This exhibit of oral histories documents personal life experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 is an infectious respiratory disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, which was introduced in 2019 and quickly spread worldwide. In 2020 alone, the United States experienced over 19 million cases and 335,000 deaths caused by COVID-19. Attempts to limit the impact of the virus drastically changed the way people lived. Interactions in life, work and school adapted to social distancing and online formats. Mask wearing, frequent handwashing and sanitization quickly became the new normal, while creating opportunities for diverging personal values. 

The interviews in this exhibit were conducted in Summer 2020 in HNRS 301: COVID-19, a class hosted by Drexel University’s Honors program and taught by Professor Scott Knowles of the History Department. Students in the class conducted interviews and self-interviews to preserve stories about the impact of the pandemicThe collection largely contains interviews with members of the Drexel community, but also features voices from outside of Drexelencompassing varying viewpoints, locales, and occupations. These interviews were donated to the Drexel University Archives to be made available to the public after the class concluded. University Archives staff and interns then uploaded the interviews to the Drexel University Archival Collections digital repository and created this exhibit.

Each interview illustrates a unique perspective on the pandemicMany stories depict how Drexel responded during the pandemic and the overall effect of COVID-19 on the college experience. These stories also contain comments on society, including reactions to government mandates, recommended health safety precautions and news coverage.  

Social justice issues are widely represented throughout the interviews. The pandemic elicited conspiracy theories surrounding the origin and spread of the virus, some of which targeted specific racial and ethnic groups, including Asian and Jewish people. Activism against police brutality accelerated in the middle of the pandemic as the nation witnessed repeated discrimination and violence against people of color in the United States. This activism included an upsurge of the Black Lives Matter movement and widespread discussions of systemic racism. Some interviews in the exhibition discuss inequities in access to healthcare, particularly as they affected disadvantaged communities, and the increased demands on frontline workers (workers providing essential services who often faced increased risk of infection)Stories also touch on how the pandemic led much work and teaching to shift to online environments. Interviews also discuss some positive effects of the pandemic, such as flexible scheduling, free time and increased time spent with family.  

Explore the Stories:

There are several easy ways to explore interviews within this exhibit. Using the navigation menu, browse stories by Participant or Theme, or scroll through the entire collection of interviews on the COVID-19 Seminar Oral Histories page. The interview audio recordings and machine-generated raw transcripts (for reference puposes only) are stored in the Drexel University Archival Collections digital repository and may also be accessed directly through that repository.

Related Projects:

  • Drexel University Archives COVID-19 Documentation Project

    From March 2020 to September 2021, Drexel University Archives collected web pages, email updates, and news media articles that document the University’s responses to, and experiences of, the COVID-19 pandemic. For access to these records, please contact archives@drexel.edu.

  • 2020: The Clothes We Wore and the Stories They Tell

    The first online exhibition of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection features garments loaned by members of the Drexel community. The garments are representative of how the Drexel community experienced 2020.