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Jordynn Jack, a distinguished professor in the department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, directs the writing program and teaches courses in rhetorical theory, rhetoric of science, women’s rhetorics, writing in the natural sciences and composition.

As measures to combat COVID-19 materialized, her class moved to a remote, online format after spring break. Before the break, her students had been studying the diaries of women from the Civil War era — which presented an interesting learning opportunity, according to Jack.

“Just before spring break, our class had been looking at Civil War diaries and other materials written by women around the Civil War era,” said Jack. “So, it was fortuitous that we had already been looking at diaries and journals and thinking about them. I came across some articles about journals and diaries as a useful historical record of what we’re going through now, and so I decided to change course and make that one of the options for the final project for the class.”

Students were presented with the option to submit, for their final project, a six-day diary — including images — documenting their life and experiences in narrative style.

“A lot of them kind of developed a theme over time, almost organically,” said Jack. “And so, read together, they address a bunch of different aspects of the pandemic.”

Jack described the work of her students as “emotional to read,” as diary entries chronicled everything from the change in societal expectations and family dynamics to mourning for the loss of opportunities and experiences.

As diaries and journals can provide much-needed context and humanize history, Jack believes that our records of living in the time of COVID-19 may have future value, as well.

“There are archives somewhere, and you can come across them, they often give a personal side to things that you’ve read about kind of another sources and your papers, or in articles or things that have been published,” said Jack. “I think in the same way, these kinds of sources will be useful because we have such a glut of public information about what’s going on, but to know how people are experiencing the changes that we’re seeing right now in some kind of personal record, I think will be really valuable. One of the things that strikes me about the situation we’re in is that things change so quickly, and what we consider normal, one day, has changed dramatically.”

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