unprecedented: a campus community reflects on life in pandemic

The Mardigian Library initiated the University of Michigan-Dearborn Covid-19 Archive & Oral History Project in April of 2020 to document the human experience of the Covid-19 pandemic on our campus. We collected oral histories, images, poetry, artwork, essays, and various other forms of expression. This preview exhibit provides a glimpse into the individual and institutional struggles and achievements as our campus came together to accomplish day-to-day tasks as well as to meet unimaginable challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic.


by Camron Michael Amin
Professor of History, University of Michigan-Dearborn
Michigan Oral History Association Board Member

What is crucial about this archive is its embrace of the glowing dark of the future. The campus community could not help but look with hope and worry to the future course of the pandemic. But, there was no way to see past the contours of that anticipation. The interviews are from inside the Covid-19. People could fear the second and third waves and hope to prevent them locally, or survive them as they had the first wave. But, they could not imagine them. People could hope for a vaccine, but FDA approval was still months away. Before possible futures congealed into probabilities and hardened into a new present, members of the campus community shared their sense of what was going on. The backdrop of these interviews was a shattered sense of pre-pandemic normal that was only months old. It was only in May that the institution had accepted the fact that it had to prepare for a more durable response to a crisis with an open-ended timeline.

Future interviews will be influenced by the way the pandemic resolves and how it is memorialized. That means interviewees are more likely to perform how they “should” remember what happened. These first shared recollections are not devoid of performativity, and that is actually useful. When they talk about how they do their jobs, they are communicating, in part, how they feel they should do their jobs and how those expectations changed in response to the pandemic. They are personal windows into an institutional response. The sense of uncertainty about those institutional changes is preserved in the interviews as an (almost) insulated time capsule.