inspired by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others, that are taking place in 2020. We are joining countless other libraries across the country to document these formative times, specifically privileging the voices and perspectives of the historically neglected communities. 

Community experiences are more than just what is reported in the news and we want to document them for future generations to study and understand the tumultuous time in which we are currently living. There are famous examples of diaries and personal experiences that lead to greater understanding of ordinary life during historic events: Daniel Defoe’s Journal of a Plague Year and Anne Frank’s diary. On a local level, we have the Labor History Project, documenting the Sit-Down Strike.

As a more personal example, one of our librarians is currently transcribing her grandmother's diaries from 1944 - 1952. “It’s fascinating to learn about her when she was a young woman. The entries are very brief, but my family gets snapshots of how she lived during WWII - going to dances on the nearby air force base, writing to soldiers, and her everyday life of going to movies and reacting to her girlfriends getting married. It’s intensely personal and I feel so close to her while I’m reading them.”

Diaries from 1944 - 1952
Our archivist, Colleen Marquis, on the importance of documenting the recent upheavals and the pandemic: “Written journals are some of the most important primary sources used in historical research today. Our own archive holds dozens of journals and diaries from regular citizens that provide important glimpses into Flint’s past. It’s a chance to become a permanent part of Flint history and leave your thoughts and experiences for the future.” 


What can you do to help preserve the story of your time? 

Keep a record of your actions, experiences, and thoughts, making portraits of your everyday life. We are interested in 

  • COVID-19 experiences as essential workers, staying home, dealing with the pressures of finances, maintaining relationships through social distance, and your experience with the disease itself.
  • Protest experiences: organizing, participating, the signs you carried, meeting minutes of organizations, and any printed material produced or used for the protests.

How can you keep a record? What materials are we interested in?

  • Written materials like journals and diaries are often the most fruitful for historians. These can be handwritten or electronic documents. 
  • Record an audio or video journal if writing isn’t your thing. Please submit in .mp3 or .mp4 formats. YouTube links will not be accepted due to copyright issues.
  • Zines, scrapbooks, art, and any creative work created during and about COVID-19 or the protests of 2020.
  • Protest signs, banners, and any materials created specifically for demonstrations. 
  • Images you have taken documenting everyday life and your activities during the protests. Please submit photos in .jpg or .tiff format. 
  • Emails and communications about organizing.
  • Social media posts that are substantive, not just retweets and shares. Screenshots and printouts of social media posts are the best way to donate. Please save them in a .pdf format if you are donating electronically. 
  • If you aren’t sure if a material is appropriate for donation just ask! 

How can you donate materials?

We are currently closed with the rest of campus, but we will begin collecting materials when we reopen and will continue collecting throughout this significant time in our history. If you are interested in donating your experiences, please fill out our Pandemic and Protest Collecting - Interest Form so that we can stay in contact with you.

If you have any questions about appropriate materials, access, copyright, or anything regarding a donation please email archivist Colleen Marquis at


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