Historical Row: Capturing Pandemic Experiences through Postcards

Over the past 18 months, the Wesleyan University Archives has been working hard to collect materials and records related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This included clipping articles from the Middletown Press and Wesleyan Argus, saving emails sent to the Wesleyan community, crawling Wesleyan webpages to have a record of the ever-changing information, saving recordings of Zoom presentations with various constituents, and even saving one of the mask-and-hand-sanitizer kits handed out to all students last year. These records help tell how the University has kept moving forward during this time of uncertainty. However, it only tells part of the story.

What they do not do is capture the personal stories of students, faculty, and staff. We need to document these experiences so that future researchers will be able to hear directly from those that lived through it. We began with a call in April 2020 for records of any format documenting experiences. We received some wonderful submissions that are now available in our Digital Collections.

Little did we know how long this pandemic was going to be a part of our lives. In April 2021, we decided to try a new initiative: “Postcards from a Pandemic.” Since then, postcards and a locked drop box have been stationed outside Special Collections & Archives in Olin Library. Wesleyan faculty, students, and staff are invited to write a postcard about their COVID experiences, especially here on campus. Some postcards are blank so students can draw if they prefer.

The archives has received numerous postcards, with more coming all the time, including India ink drawings from a Spring 2021 Drawing I class taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Ali Osborn ’06. Here are just a few of the messages:

“I transferred to Wesleyan the fall after the pandemic began. I’ve never actually been on campus without COVID restrictions here. While I sometimes long for a campus I’ve never actually known, I have fallen in love with Wesleyan all the same.”
—Talia Zitner ’23

“Right now [spring 2021], I spend nearly all my time in my cement box (Hewitt single) doing work and dreaming about social activities. Even with this, Wesleyan feels like a sanctuary.”
—Ethan Brill-Cass ’23

“In early March 2020, most of us had never even heard of Zoom. Then, almost overnight, it became our means of teaching, learning, working, and socializing, a situation that continued until just last month. My point is that you are resilient and adaptable, probably much more than you think.”
—Assistant Professor of the Practice in African American Studies Jesse Nasta ’07

“I am now a junior which feels crazy because I still feel like a freshman. COVID has been a very intense experience and has also made my year fly by.”
—Eliwa Onanga ’23

“I still don’t know what my professors or students look like beneath their eyes because of the masks. The past two years have been tiring and apocalyptic and also strangely beautiful in realizing the power of community.”
—Emily Bloomfield ’22

“But it’s not ALL normal. We all mask up indoors (the orientation leaders’ go-to saying is “Put your noses away!”) and we had to get a COVID test when we arrived. I had never had one before and it was funny making awkward eye contact with the nurse while I dug the swab around in my nose.”
—Audrey Nelson ’25

“The main thing that has changed for me this pandemic year, and it’s a change for the better, is how many students are thanking me, and how often, for little & big things in our intellectual life together. . . . We seem to be more aware of our shared project and of what we do for one another, and that is wonderful.”
—Stephanie Weiner, Professor of English