The Pandemic Papers

Magdalen College School was founded in 1480 and over the centuries has witnessed Civil War, two World Wars and The Great Plague.

In March 2020, the school’s Archive Club was about to look at how the Spanish Flu epidemic was reported in the school magazine, The Lily, when the school closed. So how will pupils in the future look back at the COVID-19 global pandemic? They need us to capture what is happening right now. That’s where we need your help.

"So how will pupils in the future look back at the COVID-19 global pandemic? They need us to capture what is happening right now. That’s where we need your help"

Lindsay McCormack, Archivist

We’re curating a new collection within the MCS Archive, which we are calling the Pandemic Papers. It will capture aspects of school life and the MCS community in this time through letters, journal entries, short videos, photographs and objects of interest, all submitted by pupils, staff, parents, OWs and Friends of MCS.

The first ‘object’ to go into the collection will be the Master’s Address to pupils on the day the school closed, Thursday 19 March 2020.

 

Why do this?

Two reasons: First of all, we want pupils in future to have a resource to use when they look back at the pandemic. Seeing this world event through the eyes of the MCS community in 2020 will give them a special lens on what happened, just as using materials from our historic collections give pupils a view on Tudor times for example.

The second reason is that through the curation of the materials, we can see what is special and important to our pupils and those around us. It will help us to prioritise what we do and how we readjust to the world once this time passes. It can reinforce our values and what we appreciate.

The purpose of the collection is to add sources to the archive that help us and future generations understand how it felt to be a part of the MCS community during this period – the uncertainty, the rapid change, the rhythm of the daily schedule, the academic calendar – and how this global event impacted our institution. 

 It’s not just the special and important things, but the mundane details that are crucial to the historical record. Everyone has something to contribute, and we want to hear from you. 

 

How do I contribute?

As the Master said to pupils on the day the school closed, share some diary entries and reflections about what Covid-19 has meant to you: “Your thoughts and daily life have always been precious, but they really are now.  As Philip Larkin put it: Where can we live but days? Record how you feel.  Share it with your family and friends.  Keep talking, and bear witness to what we are experiencing.”

Please save your notes and thoughts and make sure you add a date. Photograph your work space at home or if you are doing homework in a group, video a short part of your conversation. Keep signs or notices that helped you understand what is going on. If you are OW living away from Oxford, save us a front page of a newspaper when you record what’s happened to you. If you are volunteering, write a note of what you are doing to support others.

These are only suggestions so you could also take a look at other archives online through The National Archives or the Mass Observation Archive, which records everyday life in Britain.

To submit entries to the Pandemic Papers, you can:

  • Email text, image or video (.mp3) files to archive@mcsoxford.org
  • Post materials to Magdalen College School, Cowley Place, Oxford, OX41DZ (though please hold on to objects until school reopens).
  • Contact the Waynflete Office (waynfleteoffice@mcsoxford.org) to arrange a time to talk through your experience in person over the phone
  • Share a particular social media post or tweet of yours directly with the Waynflete Office (waynfleteoffice@mcsoxford.org)

We can restrict access if your submission(s) contain sensitive information, so please indicate whether this is the case on donation.

In more usual times, the MCS Archive is clear about its mission to support the school’s aims. All MCS pupils are able to use the archive by contacting the Archivist. Selected items from the collections are on display around school and at events. Archive club runs Tuesday lunchtimes for Senior School pupils, and items from the school’s historic collections are brought to Junior and Senior School classes to enrich teaching.

About the MCS Archive

In March 2020, MCS became the first school archive in the United Kingdom to achieve the coveted kitemark of Archive Service Accreditation.

 

This is a national scheme, run by The National Archive, which recognises of the quality of the provision across all areas: collections care, cataloguing, access, engagement with stakeholders and governance.

Given this status of national significance, the first accessions to the Archive will be items related to the current pandemic, starting with the Master’s address to pupils on the day the school closed. All pupils, staff and OWs are invited to contribute to this new part of the collection, drawing on their experiences in the coming months. The Pandemic Papers will be an important part of the school and national reflections on 2020.

You can find out more about the MCS archive here.

The Archive