Today, the British Library publishes a database of testimony collections that were created over the last two years, which document the UK's experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In this blog Lucy Pinkney, Covid-19 Testimony Project Researcher, writes about her work on the database.
I think we can all say that Covid-19 turned our world upside down. Nearly two years of social distancing, wearing masks and living in ‘bubbles’ has changed how we see the world and other people. For oral history, the pandemic completely threw face-to-face interviews out of the window, and so we have had to adapt.
This database was created as a way to document Covid-19 testimony projects around the UK and to enable people to do their own research into these projects to find out more about peoples lives during the pandemic. Without the ease of face-to-face interviews, we have had to get creative. Many of the projects included in the database relied on online submissions of personal diaries, artwork and photography (amongst other things) to reflect on how our lives changed during the pandemic. It includes a range of areas across the UK, such as London boroughs like Hackney, cities like Birmingham and Bristol, and also groups of people such as the d/Deaf community and the LGBTQ+ community. By collating these projects, it gives a voice to the lives of these people during the pandemic.
During my temporary job as Covid-19 Testimony Project Researcher, I communicated with over 150 projects that fit the criteria of being a Covid-19 testimony project. Many of the projects were collated during the first and second wave of lockdowns in the UK, but I also did some research myself to find if there were any more recent projects. I had many positive responses to my emails, and I have slowly been able to update the database so that it can be made publicly available. Some of the information that is in the database includes how the testimonies were made, such as written or audio diaries, interviews or photographs, and other information like the archive that material is kept in and who to contact to find out more.
When researching the projects, I did discover some of my favourites, and many of them were projects from smaller areas in the UK or specific groups of people. I found that reading about their lives during the pandemic made me really think about how each person was impacted differently. Many of the projects mentioned how the communities came together to support one another, and to see that in diary form or even photographs is really inspiring. I also found that each organisation who decided to do a testimony project all had the same motivation: that we are living in such a unique time that it should be documented for future generations. This resonated the most with me, as despite the fear and worry that has clouded the last two years of our lives, we are living through a unique time, and it brings me joy to see communities coming together and documenting their lives for future generations.
The database - collated by the Oral History team - can be found on the Covid-19 Collection Guide. The database can be downloaded as a spreadsheet and is an open resource for further research and re-use.
With thanks to Camille Johnston for managing the development of the database over the last two years and supervising Lucy Pinkney.