Arts Beat: UCSB archive built from pandemic experiences and inspiration

Aug 1, 2020

Archivists at UC Santa Barbara are documenting the pandemic’s effect on the university’s community. To do so, they’ve asked students, staff, faculty and alumni to send in submissions, without any guidance on form or content.

And so far, UCSB’s Special Research Collections have received nearly 100 submissions.

The content has ranged from zine pages to poetry, short stories, photographs and pictures of quarantine crafts. In one audio clip, UCSB staff member Fuzzy Rogers simply plays the bass while his cat meows and somebody washes dishes in the background.

Matt Stahl, one of the archivists leading the project, said it’s one of the first times they’ve asked for community submissions in this way, and it's an idea they got from a similar initiative at Colorado State University. When finished, it will also be the first all-digital collection from the library.

“One of the thoughts behind this whole project was we didn’t want to tell people what was important for them during this time, we wanted to let them tell us,” Stahl said.

Because of that goal, Stahl said they won’t be weeding out any submissions except those from outside the university. Around 60 to 70 percent of the submissions have come from faculty, with the rest from students and a few from alumni.

Calli Force, the other archivist leading the project, said a large part of her inspiration for the collection was documenting the psychological aspects of the crisis.

“Archivists are kind of like historical first responders,” Force said. “I think we have a really awesome responsibility to our community to provide a space where catharsis is possible, where people can share their voice and they can be part of the accurate portrayal of their story, which is part of the human experience, which is why archives even exist.”

Force says that amid the simpler submissions about killing time during quarantine are moving, visceral stories from people struggling during the shutdown — especially those going through it alone.

“That’s not what I was hoping for in the way that I’m hoping that there is suffering, but hoping for this content to be shared,” Force said. “Because it’s real, and they’re not alone and there are many people feeling these same things.”

Force and Stahl started asking for submissions in earnest at the beginning of June, and say there’s no real cutoff date. Because of the amount of work that goes into processing and combing through the submissions, Force said the collection will be optimistically complete six months to a year from now.

And in a few weeks’ time, the UCSB’s Special Research Collections team will begin taking submissions for their next project, focused around Santa Barbara County’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement.