Princeton University Library begins collection of oral histories of student, faculty, staff, and alumni experiences with COVID-19

Princeton students walking and lounging during springtime at the McCosh courtyard on campus

Photo by Denise Applewhite, Princeton University


To document Princetonians’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, Princeton University Library (PUL) has begun to collect oral histories from students, faculty, staff, and alumni for the University Archives. The COVID-19 & Me: Oral History Project, led by Project Archivist for Student Life Valencia L. Johnson, aims to archive how people in the Princeton community are experiencing the effects of the ongoing crisis.

“We are living through an extraordinary time filled with uncertainty, stress, and loss,” Johnson said. “It’s affecting everyone in the world. We’re all processing this pandemic in different ways, and my hope for this project is that it becomes a useful tool to help people on their processing journey. This project is just one avenue to document what it’s like to be you here and now. It will also serve as a primary source of research for future Princetonians or researchers who may be interested in learning more about this pandemic’s impact on the institution and the community.”

The project gives Princeton students, faculty, staff, and alumni an opportunity to record their experiences in their own voice as Johnson or an interviewer of their choice guides them with questions such as how COVID-19 affected their spring and subsequent year, their experience moving to remote learning, teaching, and research, and the hardships and joys they encountered while social distancing. 

Johnson is currently soliciting submissions from Princetonians. “So often, we think that stories of our everyday lives are not important enough to share with the world,” she added, “but it’s those human stories that prove to be invaluable over time. We are all going to be asked at some point, ‘What was it like?’ and this project is a way to talk directly to the future.”

The collection, which will be made available online in the fall, is a part of PUL’s Amp Up Your Archives program, which encourages the Princeton community to donate to the University Archives and record their legacies at Princeton, as well as guides them through how and why the Archives are useful for their research.

Amp Up Your Archives is also home to another oral history project: The My Princeton Oral History Project, which educates and empowers students who feel left out of the dominant Princeton narrative to capture and share their unique experience for future record and research.

Housed in the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, the University Archives include materials, photographs, and audiovisual materials that document the history of Princeton.

To learn more about how to contribute to the COVID-19 and Me Oral History Project, watch the training video below.

Written by Stephanie Ramirez, Communications Specialist and Staff Writer

Media contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications