New Archive’s Project Set to Collect Dickinsonians’ Perspectives of the Pandemic

Jacob DeCarli '22, Managing Editor

After the discovery of few student accounts during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, the Dickinson College Archives & Special Collections wants to create platform for students to share their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The staff of the Archives & Special Collections encourages students, faculty and other members of the Dickinson College community to submit essays that detail personal stories of their lives during the current pandemic. Dickinson community members will have access to the online project portal via the Archives & Special Collections website through the end of 2020. 

Documentation of the Spanish Flu pandemic at the college is sparse, with only a few student letters or college records that detail the closing of campus. In a document provided to the Dickinsonian by the Archives & Special Collections staff, the campus shut down by October 1918 due to the growing threats of the pandemic then reopened five weeks after. However, the college had no formal archives at the time and neither The Dickinsonian nor Microcosm published that year. 

According to the document, the only student account of the 1918 pandemic is a page from a former student’s diary. This student, Walter Harnish, was part of the college’s Student Army Training Corps (SATC), and he detailed the discovery that his peers contracted the Spanish Flu and the camp would be under quarantine.  

The Archives & Special Collections has acquired and protected hundreds of years of Dickinson College’s history, but they are missing documentation from one of the deadliest global pandemics in modern history. We have many questions that might never be answered about how students and college employees, and their families, coped with the illness and quarantine,” according to the Archives & Special Collections staff. Therefore, the Covid-19 experiences project will help to preserve Dickinson College’s memory of the current pandemic.  

Malinda Triller-Doran, special collections librarian, highlighted the importance of this project for the Dickinson community. “Our day-to-day lives are important to document, especially during an unusual time like this. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone, but each individual’s experience is unique. We want to preserve those experiences so we can remember and learn,” she said.  

Students shared positive thoughts on the project. Ryan Murphy ’20 said, “It’s important to document history, both the good and the bad, so we can celebrate and learn from the past.” Murphy also explained the importance of physical documentation because “There’s something special about having a physical copy.”  

Jena Blair ’22 said that it is important for the archives to collect personal narratives for future generations to reference, however, she explained that not everyone will be keen to share their experiences. “I think this is a time for self-reflection for everyone, Blair said, “Each person will deal with this pandemic in different ways, and those experiences aren’t always something that people want to share.” Blair further explained that she hopes people who are willing to share their experiences will participate in the project. 

Dickinson College community members can visit the archive’s website at to learn more about the project and how to contribute.