As a growing number of people have begun dedicating additional time to their mental health and creative pursuits, writing has become a more common hobby than it was pre-COVID-19. The mundane things we jot down on a day-to-day basis will be read by future generations –what kind of foods we ate, how our social lives were impacted, the aspects of our teenage years we feel we’ve lost.
These journals will not be perceived as boring or dull, but as how people of countless ages, cultures, and backgrounds survived and lived during a deadly pandemic, turbulent political times, modern genocides, and much, much more. A daily journal will be an exceptionally valuable text to a historian, even if to the author it is simply an account kept to pass the time.
According to the Washington Post, “In early April, the National Women’s History Museum in Alexandria, Va., launched a covid journaling project aimed at detailing the experiences of women and girls as well as nonbinary individuals from a variety of backgrounds.” Lori Ann Terjesen, director of education at the museum, revealed how the female voice is frequently left out of the historical narrative and how this project avoids repeating such a pattern. The use of the internet allows for a wide range of experiences to be shared, and this will be a memorable occasion in history when such a large amount of significant events took place, and where the perspective, influence, and experience of so many individuals can be documented.
We observe the usefulness of journal accounts during the 1918 influenza pandemic, where we have the experience of both at-home patients and soldiers dying in the trenches of World War I. Because of the wide range of backgrounds of soldiers, we can read journals from the perspectives of many. An excerpt taken from an article published in the Smithsonian Magazine shares the accounts of a civilian experiencing symptoms of the flu, and what techniques were considered cures. The article then goes on to say, “[That account] is one of countless diaries and letters penned during the 1918 influenza pandemic. … These century-old musings represent not only invaluable historical resources, but sources of inspiration or even diversion.”
Similarly, we can look to the literary influence that Anne Frank has had on the world. Although her diary was shared with the public without her consent, — and there are many arguments to this point — the perspective this young girl provided through her journaling is unmatched. It makes the gruesome history of World War II personal, giving it emotion rather than making it a bundle of events and numbers tossed at students during history class.
Civil War historian and high school educator Kevin M. Levin said, “The present moment offers a unique opportunity for [students] to create their own historical record.” The pandemic is a grand period in the course of human history, even though it does not feel like it as we experience it firsthand. It is important to remember that our own experiences will be embraced by the next generation.
Personally, I have taken to writing a journal entry every other day. If not for my own mental benefit and clarity, then for the reasons given above. The insight individuals can give, the views we can offer, and the history we can bring to life through our own hands is a unique experience. And, while I can pretty confidently say we’re not thrilled about it, there’s certainly an element of merit to be felt.