From Iceland — Documenting COVID-19: Looking Forward To Looking Back On The Virus

Documenting COVID-19: Looking Forward To Looking Back On The Virus

Published March 17, 2020

Poppy Askham
Photo by
Adobe Stock

The word unprecedented has lost all impact in reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak, not a day seems to go by without a national first as the Icelandic government introduces increasingly draconian responses to the virus. There can be few that have not acknowledged by now that this a monumental moment in modern history, perhaps the defining moment for a generation. In recognition of this fact, the National Library of Iceland has called for Icelanders to document their experiences in these challenging times.

Talking to Fréttablaðið this morning, Bragi Þorgrímur Ólafsson, professional director of the manuscript museum, stressed the importance of ordinary Icelander’s experiences to effort to record the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Written recollections, sound recordings, screenshots of social media responses and copies of announcements like school closures are all among the material the archive is collecting, although Bragi notes that written accounts of everyday life during the pandemic are the most useful sources. The National Library has been collecting records of Icelandic life since its foundation in 1818, but it is rare for such a public call for submissions.

Alongside newspaper articles and official announcements, the first-hand experiences of everyday people will be of great use to future historians in assessing Iceland’s response to COVID-19. Examples of the sorts of experiences people may choose to write about as suggested by Bragi include shopping conditions, the feelings caused by the outbreak and the struggles of family members infected with the virus. Perhaps these memories could even help generations to come if they are ever unfortunate enough to face a similar crisis.

The sense of civic duty displayed by many Icelanders in recent weeks has been one of the most heartening things about the response to the outbreak thus far. Now there is an opportunity to preserve the stories of everyday heroes, whether that be those helping neighbours receive the supplies they need during self-isolation, or the many people stoically accepting personal inconveniences for the greater good.

So, to all those looking for a way to while away the time in quarantine, get scribbling. This is your chance to literally write history.

Submissions to the archive can be entered here. Participants have the choice to make their records public or not and there is a possibility to set a time after which documents can be accessed.

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