Since its launch in April, the Corona-Memory.ch project has gathered nearly 400 audio, visual, and text-based contributions from the Swiss public that express their reactions to the coronavirus pandemic. Project co-organizer Enrico Natale describes the archive’s inspiration, impact, and plans for the future.
When Natale, managing director of Switzerland’s historical sciences portal infoclio.ch, first launched Corona-Memory.ch in collaboration with the Universities of Bern and Italian-speaking Switzerland, he was inspired by a similar archive that sprung from the US terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. The then-novel open call for online contributions of photographs and reactions to the attacks received an overwhelming response from the US population. In fact, the initiative was so successful that it spawned a new genre of ‘catastrophe archives’, which now serve as living testimonies to some of the most challenging periods in recent history.
“For historians, these projects are very interesting, because testimonies that make it into historical archives are usually from famous or public figures; it is rare for the general public to have a voice,” Natale says.
He adds that the Corona-Memory archive provides additional angles of interest for historians because of the new communication modes that have become ubiquitous in recent years.
“Today, we communicate via smartphone pictures, text messages, and YouTube videos. All these kinds of sources are relatively new for historians, so it’s very interesting to collect them, and to analyze the texture of these digital submissions.”
Exploiting and protecting a precious resource
Thanks to funding from the Fondation Petram and Migros Kulturprozent, plus conservation support from the Swiss Federal Archives and the Swiss Social Archives, the Corona-Memory site is now available in French, German, and Italian, with an interactive map indicating the sources of contributions. The German site even has data breakdowns of contributions by Swiss language region, as well as the most commonly used keywords.
Natale says that dozens of similar projects have also been launched worldwide on the pandemic, soliciting both digital and physical archival contributions. He is now in discussions with projects based in Germany, Luxembourg, and the US, with plans to delve further into the data that the respective archives are gathering.
“We are planning to meet and discuss together what we can do with the materials we have collected. Another challenge we want to address is how to guarantee the long-term availability of these materials, as digital resources pose specific challenges for archiving and preservation.”
Natale’s goals for early 2021 are therefore to organize two workshops with archives and museums managing similar projects. One workshop will focus on these archives’ preservation challenges, as well as the maintenance of personal data protection over the long-term. The other will bring together scholars in the humanities and social sciences to discuss what kinds of research questions might be answered using the wealth of unique, curated data these archives contain.
“We need insights from sociology, contemporary anthropology, history, and psychology – and we are always open to collaborations,” Natale says.
Whether future research focuses on history, storytelling, data preservation, or digital devices and infrastructures, Natale says the most interesting questions for him revolve around the different reactions that are captured, in so many different formats, by the archive.
“So many people have submitted creative and inspirational work that they did during pandemic: drawings, paintings, songs, and collages,” he says. “My main interest is the diversity of expression of how a population felt (and is still feeling) during a very exceptional time.”
How to submit to Corona-Memory.ch
Anyone can submit a text, video, image or audio clip – anonymously if desired – to Corona-Memory.ch. All submissions are immediately published and made available for research. The platform is open and accessible to all. Personal data are only processed to the extent necessary for the operation of the website, and always in accordance with Swiss data protection regulations.