In a recent WFoD email chain Tomek, our resident history buff and research guy, said that these are interesting times in which to journal our everyday lives. He suggested that since we’re writers, we might as well write and record how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting our own lives. From yesterday’s post, I see that Tomek will be sharing his “plague” writings through the blog.
Journaling has already been on my mind in recent weeks because I just finished reading Nella Last’s War, a published account of an English woman’s experiences during WW2 written for Mass-Observation. Mass-Observation (M.O.) was conceived in 1937 as a social research project that aimed to record the daily lives and feelings of British citizens. These citizens were invited to answer questionnaires or keep their own M.O. Diaries which would then be collected for the project’s archives.
Mass-Observation began in a very interesting time, right on the cusp of WW2. When M.O. sent out the call for volunteer diarists, war was imminent and for the next 5 years people recorded the social, economic, cultural, and political changes it brought. It’s a treasure trove for historians.
Nella Last was a housewife and mother who had never kept a diary, but had always wanted to write. M.O. provided her a reason to write and she kept up her diary for most of the rest of her life. She provides exactly what M.O. was set up to record, an honest account of someone’s daily life in Britain. She records the bombings in her town near an important shipyard, her work in the Women’s Voluntary Service, her tricks for stretching rationed food and supplies, and the increasing hopelessness she observed in herself and her neighbors.
In some ways she was journaling through end times, but she could also see the beginning of new times ahead. She observed young people’s new ways of thinking about marriage and social expectations and opportunities for women that they had not previously been given.
I rarely try to keep a journal or record my daily life. The fantasies and adventures I create in my head are much more interesting to write down than my average life. However, in the spirit of Nella Last and per Tomek’s suggestion I’ve started my own Single Observation Diary. I tried to get my sister in on this, but she’s even more inconsistent than I am. For now I don’t plan to blog it, and it will not be going into an archive. It will remain on my computer for my own self-reflection.
Also, if anyone was interested, the Useless Trivia insert I mentioned that appears later in this chapter:
*Useless Trivia: Family tree time* In June, 1829 the 28 year old (estimated) Shanawdithit lay dying in a hospital in St. Johns, Newfoundland. She had tuberculosis, and would not survive. For the previous year she had been engaged in an effort with Scotsman William Cormack to record everything she remembered about her native culture – the Beothuk people – because it was believed she was the last of her kind. She had been captured along with her mother and sister in 1823 by a local fur trapper, but her mother and sister soon succumbed to tuberculosis. Shanawdithit was kept as a domestic servant for some years in St. John until Cormack took interest in the Beothuk people – by which point Shanawdithit’s health was already failing.
The Beothuk were one of the earliest Indian North American peoples to encounter Europeans, and they mostly regretted it. In 1500 when Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte-Real landed in Newfoundland, he seized 57 Beothuk and took them back to Europe as slaves. European diseases reduced the remaining Beothuk populations in Newfoundland. They were also cut off from their traditional food sources as they retreated inland from the coasts – where Europeans lived and lurked. By the 1790s, local Magistrate John Bland took note that English colonists were shooting Beothuk left and right. Shanawdithit was born into the last band of Beothuk, and watched them all be murdered, captured or fall to disease, until only she was left. Her death in 1829 was also the death of the Beothuk.
But as it turns out, not completely. In 1819, local fur trappers had captured Demasduit – Shanawdithit’s aunt – and the young Shanawdithit personally witnessed her uncle, Nonosbawsut, get shot down as he tried to liberate his wife. In 2020 local genetics researcher Steven Carr gained access to the graves of Demasduit and Nonosbawsut to study the Beothuks’ genetic history – when he got a shock. A search of online DNA profile databases turned up a direct mitochondrial descendant of Shanawdithit’s family, living in Tennessee. When contacted, the guy had no clue but was pleasantly surprised.
Some exploration of what your plague journal might do for you:
On Fri, Mar 27, 2020 at 1:42 PM Write Free or Die wrote:
> jennifergingras posted: “In a recent WFoD email chain Tomek, our resident > history buff and research guy, said that these are interesting times in > which to journal our everyday lives. He suggested that since we’re writers, > we might as well write and record how the COVID-19 pandemi” >