Thursday, April 18, 2024

W&M Libraries create archive to document life during COVID-19

Carlee Dunn '23 recently took photographs of encouraging messages posted throughout her hometown of Monroe Township, N.J. She donated the photos to W&M Libraries to include in an archive documenting life during COVID-19. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Carlee Dunn)
Carlee Dunn ’23 recently took photographs of encouraging messages posted throughout her hometown of Monroe Township, N.J. She donated the photos to W&M Libraries to include in an archive documenting life during COVID-19. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Carlee Dunn)

The William & Mary community has found an assortment of creative ways to document life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through photography, art, poetry, music and other mediums, people are expressing their feelings about the virus, social isolation and other emotions that have come forward during this time.

Through a simple online submission process, William & Mary Libraries continues to collect the works of those affiliated with the university and those who are not, painting a picture of how life has been during the pandemic. Many students, faculty members and alumni have already shared their works.

“I think a centralized location for all these memories during this hardship is a symbol of what we went through,” said Kenneth Tieu ’23, who sent a recording of a murder mystery party that was recorded via videoconferencing platform Zoom.

People can visit the Swem Library when it reopens to view these works, or they can see them online once they are posted to the W&M Libraries COVID-19 website. Donors are encouraged to continue to send in materials.

In the coming weeks, the libraries are particularly interested in receiving submissions relating to Commencement, such as graduation pictures taken at home or virtual celebrations.

“Folks are searching out new passions, and some are working through feelings of isolation,” said Ali Zawoyski, university archivist for William & Mary Libraries. “We’ve received a nice snapshot so far of everything we’re all experiencing.” 

Building a mystery

Tieu originally planned to throw a murder mystery party for his girlfriend’s birthday somewhere on campus. After campus closed, he continued with the idea but with a twist. He recruited Carlee Dunn ’23 to help him write up the mystery, and they made plans to do it all via Zoom.

With the help of Dunn, Tieu wrote the script and sent character bios to all the parties involved.

The setting of the party was the United Nations gala, and participants were tasked with solving the murder of the secretary general.

At 8 p.m. on March 29, Tieu, Dunn and their friends logged into Zoom and had a fun time acting out the clues. The party lasted almost three hours, and it didn’t go off without some complications, but all in all it was a lot of fun, Tieu said.

“I feel everybody was very dedicated to their character and had a lot of fun,” Tieu said. “There were a lot of moments where everybody was cracking up.”

Documenting positivity

Thank goodness for camera phones. Dunn, who was part of two submissions, left her primary camera in Williamsburg, but that didn’t prevent her from snapping some photos while driving through her hometown of Monroe Township, New Jersey.

Dunn stopped occasionally to take pictures of positive messages posted throughout the town, and she sent some of them to W&M Libraries.

Her favorite photograph was of a marquee outside a car repair shop that said, “THIS TOO SHALL PASS.”

“Actually they always have really funny signs and sayings out there, so seeing a very serious one there kind of made me take notice,” Dunn said.

Dunn loves the thought of her photographs being a part of the W&M Libraries repository for years to come. She wants people to see the positivity that came through during such a time of great crisis.

“When I look at historical photos or things like that, I’m emotionally affected by the ones that show hope or people helping each other in a time that’s kind of unexpected, a really dark time,” Dunn said.

A grand piano plan

Ayush Joshi ’20 was scheduled to perform his piano recital March 28 at Ewell Hall. One of his final tasks was printing up the event’s posters right before spring break.

And then COVID-19 happened. He had to find a new plan.

Instead of performing the recital live, Joshi recorded his performance and submitted eight songs to W&M Libraries, including “Rêverie” by Claude Debussy and “Ballade No. 2” by Frédéric Chopin. Three of the songs featured Wayne Wu ’21 on guitar and younger brother Avi Joshi on drums.

He played the songs on an electronic piano in his home in Chesapeake and posted them to YouTube in early April.

“I actually started using my time really effectively and practicing to get good recordings of my senior recital,” Joshi said. “That’s what made me determined to keep going with it.

“It was more than therapeutic. It gave me something to work towards and something to finish.”

Joshi had already finished his senior project working as a guest conductor with the William & Mary Symphony Orchestra, but he wanted to do his recital for fun and to showcase the hard work he put in practicing the piano.

“I guess somewhere down the line, a musician might be in the same position as me and might get inspired by something like this,” Joshi said.

Cubicle withdrawal

Bly Straube M.A. ’90 exchanged one set of work noises for another. The Canada geese flock to the lake near her Newport News home and their constant squawking made Straube joke recently that it reminded her of all the conversations she hears from her cubicle at the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

Straube, a senior curator, submitted a poem she wrote about her work cubicle called “Ode to My Cubicle During the Coronavirus Pandemic.” The poem starts:

I miss you, dear cubicle

With your cloth-covered walls

Barely six feet in height

For no private phone calls

Straube laughs when she talks about her sarcastic poem. She says she misses being at work with her colleagues. They speak often via phone or videoconference to give themselves a modicum of normalcy during this abnormal time.

“The point of the poem was really, it’s minor that I would be upset about the space that I work in, because it’s really about the people that I work with and the energy that that entails and how much we’ve lost from being separated the way we are,” Straube said.

Straube felt compelled to send her tongue-in-cheek prose to W&M Libraries to add her own take on the COVID-19 pandemic. With human interaction at a minimum, this was her way of telling her story to others.

“It’s important to let your emotions out and not keep them bottled in,” she said.

One with nature

The EOS Rebel T6 camera stays within reach so Miso Park ’21 can jump into action whenever needed. She keeps a keen eye on the birdfeeder in the backyard of her Woodbridge home, just in case a rare bird swoops in that begs to be photographed.

“Sometimes when I eat meals, I have my camera on standby just in case a bird comes by to eat from the birdfeeder,” Park said.

Park borrowed her camera from the Swem Library right before spring break, and she has used it often during her time at home to take pictures of the nature around her.

She submitted a series of photos to W&M Libraries documenting the various trees, flowers and wildlife around her home.

Her favorite photo is one of a white-breasted nuthatch, face down while grabbing seed out of her family’s feeder. She loves it so much she has made it the screen saver on her phone.

“It’s so peaceful,” she said.

Park makes an effort to get out and be more active through taking walks in her neighborhood.

She said the lack of human interaction during this time has made her really appreciate the nature around her.

“Looking at the pictures, it makes me feel kind of accomplished,” Park said. “Just nature in general, seeing it up close, I think there’s a lot of beauty to it.”

For these four people, and the others who submitted, it was important to find an outlet to express their feelings of their time during the pandemic.

“I think it’s important, because we can also learn from the way other people are coping with COVID-19,” Park said. “I know it must be such a difficult time for everyone.”

Nathan Warters is a communications specialist at William & Mary.


John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo ( is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.

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