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Pandemic Journaling Project makes new home at Syracuse University

February 19, 2024

SU News

Sebastian Karcher

Sebastian Karcher

A repository of data detailing the deeply personal experiences of more than 1,800 people living during the COVID pandemic will be available to researchers for the first time on Feb. 15.

The Pandemic Journaling Project (PJP) offers insight into people’s lives and experiences from May 2020 to 2022 in 55 countries through nearly 27,000 online journal entries of text, images, and audio.

The publication of the data is the result of a multi-year collaboration between the PJP team, led by anthropologists Associate Professor Sarah S. Willen of the University of Connecticut and Associate Professor Katherine A. Mason of Brown University, and the Qualitative Data Repository (QDR) at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.

The resulting collection is unique in its breadth and potential for use and re-use by researchers in anthropology, sociology, history and public health, among other fields.

“There are several large quantitative surveys in the social sciences that are broadly used,” says Sebastian Karcher, associate director of QDR. “But qualitative datasets that are large enough to be analyzed from so many different angles are very, very rare. The PJP data are going to be a treasure for social scientists for years to come, and we at QDR couldn’t be more excited to be the permanent home for them.”

To ensure that the data from the Pandemic Journaling Project would be accessible to future researchers, the team regularly consulted with QDR’s experts on questions ranging from file organization to ethics.

“We knew from the very beginning that we wanted to share these data widely and archive them for the future,” says Mason. “We were so lucky to be able to connect with Sebastian and the QDR team early in the process so that we could make sure that we were able to do so as ethically and effectively as possible.”

The PJP empowered people to chronicle their own experiences in order to create a record for the future. The resulting archive can help researchers understand how people lived — and reflected on their lives—during this time.

“Each journal, and each person’s story, matters on its own terms,” Willen says. “Taken together, this collection of materials offers an extraordinary real-time window onto how the pandemic challenged us and changed us, not just as individuals but also as members of broader communities.”

Already the data have been used to explore a wide variety of questions, ranging from the impact of the pandemic on different groups’ mental health, to students’ experiences around the globe, to the human rights dimensions of the project itself, which the PJP team describes as a form of “archival activism.”

Associate Professor of Anthropology Michelle Parsons at Northern Arizona University, one of the earliest outside scholars to work with the data, said that the “PJP data—thousands of journal entries through time—are unique, offering a window into people’s changing experiences and emotions during a turbulent time. Also, it has been such a pleasure collaborating with the PJP team and with other scholars analyzing the data.”

To protect participants, access to the full PJP data on QDR requires prior approval—requests can be submitted directly from the dataset’s page on the QDR website once it goes live on Feb. 15.

A significant subset of more than 2,000 entries also are publicly available for searching and browsing by anyone on the Featured Entries page of the PJP website.

By Ellen Mbuqe

Published in the Spring 2024 issue of the Maxwell Perspective

Sebastian Karcher spoke to Spectrum News about the project: "Project documenting human experiences from COVID-19 posted on Syracuse University archive."

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