Dispatches From Quarantine: How Young People Are Documenting History
It's been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic completely upended our lives. For young people especially, it reprieved them of fully experiencing the world during a crucial time of growth and development.
Parents all over the world are beaming with all sorts of questions to get a grasp on the pandemic's toll, such as: How has the pandemic been affecting our children? Has remote learning slowed their education? Has reduced socializing hurt their development?
Historian Alexandra Zapruder wanted to document what the young people of today are going through, so she asked a number of students to send her diary entries. The project, called Dispatches from Quarantine, launched in April 2020, and those questions were explored and answered through all sorts of mediums — like the stringing of words, the strokes of a paintbrush or to the strums of a ukulele.
"With the proliferation of social media, I started to think about how diaries have basically been supplanted," Zapruder tells NPR's Morning Edition. "And what's a little bit been lost is the kind of quiet reflection, the authentic preservation of experiences that are captured in diaries. And I'm very interested in preserving that."
Zapruder's interest behind documenting adolescence is simple: it's fleeting.
"It goes so fast and once it's over, it's lost forever, we cannot recapture that point of view as anybody who knows anybody who lives with a teenager knows how foreign in a way that perspective can be," she adds.
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Stephanie Zhou: The Final Project
Stephanie Zhou via Alexandra Zapruder[/caption]
Zapruder was not invested in a generic writing project, but rather was interested in "the idea of showing young people how their writing in the present day could really exist on a continuum of writers who've been writing over more than 100 years." Although participants mainly wrote the obvious, such as their general grief over missing school or prom — there was still appeal in the fact there is so much that is unexpected.
Through quick, blunt stanzas, 18-year-old Maya Siegel notes the initial wave of panic and tension that eased into her household as she was in quarantine.
"And she says, this thing that I absolutely adore, my mother starts to ration the seltzer water," Zapruder notes. "Like this little detail that is so potent."
In this note from 16-year-old Claire Hammond, she documents the small moments of mindfulness she's felt amid the chaos of the pandemic. Life has slowed down enough to the point where she can feel a little bit more free from the restraints of everyday life.
Zapruder told Morning Edition how glad she was to see the project reach an international scope. In this example, 16-year-old Fiona Dong was going to school in Massachusetts but was called to return to her home in China. Herfull submission leads readers on the journey back home — detailing the anxiety behind traveling in turbulent times and a two-week quarantine in a hotel in her hometown, Xi'an.
Sam Kofman writes about sharing the Internet with four other members of his family, and the stress of submitting a paper while the Internet keeps giving out.
"This is something that we're all living through, you know, and we want and need to preserve those little details, because that's the texture of daily life," Zapruder says of the excerpt. "That's the stuff we're going to forget 20 years from now."
Zapruder says the project reaffirms something she's believed so deeply — that young people and what they have to say matters.
The full Dispatches from Quarantine collection can be viewed on Zapruder's site.
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