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CL220: New Diseases in History and Literature: COVID Time Capsule

This LibGuide provides resources for assignments in CL220. Course Description: This course examines reactions to new diseases in various cultures across history, considering medical writings alongside works of literature, film, and other artistic media.

Introduction and Information about Community COVID Time Capsule Project

This section of the LibGuide is the website for the St. Petersburg Community COVID Time Capsule Project. If you would like to participate in this project, please complete this short GOOGLE FORM. Please note that your responses will be kept strictly confidential.

More information about the purposes and initial phases of this project and its current status can be found below. If you have any questions about participating in this project, please feel free to reach out to the Project Director, Michael Goyette, at timecapsule@eckerd.edu or goyettmp@eckerd.edu.

 

 

This Time Capsule display is intended to represent and preserve experiences of the COVID pandemic.

In Display 1 are items (described below) that represent the shared experiences of the Eckerd College community. In many cases these are experiences also shared with many others across the country and the world.

In Display 2 are items (described below) that represent the individual experiences of students who took the course, 'New Diseases in History and Literature', with Prof. Goyette in Spring 2021. Each student contributed an item which represents aspects of their own experience during the pandemic, and in which they also found connections with other (historical, literary, or mythical) pandemics and epidemics in this course.

Display 3 (coming in Spring 2022) will contain items contributed by individuals from local communities outside of Eckerd College. This part of the display is meant to give voice to the pandemic experiences for an even broader set of identities and communities. The development of this part of the display is a work-in-progress supported by a generous grant from "Florida Humanities", a public organization dedicated to advancing the humanities and bringing its respective disciplines into the public square supported by funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of Florida Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

As a whole, this Time Capsule is meant to help the community of Eckerd College along with local communities in St. Petersburg process and reflect upon our experiences during this time, and to help future generations remember and learn from these collective experiences. By class vote, it was determined that this COVID Time Capsule should again be displayed in the year 2040, for the benefit of community members at that time.

This display is also part of a larger COVID-19 Community Archive Project led by the Library. If you have any materials that you would like to submit to this archive, please contact Director of Library Services Lisa Johnston (johnstln@eckerd.edu).

 

Display 1: Our Community's Shared Experiences

For many members of the Eckerd community during this time, this email from College President Donald R. Eastmann III may feel like it marked the “real beginning” of the pandemic. By late February 2020, there was a growing awareness among faculty, students, and staff of “the coronavirus” (as it was then commonly referred to) potentially affecting life at the College, but few people in the United States perceived it as a major threat to things here until early March. Even fewer at this time had any sense of how devastating and long-lasting the situation would be. At the time of the shutdown, many within the Eckerd community and beyond believed that life would be “back to normal” quite soon, and that students might even be able to return to campus again sometime in April.

While adding a week to the Spring Break period allowed for adjustments to be made, inevitably students, faculty, and staff all faced struggles to adapt to the “new normal” (a suddenly pervasive expression) of remote instruction, overhauled courses, and life in quarantine. This email provides a glimpse of the College responding to a developing crisis in real time and grappling with new protocols such as “social distancing”. The placement of this phrase in quotation marks lays bare the public’s lack of familiarity with the practice at this time.

The onset of the pandemic also sadly corresponded with the last months of President Eastmann’s nearly 20-year tenure at the College. In 2019, President Eastmann had announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2020 academic year, and he never could have envisioned that he would end up spending the last few months of his work at the College grappling with such an unprecedented crisis. The early stages of the pandemic thus marked a time of significant transition at the College, as in so many other facets of society.

When students were finally able to return to campus (in a staggered fashion) starting in August 2020, they found a College dramatically transformed and well-prepared to address the medical and academic challenges presented by the pandemic. To help protect our community, students returning to campus for in-person instruction were required to pledge to help protect our community by adhering to the provisions of the “Eckerd Together Promise”.

Please note: on display is only the first page of the 2021-22 version of this document; the full document (12 additional pages that include further details about General Requirements, Testing and Contact Tracing, Quarantine and Isolation, Guests and Visitors, Access to Buildings and Spaces, Gatherings, and Future Changes and Additional Restrictions) can be found in this catalog immediately following the list of items found in Display 1.

These items collectively represent the ambitious program of surveillance testing enacted by the College when in-person instruction resumed on campus at the beginning of Autumn Term 2020. Throughout most of the 2020-21 academic year (until vaccines became widely available), all community members (students, staff, and faculty) were required to undergo periodic testing in designated groups (as reflected on the surveillance testing sign) by submitting saliva samples. These samples were collected via “spit test” equipment such as the unit featured in this display. These surveillance tests were performed in a clinic that was set up in the GO Pavilion, as shown in the photos that are also included in the display. These materials demonstrate an important aspect of the College’s extensive efforts to remain vigilant and keep our community as safe as possible during this time.

This collection of signs exhibit the diligence of the Eckerd community in promoting and adhering to the social distancing guidelines recommended by the CDC. Also evident in this signage are elements of creativity that embody the Eckerd spirit and reflect the essence of the College’s identity (or “Eckerdness”) during this era. Such signs (and other versions with similar messaging) were posted widely across campus.

These photos, taken by the Prof. Goyette, demonstrate the arrangement of seats and equipment in the classroom in which this course was held in Spring 2021 (Triton Room A). Characteristic of all classrooms on campus during the 2020-21 academic year, all desks were stationed exactly 6 feet apart in all directions, and for purposes of contact tracing all students were required to remain in the same seat for the entire semester. Throughout the year, a number of spaces on campus not typically used as classrooms were converted to hold class meetings to allow for these social distancing practices to be carried out collegewide. While this constituted a radical change for a college accustomed to dynamic exercises and movement within the classroom, innovative uses of outdoor spaces on campus during class meetings enabled many of those activities to occur, engaging students to literally “Think Outside” (apropos to the Eckerd motto during this era). The lovely grove of South Slater’s Woods was the designated “outdoor classroom” space for this course.

This is a replica of the first page of a ballot used in the state of Florida for the 2020 General Election. It represents the highly charged and polarized nature of contemporary politics, including a presidential election process that became particularly contentious. For both major parties, the pandemic became the dominant campaign issue, and rhetoric from some corners politicized the pandemic in ways that were extremely unfortunate.

This presidential election also became famous for the seemingly interminable waiting period to determine a winner, with almost five days passing before reputable news outlets finally declared Democrat Joe Biden victorious. Following this announcement, the sitting President refused to concede, baselessly claiming—along with millions of other Americans—that the election had been “stolen” from him. For many, the divisive nature of the election aftermath, along with lingering uncertainties about the presidential transition, mirrored the frustrating and unabating nature of the pandemic, as politics and public health became disconcertingly intertwined.

Early in the pandemic, people of all ages and walks of life became well-acquainted with the term “social distancing” (a phrase previously familiar only to epidemiologists) and the CDC recommendation to maintain a distance of 6 feet (or 72”) from others while in public spaces. Designed to help “slow the spread” and “flatten the curve” (expressions frequently heard at the beginning of the pandemic), this public health measure has proven extremely effective when implemented consistently. Within this display, there are a number of pieces of signage that exhibit the seriousness with which the Eckerd community has followed this guidance.

As epidemiologists warned about the highly transmissible nature of the virus, many people chose to wear disposable latex gloves when working or interacting in public spaces. Such gloves have been frequently used by a range of people working on campus, and boxes of them are a common feature in offices and shared spaces here. At the same time, well into the first year of the pandemic uncertainties about the nature of the virus—particularly its rate of transmission via fomites (physical surfaces that are likely to carry infection)—raised questions about the kinds of situations that most called for the use of gloves. These gloves therefore represent not only a common image of the pandemic, they also symbolize some of the persistent epidemiological questions that were challenging to address for scientists, public health officials, and private individuals alike.

These gloves are also emblematic of how concerns about physical contagion altered greeting practices during this time. Prior to the distribution of the COVID vaccines, in many communities handshaking became nearly obsolete, and some prominent public health officials remarked that it would be beneficial to public health for that to remain the case permanently. In lieu of shaking hands, fist bumps and elbow bumps became a more common greeting practice, while others wished to avoid bodily contact altogether. As many have become vaccinated it appears that handshaking has regained some popularity, but at this juncture the extent to which this trend will continue into the future remains unclear.

Throughout the pandemic, many have carried their own sets of antibacterial wipes to help disinfect surfaces that others may have come into contact with. Moreover, since the return of in-person classes at Eckerd in August 2020 a station containing wipes (along with masks) could be found in the entryway to each classroom on campus. The sight of students wiping down desks upon entering and when preparing to leave classrooms has become commonplace, and similar efforts to disinfect surface are often seen in public places beyond the campus as well.

The irony of this image will not be lost on the Eckerd Class of 2020, whose last year of college was profoundly affected by the shutdown of the campus in March 2020. Instead of walking across the stage in a cap and gown to receive their diplomas in person, students graduating from Eckerd and other colleges across the country participated in online ceremonies. While the College hopes to invite this class back to campus at some point when it is deemed safe and appropriate, graduates’ separation from classmates, friends, and professors during the culminating moments of their college career will surely retain a profound sense of loss.

This item also represents the intensified challenges members of the Class of 2020 faced in their transition from college to the “real world” during this tumultuous time. It also calls to mind the challenges confronted by students entering Eckerd in Fall 2020 (the Class of 2024), who experienced a dramatic disruption to the end of their high school career, missed out on traditional graduation ceremonies, and matriculated at a time of immense transition, adjustment, and uncertainty. In addition, this tassel attests to the many other personal and cultural milestones that passed without celebration or acknowledgement. For many, any kind of festivity, even if logistically possible, felt inappropriate amid the escalating infections and death tolls.

With limited treatments for COVID at the onset of the pandemic, medical communities and the public at large focused a great deal of attention on the development of a safe and effective vaccine. A body of preexisting knowledge about coronaviruses, along with emerging mRNA technologies enabled immunologists working with a number of biomedical corporations, such as Pfizer, to develop, test, and mass-produce vaccines in less than a year. Rigorous testing showed these vaccines to be highly effective at reducing the probability of infection, at decreasing the severity of symptoms in the off-chance that a vaccinated person should contract the virus, and at diminishing the likelihood of transmitting the virus to others.

By late 2020, immunization shots were made available to medical personnel and other essential workers, and starting in March 2021 vaccination appointments became increasingly available to older adults in many parts of the country. By the end of April 2021, the vaccine was widely available to all adults in most parts of the country. At first vaccinations were primarily available at massive public clinics, sometimes requiring drive-through appointments with cars lined up for hours, but by April 2021 drug stores (e.g. CVS, Walgreens) began to distribute the vaccine as well. Eckerd even held a series of its own clinics which provided Pfizer vaccinations to hundreds of students, staff, and faculty on campus starting on April 20 and 21 (the recommended second dose of the vaccine was provided in clinics held on campus during the week of May 10).

Long periods of quarantine and isolation from public life disrupted well-established personal habits and routines, such as haircuts. Some resorted to cutting their own hair (a prominent example of the burgeoning DIY movement during this time) or having a friend or family member cut it to the best of their ability, while others found occasion to let their manes to grow and flow freely like never before. Meanwhile, barbers and hair salons closed for months, often with extreme financial consequences.

This crumpled dollar bill represents the extreme economic instability which has characterized this time. The restructuring of daily life has (especially during the first year of COVID) resulted in widespread underemployment and job loss, and a concomitant pandemic of financial hardship. To provide a measure of relief, in 2020 the United States’ federal government took the unprecedented step of issuing economic stimulus checks to a vast majority of citizens. These stimulus checks have (to date) perhaps helped avert a full-blown economic depression, but they have not been sufficient assistance for all too many individuals and small businesses, especially at a time with an accelerated rate of inflation.

This item is also a testament to how the pandemic has ushered in a largely cashless economy, with many in-person vendors no longer accepting physical money due to concerns about contact and germ transmission. As a result, the sight of a dollar bill (along with larger denominations and coins) has become increasingly uncommon.

Upon receiving vaccinations, individuals were issued a “Vaccination Record Card” as a public health provision administered under the auspices of the CDC. This practice quickly gave rise to politicized debate about appropriate and legal uses of this card, as some businesses and events sought to restrict access to only those who could prove they had been vaccinated. Despite the positive intent and epidemiological wisdom of such restrictions, political factions in the United States (including Florida) and in other parts of the world derided the use of “vaccine passports” (as they commonly came to be known) as an undue restriction on personal freedoms and took measures to stop their implementation.

One of the most enduring images of this pandemic is sure to be the cloth face mask which has been widely worn to help slow the spread of the virus. These masks provide a barrier intended to trap a person’s own respiratory droplets (which are released when one talks, coughs, or sneezes, and which are a primary vector of transmission) and to protect against the inhalation of droplets exhaled by others. When properly worn by all members of a shared space or community, masks prove highly effective in limiting transmission, as illustrated by the “Mask Up” sign in this display.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the practice of mask-wearing was a significant adjustment for many people in the United States and many other parts of the world. Few possessed such masks, and the early stages of the pandemic witnessed many people sewing their own makeshift masks from pieces of cloth they had at home. Soon, however, industrially-produced face masks became widely available for purchase in many stores. Face masks worn during this time were sometimes made from other kinds of materials, but among the general public cloth masks (such as the one included in this display) have proven the most commonplace.

In many establishments and locales, mask-wearing quickly came to be viewed as a common courtesy and was regularly practiced; this has very much been the case at Eckerd, as encapsulated by the “Eckerd Together” phrase on the mask included in this display. Unfortunately, in other corners mask-wearing has been neglected, mocked, and/or dubiously politicized, especially as the pandemic has dragged on. Furthermore, throughout the pandemic it has been a struggle for both public institutions and private businesses to enforce mask-wearing mandates when others refuse to abide by them.

At the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year, the College provided all members of the Eckerd community with one of these red, yellow, or green wristbands intended to signal one’s level of comfort with distance without having to communicate about that verbally. According to a flyer that was issued by Counseling Services on August 27, 2020, a red band signified that the wearer is “asking you to keep a safe distance from them, [to] always wear your mask, and [to] please…not touch their personal belongings; yellow indicated that the wearer is “cautious or concerned, but would be okay with limited contact such as an elbow bump”; green meant that the wearer is “comfortable with reasonable contact while still wearing a mask and socially distancing. Community members chose according to their preference, and were strongly encouraged to wear their chosen band daily. Some selected multiple bands, anticipating that their level of comfort might shift from situation to situation.

While innovative, kindly-intentioned, and complementary to the provisions of the Eckerd Together Promise (see Item #2), in practice this initiative turned out to be somewhat short-lived. While community members did their best to respect others’ preferences as expressed via these wristbands, a number of practical questions arose concerning matters of interpretation and grey areas within the color scheme. The asking of such questions reflect the Eckerd community’s thoughtfulness and sensitivity concerning social distancing during this time, just as the initiative itself is indicative of the College thinking outside of the box to find ways to make all of its community members feel as comfortable and safe as possible.

After an initial period of scarcity, hand sanitizer came to be one of the most omnipresent items of the pandemic. Fears about germs and contagion triggered a rush of panic-buying and hoarding in which demand far exceeded supply at the beginning of the pandemic, and hand sanitizer became one of the most precious commodities. Disappointingly, this time saw a number of people seeking to profit by buying all of the hand sanitizer they could and selling it at exceptionally marked-up prices on Amazon and similar retailers. Once supply channels caught up, the sight of people carrying containers of hand sanitizer and frequently applying it became ubiquitous, as did the presence of sanitizing stations in places of business and other public spaces, including classrooms and offices on the Eckerd campus.

As seen with hand sanitizer (Item #17), this item was subject to panic-buying at the beginning of the pandemic. Escalating fears of public interaction and impending stay-at-home orders led some to begin hoarding various household goods—toilet paper perhaps being most notorious among them all. Months into the pandemic, it was still often challenging to find toilet paper in stores in many parts of the country.

This icon instantly evokes the rapid shift to online delivery for all courses that occurred in March 2020, leaving instructors and students with only about two weeks to prepare for this new mode of teaching and learning. Apart from the name of the videoconference program, the verb “zoom” seems rather fitting for this abrupt transition.

While instructors and administrators experimented with a number of videoconference programs (Google Meet also enjoyed some popularity in the first months of the pandemic), Zoom became the favored platform, both at Eckerd and nationally. By the Fall 2020 most Eckerd faculty and staff had adopted Zoom for classes and for meetings with people attending remotely, and its rise amid the backdrop of the pandemic led some to begin referring to COVID as “the Zoom plague”. While this moniker may not have stuck, by Fall 2020 many had grown weary of Zoom (and other videoconference programs) and the term “Zoom fatigue” had come into wide usage. This phenomenon has already been the subject of academic studies (e.g. Bennett, A. A., Campion, E. D., Keeler, K. R., & Keener, S. K. [2021]. “Videoconference fatigue? Exploring changes in fatigue after videoconference meetings during COVID-19.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(3), 330–344. https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0000906).

Even during the periods of most extreme lockdown, many workers were still required to physically come into work. Certain jobs, including waste management and recycling, could not be completed from home despite the risks of contagion, and in many cases the workers with those jobs had concerns about financial repercussions and job security should they choose to stay home. Furthermore, many workers with these jobs were from communities that were already disadvantaged, and the working conditions they endured during the pandemic often produced a higher rate of infection, further exacerbating their preexisting struggles and marginalization. For some, this has raised poignant and incisive questions about the meaning of “essential workers” and “frontline workers”—terms that the popular press has most frequently applied to doctors, nurses, and emergency medical personnel.

As these flyers suggest, COVID has brought about an interrelated mental health pandemic which has been frequently overshadowed by the disease’s physical symptoms and death toll. Among a wide range of ages and demographic groups, rates of anxiety, depression, and an assortment of other mental health challenges have spiked. Moreover, for many individuals these problems have been made worse by isolating periods of quarantine. The needs of school-age children have been particularly impacted, due to the prolonged shutdown of school buildings, camps, and other programs that are instrumental in identifying and responding to children’s mental health issues. For such reasons, it remains crucial to continue raising awareness about the pervasiveness and the seriousness of the mental health component of the COVID pandemic.

The pandemic has also brought a significant change in the mental health profession, namely the rise of online psychotherapy (along with online appointments for other kinds of medical issues). This practice was previously not allowed due to privacy concerns, and while it has potential to create greater access and availability for some patients it remains to be seen if this will continue to be an option in the future.

Following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, MN—a horrific moment captured on video by a witness’ cellphone and subsequently viewed by millions across the world—massive street demonstrations erupted in United States beginning on May 26, 2020 and soon spread to other parts of the world, all with a similar message: Black lives matter. These demonstrations fostered public discourse about another persistent, deeply entrenched pandemic in the United States—that of racism and the interconnected epidemic of police brutality. During COVID, historians have repeatedly pointed out how outbreaks of mass illness have a tendency to expose the fault lines of a society, and this has certainly been evident in the way that COVID has laid bare pervasive elements of racism in the United States. At a time of social reckoning triggered by a disease, the public health crisis of racism and its intersectional implications have started to receive greater attention.

For many people who actively participated in them, these demonstrations marked the first time they were among a crowd of any size since the beginning of the pandemic. For observers, it could be jarring to see images of thousands of people gathered en masse in public spaces following months of quarantine and social isolation. Here at Eckerd and in many other parts of society, these protests and the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole have prompted a broader and deeper dialogue about systemic racism and social justice, which one hopes will be sustained and built upon in actionable ways going forward.

One of the major challenges of the pandemic here in the United States has been a hesitancy or outright resistance among certain segments of the population to receive the vaccine, which have put a damper on public health efforts. Reasons commonly cited for this resistance include assertions that “vaccines cause autism” and similar misgivings that are unsupported by scientific evidence and explicitly refuted by reputable public health organizations (as seen in this statement issued by the Autism Society of America and National Disability Organizations). As noted with Item #11, there is a large body of scientific evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of the vaccines that have been made available to the public. This evidence has been repeatedly explained to the public in readily understandable terms, most visibly by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), chief medical adviser to the president, and a leading figure in public vaccination efforts and other public health initiatives during the pandemic.

Display 2: Individual Experiences of Students from the Course (Spring 2021)

Necessity is the mother of invention. When I was younger, I always found ways to make things myself. I found that if you cannot buy something, most of the time you can make it with enough time, effort, and patience. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, stores began to close. With only a week’s notice my gym closed due to safety protocol. To the average person this might be a minor inconvenience, but to me this was a larger problem than not getting a paycheck. Exercise is something that is as essential as a good night sleep and my day is not complete until it is completed.

For the first week of quarantine I was doing bodyweight circuits, but I needed something with a little more exertion. One day while moving a cinder block, I noticed how dense cement was. Then an idea sparked in me: to make weights using cement. The reason I created a dumbbell was because I wanted a dynamic range of utility to be able to do presses and pulls with them. Creating those dumbbells bought me back to simpler days when I was a child. Days spent walking the woods, creating huts and stoves from materials around the forest. During the times of quarantine, I found that the void created by the absence of school and work was filled by creativity. It made me appreciate how resourceful and powerful the human mind can be when left to its devices.

For my Time Capsule object, I chose a picture of the 2019-2020 EC-ERT (Eckerd College Emergency Response Team) and an EC-ERT patch, because the COVID-19 pandemic has had a large impact on both my professional and personal relationship with the team. On a professional level the relatively new field of emergency medicine (which was standardized in the late 1960s) has been absolutely rocked by the pandemic. The face of delivering emergency care has drastically shifted, in a way that hasn’t been seen since the HIV/AIDS epidemic during the 1980s. These changes include better PPE (personal protective equipment), a greater focus on responder safety, and preemptive measures to stop disease transmission, and they will likely last far into the future.

We’ve even seen a professional change here at Eckerd—an Eckerd-based societal response, if you will. With the increased COVID-19 rules, students are less likely to call us because they’re scared of getting in trouble with organizations like Res Life. This has made it more difficult for us to do our job, because the trust on campus has been damaged. There’s also a really personal aspect to why I chose these items. This picture was taken in Nov. 2019, and was one of the last times we were all able to gather together. As you can see, the relationships forged on this team are really tight-knit, and it’s been a unique challenge to foster these close relationships from 6 feet apart. Such challenges are not completely new developments—many of our readings have discussed how people, during times of plague, are less trusting and tend to isolate more, which can have a devastating effect on a community (as we saw with the Justinian Plague of 541-549 CE described by the Byzantine historian Procopius).

The item I chose for our class’ Time Capsule was my College Leave Form from Fall 2020. I took the semester off from Eckerd and took a few classes at a community college in order to stay on track to graduate. This item was very representative of my experience during the pandemic, which was a series of unfortunate events, all occurring throughout my time at home. I was holding out hope that I would get to go back to Eckerd in the Fall, and that would sort of fix all the bad things that had happened to me. When we learned about Eckerd’s return plan and I learned I would not be back on campus until late October, I knew I was not going to go back for the semester. This was really devastating for me and was sort of the thing that sealed that this was the worst year of my life.

The pandemic was a backdrop for a series of other devastating events, which started with the death of my cat of nearly 16 years dying 2 weeks into quarantine. I connected this to the scene in the [2011] film Contagion, where the character Jory (a high school senior), talks about missing out on her life. I really felt and empathized with her, as I also felt trapped in a way that would never end.

The object I have chosen for the Time Capsule is a pair of Bluetooth headphones that I used throughout high school. I used the headphones daily, especially on the forty-minute car ride between the school and my house and during seminar (study hall). I bought the headphones in 2016 and they lasted until August of 2020. The headphones lasted through four years of high school and broke during Covid-19 when I left for an out-of-state college. These headphones were one of the most reliable pairs I had ever owned but even they broke during Covid-19. The headphones show the changes that Covid-19 has brought, along with its disturbances to the normal everyday life. Disease and time can be a disturbing mix. Such has been the case during Covid-19 and during the tuberculosis epidemics of the 19th century—a disease that likely helped inspire Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Masque of the Red Death”.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” emphasized the altered movement of time during a deadly plague, along with the significance of one’s location during such a situation—both of which reminded me of the headphones. Guests at the masquerade in Poe’s story would move from room to room as the party continued, with the rooms representing different stages of life and the passage of time. The headphones were used from my freshman year of high school until my first year at Eckerd, which were five of the most influential years of my life—an important passage of time. The headphones were also used from Indiana to Florida, marking my travels and changes in physical location.

The item I decided to include in the Time Capsule is a hair pick that I bought earlier this year. On April 26, 2020 I decided that I was going to shave my head, and I went for the military buzz cut. If I was going to do it, I was going to go all the way. Over quarantine my hair started to grow out and it became a very difficult task to try and style it and make it look like me. I struggled quite a lot over quarantine with my hair and my identity and trying to match the person I am on the outside with the way I felt on the inside. I had to learn to adapt and change and understand that I had no control over it anymore—that it was gone and I needed to be patient and let it grow back. In the meantime, I found ways to style it that I liked and tried different products and techniques. One of which, recommended by my Mom who has had short hair for years, was a hair pick. I finally had found a technique that made my hair fall in a way that I enjoyed. I was finally able to feel a little bit more in tune with myself again. Yes, my hair is still gone and I cannot make it grow back, but I can find ways to work with what I have. For me, this was my exact response to the pandemic. No, I cannot change the fact that this happened, no I cannot make it go away, but I can do my best to make the best of the situation.

I would compare this to the 19th century tuberculosis epidemic for two separate reasons. The first is the emphasis on beauty in a time of tragedy and fear. I was so worried about the way I looked even though I was literally stuck inside my house and people around the world were dying. Secondly, tuberculosis was romanticized to have associations with love and beauty, and I like to speculate that this is because it offered a more positive outlook on the disease. It made it less scary for the people to think of love and beauty being the cause of death and not just a virus that will kill anyone if given the chance. No one can change the fact that people are dying, so why not let them die in the name of love and beauty.

Throughout my childhood, my eyes were something that really stuck out to me. Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood and going to predominantly white schools made me subconsciously believe that “double eyelids” are the norm in society and if you did not have double eyelids, you were “abnormal”. This philosophy was reinforced by ridicule from my white classmates about my eyes, who told me to make my eyes “look white” by stretching the skin around my eyes with my fingers. I wanted my eyes to be like theirs and even went through a phase in my early teenage years where I wanted double eyelid surgery so I could fit in with what I perceived as “normal”. Today, in 2021, I have learned to accept my eyes for what they are and to change them is making my internalized racism “valid” in a sense, since that would mean changing my physical appearance to “fit in”.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 originating in the city of Wuhan, China has done no favors for how Westerners view Asians/Asian-Americans, especially the Chinese. Tensions in cities have risen between Asians and other races, which has led to increased physical attacks on Asians and people of Asian descent. Personally, I find myself worrying about being assaulted if I go into a city. However, what I deem as a more constant, everyday threat is the “passive” racism many Asians, including myself, have dealt with throughout the pandemic. There is a subconscious disapproval or fear of Asians and how their “weird ways” of “eating bats” has led to this virus. Even worse, some consider this virus as being biomechanically engineered and released to the globe to “compromise” rival countries.

Sunglasses are a way to cover up the eyes, a physical feature that represents “Asian-ness” for me. I want to hide my identity as a preventative measure so I do not face racial discrimination. I still am Asian, but the strangers I pass by on the street cannot identify me as an “outsider”. I am not trying to change who I am, I am trying to hide who I am out of fear, perhaps a similar fear that Westerners feel towards Asians because of this virus.

The item I am contributing to our Time Capsule is an insulin bottle. My mom is a type 1 diabetic (since she was 4 years old) and works as a front-line nurse. Insulin is one of the main things keeping her alive and in my life. From the beginning of the pandemic until she became fully vaccinated I lived in fear and anxiety worrying about her. I knew how the hospitals were “protecting” their staff and knew that one slip-up could harm her. We did have a few COVID-19 scares and spent weeks worrying about her status. I remember having a full breakdown one night because I was terrified of the thought of losing her because of someone else’s decisions. Over the summer I did become frustrated with friends who chose not to quarantine or be safe because they are a portion of the people who could cause harm to family and friends that I care about.

I drew some comparisons between my situation and Sophocles’ Oedipus The King. Oedipus and the people of Athens lived in the confusion of “why us?” during the disease breakout. Oedipus mentions how he is suffering more than others or what can he do to save his people. In a selfish way, I had some of the same thoughts. When I go home it’s my mom, our pets, and I under one house (at the time). And when she thought she was infected with COVID-19 I became selfish and thought I was the only one suffering and could not help but wonder “why is this happening to us?”.

I chose to capture a Begonia Maculata in resin as my Time Capsule item. I chose this leaf to represent the boom in the houseplant industry during this pandemic. Everyone has been trapped in their homes of late, so making home a more livable space has been very important. Filling rooms with life, in a time of so much death, has brought comfort. Prices of “rare” plant species, or just those that are scarce, have shot up into the high triple digits or to even more than $10,000, but the prices are constantly changing, sometimes in the other direction. For example, a Philodendron Birkin went for $100-$500 at the beginning of the pandemic, but can now found at grocery stores for $12-$50. These vacilliating prices are emblematic of the rapid economic and financial shifts that have occurred during the pandemic.

This growing interest in plants also reminded me of the descriptions of herbal remedies in Girolamo Fracastoro’s 16th century epic poem, Syphilis, or the French Disease. In one such remedy, he writes: “To this end [of treating syphilis], use dry and resinous herbs that can obstruct perturcent decay. Of such are tears of myrrh and incense, cedar and aspalathus and cyprus that never dies, as well as galingale, fragrant with its sweet scented reed. Also use cassia and cardamom, macir or aloe wood or fragrant cinnamon. And in the fields and beside ponds is the renown scordium which is wont to impede all poisons and contagions, an herb you can find with little effort. As it blooms, its foliage imitates the germander, produces a red flower and recalls the flavor of garlic as well as its name. At day break, boil the roots and luxuriant foliage of this plant and drink it down in great gulps” (44-45). These uses of herbs as a treatment for various aspects of syphilis is similar to how many of us today have been using houseplants to cure the hopelessness infecting our souls.

I have always loved taking care of houseplants, but as quarantine rolled around and time slowed to a drip and the days blurred together I had a renewed interest in the beautiful foliage. I found I could stave off the feeling of waking up to what seemed like the same day over and over again through tracking growth on my plants. Each new leaf that unfurled soothed the bone-deep ache that COVID-19 had brought. I started propagating them, doing experiments on the best way to encourage new root growth, what species did best with which soil components, what kind of light and fertilizers helped them, and all kinds of other things. This sparked my interest in botany, which I’m now pursuing as a minor. They are especially beautiful in that they remain vivacious all year round, so when the bad weather stripped the outdoor vegetation of life, my houseplants continued to flourish and gave me some solace. This particular leaf is from a plant that bloomed the day of my high school graduation. Sitting in my room hearing my teachers discuss the pandemic became less depressing when looking at the dainty little flowers. Watching these life forms brought me away from the harsh reality that was quarantine. I could forget the feeling of the world going up in flames, and nourish the seed of hope that grew in my chest.

For my Time Capsule item, I chose my Eckerd women’s soccer laundry loop. I found this item significant because it reminds me of the time I was able to have a soccer season here at Eckerd. During our season, our team uses laundry loops to help keep our dirty game uniforms and practice uniforms organized. When I first received the news that we were going home in March [2020], I was in the middle of my Spring season for soccer. When this happened I didn’t think the virus was going to be that serious, and that I would be back to school in 2 weeks and continuing to play soccer. But when Covid ending up lasting way longer than I expected, I was really scared that in September we wouldn’t have a soccer season. No one really knew if we would have a season or not until the NCAA announced that all the Fall sports would be canceled. This news really hurt me because I was hoping that I would have a soccer season my sophomore year. So with no season, the Eckerd women’s soccer team is currently only having practices, but even these practices are not the same anymore. We have to practice social distancing and wear masks which makes it difficult to do many aspects of the sport.

My Time Capsule item can be compared to the chapter about the Antonine plague (circa 165-190 CE) in Jennifer Wright’s book Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them. Wright discusses how the gladiatorial games, which very popular in ancient Rome, were largely put on hold during this plague. This relates to my situation because Covid-19 has caused my soccer season to be canceled, meaning I won’t play in any matches for the second year in a row.

I immerse myself into the moss, into the brush, into the dense fur of the North Idahoan forest. She welcomes me, because she knows I’m one of her creatures. I exist with the deer, the spiders, the animals that crawl and break through her trees’ outstretched arms like ships through ice. I enter the home of my mother, and I reject my modernity. I become a part of her, a part of the forest. I become a simple forager, a raccoon rummaging through the brush in search of prey. My prey has already passed, and rotted away. The remnants of sacred life, and the relics of sacred death; bones are the treasure I seek. I flow through the underbrush like the soft, autumn breeze, and hunt for my prizes. I lose track of time while on the hunt, I lose my sense of humanity. Hours, days, pass. I thrive in my home, with my mother, with my dearest friends and my precious bones. I erase my memories that my life, and the world, has been turned upside down by a politicized pandemic. I replace the thought that if I catch the virus I could very likely become the latest death toll update for Kootenai County, with the thought of how if I focus hard enough, I can feel the forest breathe. The farther I snake into the forest, the farther away I get from the furloughs, the dried bank accounts, the reluctant exoduses to food banks that make my father cry. The forest, she is a sanctuary. She heals an injured mind, she rewards your appreciation and respect for her home with the relics of her past constituents. I took refuge under the great conifer branches, akin to a wounded doe in need of the ancient trees’ paternal protection.

I chose this lumbar vertebra from a three-year-old white tail deer doe, because this one idol symbolizes the immense admiration and sanctity I acquired for the forest and her little treasures over the months-long lockdown. This bone, a piece from my collection of over 350 bones, represents how a globally-traumatic situation allowed for me to flourish, and be the happiest I have ever been. I acquired knowledge of osteology, of biology, how to track death like a scavenging animal, and how to draw the intricacies of bone. I would not be the scientific illustrator, bone hunter, nature lover, or excellent hiker I would be today had it not been for the forest, and the lockdown.

Much like the characters in Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, I flee the disease ravaging my world, and escape the threat of contamination via a rural setting (in my case, the Idaho backwoods) and immersing myself in art, daily adventures. My vertebra represents the act of escaping into a more sacred space, a space where disease is not allowed to enter. In the forest, I am safe from everything, and I can live freely and happily, like ampinea and her friends in Boccaccio’s text. This vertebra is a talisman, a sacred relic that unifies me with the Earth, and the forest. It reminds me of my home, of the peaceful mornings where I would venture to the small creek valleys and listen to my creatures wake up and start their days. Hold this bone, and feel the tranquility and safety, and imagine pine boughs undulating in the wind, or dancing under the soft pitterpats of raindrops.

I chose a Wite-Out tape machine as my COVID Time Capsule item because I feel it represents my experience very poignantly. As a student who transferred to Eckerd during COVID, things were stressful and there were times where I questioned if I made the right decision. Before coming here I played baseball for the University of South Florida, and while I had a good time with my teammates there, my career was not advancing with me being there. By deciding to transfer to Eckerd for sports I used my metaphorical Wite-Out to erase those important but unnecessary years and start fresh at a new school where I can succeed. There is also another meaning to this item that I think can apply to anyone. When COVID started, I, along with others, realized that things were changing, with many new rules and regulations were going into effect. The Wite-Out signifies this erasing of the past which can allow us to break out of the trap of negative aspects of day-to-day life and experience life in new and positive ways.

This symbolism can be applied to the end of the Black Death and its aftermath. The Black Death—an exceedingly deadly form of bubonic plague—devastated Europe and surrounding areas, and many people thought the world was ending as they knew it. However, looking back we realize that even though the Black Death was such an unfortunate occurrence, it made people reevaluate their lives. This reevaluation made people take up new activities and cultural practices such as art and music, which in turn led people to think and act differently, and ultimately this helped usher in the emergence of the Renaissance. The theme of starting fresh in life is not exclusive to us during these times of COVID, but can be seen in other times of pandemic.

I chose to contribute a hermit crab shell to our class Time Capsule because it symbolizes a primary way that I coped with the uncertainty and isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the fall, I could not bring my dog that I have had for the past 3 years at Eckerd and I was dreading returning without him. Within the first week of classes, I discovered that my daily routine was missing the component of taking care of a pet or volunteering with local wildlife rehabilitation organizations (as such organizations were not able to operate during the pandemic), and it negatively impacted my mental health. I have enjoyed learning the proper way to take care of my hermit crabs, and it has emphasized the importance that taking care of animals has for me as a healthy outlet to manage stress and loneliness. Even though I cannot fix the chaos of the world around me, I can make sure my hermit crabs have the best lives possible and that brings me joy and structure in my daily life.

My experience with my hermits is similar to the women and men in the Boccaccio’s Decameron who escape to the countryside where they can “hear birds sing…see the hills and the pastures turning green…and a thousand kids of trees” (17). These characters found refuge in the natural world away from the crowded, infected city of Florence during the early Renaissance. I may have not been able to leave for the countryside, but I use my hermit crabs to bring nature into my dorm as an escape from the chaos of the pandemic.

I used to wear lipstick almost every day before we started wearing masks during the pandemic, and I was always very intentional about the colors that I chose. I tried to keep wearing lipstick in the very beginning of the pandemic but that quickly became obsolete because it would get smeared on the inside of my mask and if you have ever worn lipstick you probably know that smeared lipstick is quite uncomfortable. It is a fairly big part of my life that has changed but it is a change that goes unnoticed. However, it is not an unnoticed change in the economy. During the pandemic we have seen lip product sales on Amazon fall 15% in the weeks leading up to April 11, 2020, while simultaneously seeing an increase in demand for skincare products (Dunn 2020). These are examples of much wider-sweeping economic changes which have rapidly occurred during the pandemic.

I find the relationship between beauty and disease to be very interesting and it is something that we saw quite evidently in the glamorization and romantization of tuberculosis during the Victorian era. The historian Jennifer Wright acknowledges the physical symptoms of tuberculosis including “lips painted with the purest red” (115) as being unnervingly similar to a “description that sounds a lot like today’s supermodels” (115). Beauty seems to be immensely important in terms of disease because it is directly related to the physical symptoms which are the most noticeable aspects of a disease.

Works Cited:

Dunn, Katherine. “Face Masks May Have Killed off the 'Lipstick Index.' What Is That?” 7 July 2020, fortune.com/2020/07/07/lipstick-index-face-masks-coronavirus-nail-polish/.

Wright, Jennifer. “Tuberculosis.” Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them. Henry Holt 2017. 108–125.

For the COVID-19 Time Capsule, I chose to add three theatre-related stickers, which reflect the struggle I have had with the continued shutdown of Broadway and my own identity as an actor during the pandemic. With theatre put on hold because of COVID, I experienced fear and anxiety about my professional future and to help cope with this I decided to continue to train every week, taking singing lessons and acting coaching. Working two hours each week focusing on my craft allowed me to understand my weaknesses and strengths as a performer and appreciate the arts all over again. Also, watching online performances of my favorite musicals, Company, Chicago, and Mamma Mia, helped me get by day to day and remember that everything will be okay in the end.

Throughout plagues or other times of distress, the theatre has played an important healing role for communities, like the ancient Greek play Oedipus the King by Sophocles. The performance of this play in a large, communal space allowed its audience to reflect on their own experiences with a recent plague (circa 430 BCE) by watching a similar situation in front of them. This type of “group therapy” is one of the main reasons I chose to pursue theatre, and I continue to believe that performing is the best way for society to process trauma and stay hopeful during a dark period of time.

I turned 21 on August 13, 2020. We were in the fifth month of a seemingly unending pandemic and celebrating my birthday felt a little… silly if I’m being perfectly honest. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great day and got to celebrate with two of my best friends in the morning and with my family at night, but it all felt a little meaningless. The only thing that had really changed from my perspective was that I could now walk into a bar or liquor store and not be worried about getting carded.

I looked up statistics from August 13 and found that 6,968 people died worldwide from COVID-19 on that day. 1,213 of those deaths were in the United States. I chose this bag of bottle caps because if there’s one thing that always makes me feel better about the futility of life, it’s beer. That sounds like something an alcoholic would say, but it’s not just about getting drunk. My dad and I spend a lot of time trying new beers and having borderline intellectual discussions about the flavor. My best friend and I spent a lot of quarantine sitting in his backyard drinking beer like the discerning adults we are. My grandfather used to make beer in his basement. Drinking beer reminds me of these people, who I care about deeply, and helps me feel a little less alone in the face of such profound emptiness. It’s a little piece of home no matter where I am.

I think this situation fits pretty well with a scene we watched in this course from Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film The Seventh Seal. I keep thinking about the part of the film in which the actors are putting on a show during the midst of the Black Death. They’re laughing and singing and enjoying being alive, but there’s this inescapable sense of dread and doom throughout the entire thing. It has nothing to do with anything that’s happening on stage and everything to do with the surrounding environment. It reminds me of myself on my birthday, celebrating and enjoying myself but remembering in the back of my mind that thousands of people were suffering and dying from COVID-19. A procession of penitents didn’t show up and crash dinner while telling my family and I that we were doomed as in Bergman’s film, but they didn’t need to. We remembered just fine on our own.

The item I have chosen for the Time Capsule is a puzzle piece. In late March 2020 when the country and the world went in quarantine, I turned to my large puzzle collection. I inherited around 30 puzzles from my late Nana and I challenged my mother to complete every puzzle we own with me. It was a mindless task to do everyday that did not involve screens and more importantly made us forget for a little awhile about the body count we were seeing on the news every night. In all we completed 38 puzzles (pictured in the Time Capsule Display alongside the puzzle piece). It also gave us a goal to achieve for when it felt like everything was at a standstill. After every puzzle we took a picture of our achievement and it was very satisfying to see the completed puzzle boxes all stacked up.

I chose this specific puzzle piece because it reminded me of multiple parts of my quarantine experience. For one, the puzzle scene is set in a snowy tundra with tall pine trees. This reminds me of Maine which is my home and where I was stationed during quarantine. There are also footsteps traversing the piece which is representative of how I moved from my childhood home in October 2020. With everything happening during this pandemic, a move an hour away from my friends into the woods was definitely a difficult transition.

I think that my experience of distracting myself from a pandemic is very similar to the characters in The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. In this collection of stories from the 14th century, a group of people leave the danger of the plague epidemic and ignore what is happening outside of the friendly confines of their cottage in the countryside. They amuse themselves by taking walks together, playing games (which is what I did), and telling stories. Sometimes when faced with so much despair it is important to ignore it for a little while to find some peace putting pieces together.

For this Time Capsule project, our class was required to think of something that impacted us immensely during COVID19, whether that was for better or for worse. Throughout the worst stages of the pandemic, as well as continued onto now, I put most of my time and effort into listening to music and basically doing anything that involved music. I would spend every day trying to find new songs that I hadn’t heard before, or even relapsing into old music tastes from when I used to live at home full time during grade school. Since music is more of a concept than a tangible thing, I decided to compile some of my most-listened-to songs from the pandemic into one mix, in order to be able to contribute a physical item to this Time Capsule. I came up with this idea, because while my best friends and I could not see each other, we spent much of quarantine making each other mixtapes of songs that we think each other would like. I have a few of the mixes that one of my friends has made me over the past year, and it’s one of my favorite reminders that even in a situation as difficult as the pandemic or being thousands of miles away from each other during college, my friends and I still have music to connect us. When I wasn’t making mixtapes for my friends during the pandemic, I spent a lot of time changing and maneuvering my Spotify, because that’s the one thing that constantly gave me something to do and helped keep my mind off of things happening in the world around me.

To compile this particular mix that I am including in the Time Capsule, I chose 16 of my most-listened-to songs from the year 2020. Some of them are newer, but some of them also reflect my parents’ musical taste which shows that living with them for this long period of time additionally had an effect on the music I chose to listen to such as Nirvana, Grateful Dead, and especially Led Zeppelin. And while I didn’t purposely do this while I was compiling the CD, I also noticed that some of the song titles have themes that connect to the pandemic such as, “Where’d All The Time Go?”, “Crumble”, “Them Changes”, or “Why”. I feel like this means that the feelings I was going through were subconsciously reflected in the music I was listening to.

I used music as a sort of “escape” from the pandemic, which I think allows me to connect this to Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th century collection of stories, The Decameron. The introduction to this text states, “They [people fleeing from Florence during the Black Death] shut themselves up in those houses where there were no sick people…allowing no one to speak about or listen to anything said about the sick and the dead outside; these people lived, entertaining themselves with music…”(9). I believe this perfectly sums up how my friends and I spent quarantine, when we were eventually allowed to spend time with each other, we would sit in parking lots and hang out and listen to new music while we ate burgers, and I’ll always appreciate music for continuing to bring us together like that during the pandemic. This example from The Decameron shows that music will always be a constant for many friend groups, whether it’s in an epidemic now or hundreds of years ago.

My Time Capsule item is a simple fan. I found it near the beginning of the school year and decided I was going to try to use the fan as decoration because it reminds me of home. I live in Louisiana, so the “Mardi Gras aesthetic” was something I wanted to display in my dorm room. When the Time Capsule project was first announced, I admittedly panicked because I had no idea what to put into it. I thought back to the summer quarantine and realized that my lifestyle barely changed during it. My mom, sister, and I have always been shut-ins. We have no other nearby family back home, and my mom was an essential worker. We were not threatened with being put out of our home or losing our electricity, so I barely noticed that quarantine was a tough thing people were dealing with since I was essentially been living in quarantine long before it was needed. It makes me realize how unhealthy this way of living is for me.

For a connection to the class, I thought of “Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe because of how the fan reminds me of parties. In Poe’s story, people were trying to party and forget the deadly disease that plagued the world outside of the manor. It makes me think of how some people, even with the threat Covid-19, have still been going to parties and other mass gatherings. I view them as not being mindful of others during the pandemic. Perhaps the hedonistic nature of it all has been a way to ignore the growing dread of the pandemic, and it is another aspect we have seen in many of the pandemics we covered in this course. Some people want to live life to the fullest. But we all know that in the end, ignoring the problem led to Death visiting the party and striking down all that attended. The people who decided to let the good times roll (à la the Mardi Gras saying “laissez le bon temps rouler”) may have been rolling into their own graves or becoming Trojan horses towards their vulnerable family members when they decided a party or huge social gathering was worth their life.

The fan is a reminder for me of what I have learned through my classmates’ stories in this course. I enjoyed seeing people gain new hobbies or bring items that connected deeply with the struggles they experienced during this pandemic. This project put a new perspective on the whole pandemic for me. It has also reminded me that the world does not stand still even in crisis. Last summer, Hurricane Laura destroyed many parts of Southern Louisiana. My family was not too affected other than power loss for several days. But it shows that people will strive forward even in the face of disaster. As of now, we have a vaccine for Covid-19. Hopefully, we can move onward from the virus and take the lessons it taught with us into the future.

I chose a Christmas ornament as my Time Capsule item as it represents family tradition and memories. Each year, my mom, Mama, and I go through the Hallmark Christmas ornament catalogue to pick out the ones we like and find the newest ones in our series. We have done this since I can remember and I have some fond memories that come from ornament premiere day, where my mom and I would go and pick out the physical ornaments. Last Christmas was the first year, since this tradition started, that my family was unable to do this. This was also the first year in my whole life that my family did not get together for Christmas. My grandparents are in their 80s and the time that we have left is precious. This ornament represents the time that I’ve lost with my family and the memories that will never come to be. Yet, it also represents the future that is coming as just like this ornament, the next one in the series will arrive, and I will see my family again and we will make our newest memories.

What this ornament represents is similar to how any person could feel in any pandemic. These diseases steal time from us, forcing us to lock ourselves away from our friends and family, in fear of infecting them with this dreaded disease. Those who lived through the “Great Influenza” of 1918-1920 also felt this immensely. Fearing for themselves and their families, people stopped all contact with each other and were even stopped from being in touch over the phone as only essential medical calls were allowed through, as described in John Barry’s The Great Influenza. This lost time and these lost connections would never be regained, but time passed, the pandemic ended, and families were eventually reunited. The future holds hope for reconnection.

For my contribution to the Time Capsule, I chose a forty ounce bottle of malt liquor. I did not choose this item as a symbol of celebration, rather quite the opposite. Throughout this pandemic, I have personally witnessed members of my family, especially one of my older brothers, my friends, and even co-workers, turn to the bottle as a means to cope with the insanity, stress, and depression brought about by this ongoing pandemic. Since liquor stores are considered essential businesses, they have remained open, and without many of the simple things that we had once taken for granted, too many people have decided to drown their sorrows with alcohol.

As a side note, I should mention that I have no qualms with liquor stores being open since alcohol withdrawals can be extremely deadly. During the pandemic, I grew increasingly concerned, and at times even terrified, for the mental and physical well being of my older brother, who was drinking an obscene amount of alcohol daily, especially because alcohol is practically a part of my family tree. Even though his addiction was severe, it was not unique by any means, and I am certain that countless people have sunken deep into the bottom of a bottle in the same manner as he had. For every lost soul drowning in that same intoxicating sea, there are a handful of people like me, wondering if their loved ones will ever come back up to the surface.

I compared the self-destructive nature of this coping mechanism to the hedonism of the few survivors during the Athenian plague recorded by Thucydides in the 5th century BCE. Identical to the actions of some people during COVID, many Athenians had given into despair, dedicating what precious little time they had left to the pursuit of any kind of miniscule pleasure: “Fear of gods or law of man there was none to restrain them. As for the first, they judged it to be just the same whether they worshipped them or not, as they saw all alike perishing; and for the last, no one expected to live to be brought to trial for his offenses, but each felt that a far severer sentence had already been passed upon them all and hung ever over their heads, and before this fell it was only reasonable to enjoy life a little.” (Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 2.53.3-4) During a plague or pandemic, despair often spreads faster than the disease itself, infecting the minds of the healthy and sick alike, but there is no medicine for this disease. The only successful method of combating this illness is to never forget that it is always darkest before sunrise, and at the moment, our world can’t get much darker.

I decided to put my plane ticket from when I flew home last year for Spring Break in the Time Capsule. I chose this item because it represents the uncertainty of the whole Covid-19 pandemic. We all went home for Spring Break thinking that we were going to be home for two weeks, but ended up at home for almost six months. Throughout the entirety of the pandemic we have had to deal with a cluster of uncertainty surrounding so many things, such as not knowing when the vaccine would come out, if there was any way to treat the disease, how the virus affects the human body, etc. Even now that the vaccine is out and is being distributed, it is still uncertain when everybody in the United States will be vaccinated. Many estimates have come out saying it probably will, if the rate of distribution remains consistent, not be until late in the Fall [2021].

This item relates to the texts we have read in the course of this class so far because there was so much uncertainty in all of them. In most of the readings the people afflicted did not know the disease came from, how to treat it, or even how it actually spread. The text that really comes to mind though, is Sophocles’ tragedy, Oedipus. The whole play was filled with uncertainty. First off, Oedipus did not know who killed King Laius, the former king of Thebes. Eventually Oedipus found out that he himself was the one who killed Laius, but it took a long time and a lot of pain and devastation to get to that conclusion. Also, he was uncertain how to cure the plague at first. He had to ask a prophet of Apollo why the disease was brought onto the city of Thebes and how to cure it—and the prophet’s remarks only seemed to confused him further. Altogether, there is so much uncertainty associated with plagues and pandemics, which is what makes them so scary and dangerous.

The item that I chose to represent my experience during COVID-19 is a handwritten workout that I made in quarantine. Being fresh out of rugby training and with no access to a gym, I decided to take my fitness more seriously at home. I started working out every day doing bodyweight workouts at home, and I developed a newfound love for keeping in shape. This is important to me because it gave me something to focus on when the stay-at-home order was put into place; it kept me sane. Additionally, I saw quarantine as a turning point in my life, it made me realize that if I was going to make a positive lifestyle change that this would be the best time to do so.

This reminds me of something that we read in Book II of the Girolamo Fracastoro’s Renaissance-era epic poem, Syphilis, or the French Disease. Fracastoro makes various suggestions to the readers on how to best avoid catching the disease, including the following recommendation: “In fact, even at home you can take exercise…. Meanwhile avoid sad thoughts that trouble the mind” (37). This is reminiscent of my own experience, in that I needed to find an activity in order to protect my mental health. When I first read this I thought it was interesting how he was suggesting things such as taking up exercise and clearing your mind, just as authorities and friends were suggesting to me in quarantine. It goes to show that no matter how many advancements are made in the field of medicine, some things always stay the same.

For my Time Capsule item I chose a face shield. When quarantine began [in March 2020] I wasn’t too bored since school kept me busy, but as May began to roll around I started to become stir-crazy since I soon wouldn’t have anything to do. My mom knew I was looking for an EMT course since I was a member of EC-ERT (Eckerd College Emergency Response Team), and thankfully she was able to find a hybrid course I could take. This course kept me pretty occupied studying the material for most of the summer until it was time to get ready to move back onto campus for Autumn Term. As a member of ECERT we were given these face shields at the beginning of Autumn Term for use during our calls. During a normal school year, responders on EC-ERT will normally wear gloves and potentially eye-protection to each call. With the pandemic we have had to alter our call PPE (personal protective equipment) to always include either a face shield or safety glasses, gloves, N95 mask, and a surgical disposable mask. For me, this face shield signifies the changes everyone has had to implement into their daily lives with the pandemic, such as wearing face masks, social distancing, wiping down common surfaces, etc. But as I reflect on the pandemic as a whole, it has been just over one year since we evacuated school and so much has changed in our lives and most people have adapted rather quickly to the changes.

This face shield reminds me of the “plague doctor” (Prof. Goyette dressed up in a medieval avian-style plague mask) who came and visited our class a couple weeks ago. The medieval plague mask, however, was not meant to protect the wearer from infection or from transmitting the disease to patients, as with the modern face shield; instead, this type of mask, which was in use before the advent of germ theory, was meant to keep the undesired fluids and odors of a plague patient far away from the physician. Indeed, the beak of this type of mask was often stuffed with fragrant herbs such as camphor or lavender to try to overcome the powerful stench of disease, death, and decay.

This modern face shield also reminds me of doctors who would not allow pandemics to stop them from seeing patients during ancient situations of mass illness such as the Athenian plague (circa 430 BCE) and the Justinian Plague (circa 541-549 CE). With the help of items like this face shield, I, too, am still able to help respond to others during this pandemic.

In deciding what to put in the Time Capsule, I knew I wanted it to be something that was meaningful, creative, and reflective of my experience in quarantine. I found myself fairly limited by the things in my dorm room, especially since much of my quarantine was spent at home with my parents. I ended up looking through many of the things I brought from home, but none stuck with me as much as the object I ultimately chose to include: my pressed flowers. I collected this series of pressings from around my garden and neighborhood in the spring and summer of 2020. I felt very confined when I made these pressings—I wasn’t allowed to really leave the house or see anyone, so I would go on long walks around my childhood neighborhood. I would reflect on the past and the current situation of the world on these solo walks, and I started collecting flowers as a passive activity, pressing the ones I found especially compelling. Before I knew it, hours flew into days into weeks, and as I watched the flowers change and summer come into bloom, I noticed how fleeting their experience was. In a way, these flowers I have preserved serve as a reminder to myself of how I was able to pull myself through one of the most challenging and painful times of my life, and a reminder of how temporary our situation is.

I thought about how the world was changing in front of our eyes, even as societies came to a standstill, I thought of global warming and how our environment could change in just a second. I realized that in the next twenty years, if the temperature change on this planet continues to be as drastic as it is now, then we may not be able to see many of these plant and animal species walk the earth. I chose a natural series of objects to put in the Time Capsule to reflect another crisis (perhaps I should say pandemic?) our society has let fall to the wayside due to the suddenness of the COVID pandemic: climate change. Although COVID-19 has made us more aware of many societal problems, global warming has fallen to the wayside as a priority for leaders. I chose to preserve these flowers as a physical record of the life that once was alive on this planet, in case the generations after us can’t see them themselves. I hope that we are able to maintain a safe and healthy planet for future generations to live on—but I am glad to be creating physical records of my own familiar world.

Reading Girolamo Fracastoro’s 16th century epic poem, Syphilis, or the French Disease, was influential for me in terms of what I put into the Time Capsule. Within the epic, he writes of mysterious alchemical cures and mystical plants with healing properties. Through these records, he identifies several “cures” at the time for syphilis through these natural remedies. Although his stories and descriptions are enthralling and in some ways educational, I think we can all agree that it would be interesting to identify some of these plants and cures to see if they actually work. That is why I chose to put physical records of the plants in the Time Capsule—if there is a need to figure out what kind of life was able to survive whenever the Time Capsule is opened again, whoever needs to use the plants can simply look.

Although I don’t expect a mystic cure or divine medicine to come from any of these garden flowers, it is a different way of keeping a record of these plants, and of my own experience in quarantine. I hope I can reignite a passion for caring for the earth in these future generations, and I hope my objects spark a desire to remember and learn from the past, for the benefit of people living in the future.

48: Elastic Exercise Band (Prof. Michael Goyette)

After hearing all of the students in this course share poignant aspects of their own experiences during the pandemic, near the conclusion of the course I felt it only right to share and contribute a memento of my own, which has both literal and metaphoric significance. On the most basic level, this elastic exercise band is an item I used to perform physical therapy after undergoing a surgical operation in July 2020 to repair labral tears in my hip joint. As an historical note, this was a rather scary time to go into a hospital, particularly here in Florida, where the COVID infection rates were spiking and hospitals were well above capacity with COVID patients. If the surgery could have waited, I certainly would have opted to have it done at another time.

Following the surgery, I used this exercise band and other equipment to complete my rehabilitation—as much as possible at home. Throughout COVID, a vast number of people have found new and creative ways to do exercise (along with so many other things) at home, as gyms have closed down for long periods of time (or, if open, they may still feel unsafe to use). In this way, this band is (similar to the dumbbell contributed to this Time Capsule by Robert Monti ’21) emblematic of the need to find innovative ways to exercise and maintain physical fitness during COVID. Furthermore, the simplicity of this item—though recommended by my physical therapist, it is essentially just a piece of elastic material tied together into a loop—represents the way in which objects that are simple, mundane, and/or commonplace (like toilet paper or a tape measure) have taken on a newfound value and importance during the pandemic.

As a piece of exercise equipment that produces resistance when stretched, this band is also a metaphor for the struggles and obstacles people have often encountered when doing so many things that used to be very straightforward and easy. Similarly, this highly flexible object is emblematic of the adaptability that has enabled people to navigate these new challenges. Personally, I have particularly experienced this need to adapt in the context of my teaching, which has called for forms of mental, technological, and at times physical agility that I never would have envisioned. The challenge of teaching courses with some students present in the room and others remotely on Zoom has been a particularly unique challenge which has stretched my pedagogical creativity, often in ways that have been productive and that I will continue to implement long after the end of the pandemic.

On a societal level, myriad institutions have also been stretched and put to the test in ways one could hardly have imagined before the start of the pandemic. For instance, emergency response workers and (as alluded to above) hospitals have been persistently overextended, and businesses that rely upon in-person services (e.g. restaurants) have been extremely vulnerable. Consequently many homeowners or tenants have struggled to make monthly payments and have faced foreclosure or eviction. Many aspects of our society have been stretched well beyond their limits and are liable to snap at any moment, if they have not already.

Despite all of these literal and figurative tensions, when a piece of elastic is stretched taut, it can act as a slingshot and provide positive momentum to an object placed within it (as I demonstrated to the class with this very item). The varied readings, films, and other materials in this course demonstrate how the aftermath of pandemics and epidemics has, historically speaking, often brought about significant societal and medical progress, provided that the lessons of each situation are scrutinized and heeded. I therefore look ahead optimistically, hopeful that the lessons of history, literature, and our own experiences during COVID will inspire people to reevaluate, reform, and innovate—and eventually serve as a slingshot to a better future for society, medicine, and the natural environment.