Documenting Coronavirus for Future Researchers

Guest Blogger Janine Mitchell provides an insight from the University of Stirling’s Coronavirus Project.

Two months ago, I glossed over this entry, dated 29 March, in Peter Mackay’s journals:

Screenshot 2020-03-31 at 15.56.51

March 29, 2020

That week, Mackay had been bedridden with what today might be described as ‘man-flu’. In comparison with his usual prolific writing style, the week’s entries are sporadic one-liners reflective of his state of health and his mood. This entry, in particular, held no value for me two months ago. Today, its value is much more significant. Two months ago, we could not have imagined a global obsession with ‘toilet tissue’: supermarket shelves stripped bare; queues of panicked buyers all desperate to get their hands on a 9-pack of Luxury Soft. How carefully we now conserve that precious commodity and how many of us today would contemplate wasting ‘three rolls of sublimely soft toilet tissue’ on our noses?!

I have been very fortunate in the course of my PhD research to work with some incredible collections of personal diaries, including Mackay’s journals held in the University of Stirling Archives and the journals of John Reed held at Chetham’s library. Personal diaries add flesh and blood to the skeleton that is the ‘official’ record of events enabling researchers to reconstruct the daily lives of ordinary people living through extraordinary times.

The University of Stirling’s Archivists have suggested we all keep a daily diary to document the Coronavirus pandemic for future generations. You may think that your day has been mundane; that what you ate for tea, the games you played, your emotions, your financial situation, where you lived, how you shopped, when you exercised, how you grieved loss or celebrated birthdays, weddings and anniversaries is of no interest. But you cannot possibly predict what will interest future generations of researchers, just as we could not have predicted our current situation.

Of all the entries in Mackay’s journals, I am sure this is the last one he would have expected to be of interest to a future researcher, and yet, today, it is.

For more information about the Coronavirus diary project, visit the University of Stirling Archives website.

About the author

Janine Mitchell is in the second year of her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Stirling. Her practice-led research examines the ways in which archival material is analysed, selected and implemented in the creation of biographical narratives, and how this process negotiates the shifting boundaries of fact and fiction.

Janine’s research on the Mackay Archive, held in the University of Stirling’s Archives and Special Collections, will inform a biographical novel, Freedom Road, which tells the story of the life and work of Peter Mackay, a journalist, activist, humanitarian and key contributor to the African nationalist movements in Central and Southern Africa.
Twitter: @JanineLMitchell
First image (handwritten) credit: Journals of Peter Mackay, University of Stirling Archives & Special Collections.

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