First archive tells University’s story of the COVID pandemic

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Newspaper shelves in a newsagents in May 2020 showing headlines including 'Stay Home!'
Newspaper coverage, April 2020.

The first collection of its kind capturing the stories and experiences of a Scottish university community through the global pandemic has been launched.

Featuring interviews with staff and students from the University of Stirling, plus a range of images and other material related to the period shared by local community members, the new archive provides a significant record of the pandemic.

Produced by history lecturer Dr Stephen Bowman, Assistant Archivist Rosie Al Mulla and Head of University of Stirling Collections Sarah Bromage, the Pandemic Archive offers a unique record in Scotland and is the first to be curated from a university.

Rosie said: “The archive tells the story of the pandemic from the perspective of the University’s community. 

“We spoke to around 40 members of staff and more than 20 students, including the Principal, academics, professional services staff and undergraduate and postgraduate students from across the world. 

“We asked participants about their thoughts and feelings on the first lockdown in 2020, how they were navigating the various restrictions, what the impact was on their work and/or studies as well as their worries and fears about the virus and any coping mechanisms.

“It was really surprising to see the different feelings people had about the same point in history – some had found it really challenging where as others found it a really productive period. These personal accounts are so valuable and give a much truer reflection of what life was like than the official records of the time.”

1.	The oral history project team, including project organisers and student volunteer interviewers; l-r Katharina, Duncan, Sarah, Rosie, Callum, Nicky and Stephen The team behind the new archive, including project organisers and student volunteer interviewers. L to R: Katharina, Duncan, Sarah, Rosie, Callum, Nicky and Stephen.

As well as the video and audio interviews, the Pandemic Archive also includes a selection of PPE and COVID testing kits, various NHS and government communications and even takeaway leaflets outlining the changes to home deliveries. It also includes more than 100 photographs sent in by the public of how the pandemic affected their local area.

Dr Bowman said: “The archive is a unique collaboration between historians, the University’s art collection team and archivists and Stirling is the only university to do this kind of oral history project in its own community.

“What we saw through this project was that already people have forgotten the essence of living through the COVID pandemic. Although it was such a huge part of recent life, it has already become ‘smaller’ news. 

“It’s so important we have this collection to allow researchers and others interested in this period to have direct access to the personal accounts of those who lived through it.”

Sarah Bromage said “As University Collections we were keen to reflect this collective experience and add to our collections holistically by acquiring creative expressions to the pandemic alongside the archival record. This project will be exhibited as part of the Art Collection’s 2024/25 exhibition series exploring human experience.”

The team is also working on a film telling the story of the archive which they hope to launch in the autumn.

The Archive can be viewed on the University website.

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