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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Empty Year: An Oral History of the Pandemic(s) of 2020 at UC Santa Cruz


 At the University of California, Santa Cruz and across the world, 2020 was a year of not just the COVID-19 pandemic, but pandemics, plural. While the pandemic can be mapped and tracked and tallied with numbers, for it to be understood and felt for many, if not most people, we need stories. This collection of twenty-two oral history interviews, gathered in late 2020 by UCSC students under the auspices of the Library’s Regional History Project, is an impressionistic illustration of an unstable present, exploring a range of ways people have encountered and interpreted this time. Some narrators speak primarily of racism and racial justice; for others, COVID-19 is in the extreme foreground. Others raise questions of economic justice in America and more locally for graduate students at UCSC; still others address climate change, since the CZU Lightning Complex fires also exploded across Santa Cruz County in 2020 and nearly consumed the campus itself. 

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