COVID-19 Personal History Initiative: Journaling Prompts

Below are some topics to consider if you're journaling about or otherwise documenting your experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. New suggestions are added periodically.

The Personal History Initiative Is for Everyone 

Trans pride flag, consisting of five horizontal stripes in, from top to bottom, light blue, pink, white, pink and light blue.

For future historians to know and understand this time in history it is vital that every voice possible is included. This is especially true for historically unheard voices. Your perspective is needed, your voice is important, your experiences will show a fuller picture of life in New York at this time.

Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) is a clear example of someone who represents several historically unheard groups. A black transgender woman who dealt with mental health issues and was economically disadvantaged, Marsha was an outspoken gay liberation and AIDS activist who protested in the vanguard at the Stonewall riots in 1969. Following Stonewall Marsha and her friend Sylvia Rivera founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an organization which sought to help homeless gay youth. Marsha was also a member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), a group working to end the AIDS pandemic.

Though well known in her community, Marsha's legacy of kindness, caring, and wit coupled with fierceness and tenacity for the people and causes she loved went largely unrecognized in the wider world for a long time following her death. Thankfully her friends continued to tell her story, to highlight Marsha's work in and contributions to gay rights causes. Her legacy of advocacy has been recognized by those outside her community and her efforts celebrated more widely.

History is richer when it includes as many perspectives as possible. Please consider contributing your story.

Social Media as a Starting Point

May 29, 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread throughout the world and eventually came to New York not everyone began to create a journal of their thoughts. However, many of us did turn to our various social media accounts. We raised questions and concerns. We shared our worries and, as time went on, our creative solutions to quickly changing situations. We posted pictures of new working environments, our furry co-workers, our changing routines, anything we thought worth sharing. All of this is a place to begin your journal or add to an existing journal.

You can look back on your old posts, write down noteworthy thoughts in a journal, take screenshots and include them in a digital journal, or even print or organize images you've shared. Knowing what you know now you may wish to respond to your posts, adding to and expanding your initial thoughts. Have things gone the way you thought they might? How different do you feel now compared to when you first posted about the pandemic?

Getting Started

May 22, 2020

These questions were originally suggested as prompts to get children started on a journal, but they could serve as prompts for adults as well:

  • How did you feel today?
  • What has been your favorite/least favorite thing about staying home?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What would you like to change? What would you like to stay the same?

Empty Spaces

empty parking lot in front of Regal Cinema (Clifton Park, NY)

May 11, 2020

As you record different changes you notice in your everyday life, also think about the places you went to before the pandemic. What do some of those places look like now? Maybe you see a movie theater with empty parking spaces, a shuttered storefront, an empty restaurant, or quiet streets that once teemed with people shopping or patronizing restaurants and bars. What has caught your eye or caused you to pause and think about the time before and what may change in the future?

The Importance of Community

fabric mask, scissors, pin cushion and other sewing supplies on a cutting mat.

May 1, 2020

In these uncertain times, with so many people feeling isolated under stay-at-home orders, community has become an important part of how New Yorkers are coping with the COVID-19 crisis. Individuals are doing their part to serve their community by making masks, donating food and money to those in greater need, and generally coming together through online channels and social media to organize relief efforts, big or small.

As you document your experiences, think about ways that your community has been supportive during NY's PAUSE period. What has someone in your community done for you to make this difficult time a little bit easier? What have you done to aid your friends and neighbors who may be struggling?

Last Updated: June 5, 2020