A person scrolling on social media during Covid-19
A person scrolling on social media during Covid- 19

Dr Luis Medina Cordova, Lecturer in Modern Languages and the project's PI, specialises in the study of contemporary Ecuadorian and Latin American writing. His research explores the intersections of crises and literature in narrative fiction and the connections between Latin American writing and World Literature in the twenty-first century.

The focus for this project will be on fiction and non-fiction literary responses in Spanish that circulated in outlets including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook during the first two years of the pandemic, from the first case reported in the region in February 2020 to March 2022. This was the most severe period of the health emergency, a time in which Latin America amassed 28% of deaths attributed to the virus worldwide and became, until now, the region hit hardest by the pandemic.

During the period in focus, when Latin American writers were experiencing the pandemic alongside their audiences, they produced an online body of writing deeply engaged with the fears and anxieties caused by the virus around the world. Unlike other instances when global crises have served as the backdrop to literary creation, in the 2020s, social media and messaging apps enabled authors to articulate responses to Covid-19 in real-time.

Collaborative tales assembled and shared via Twitter, testimonies written on Facebook walls and fiction recorded on smartphones and distributed as WhatsApp voice notes created a body of writing derived from – and in dialogue with – the isolation, self-distancing, xenophobia, violence, illness and death that Latin America experienced in the time of Covid-19. 

Strikingly, these texts have received no sustained attention and, as the world is 'moving on' from Covid-19, the body of writing they form is at risk of getting lost in an ever-growing mass of digital content.

One key conviction motivates this project: that our understanding of the Covid-19 pandemic is incomplete if it does not include knowledge of how it was narrated when it was happening, when the global fear of the virus was not a memory but a live reality. This project will help to address that incompleteness and add Latin American situated knowledge to the global record of the pandemic.

Dr Luis Medina Cordova - Lecturer in Modern Languages, University of Birmingham

The research project will create and study an open-access digital archive that will enable preserving, disseminating and researching real-time literary responses to Covid-19 in Latin America. It will refer to real-time literary responses as fiction and non-fiction texts by Latin American authors that circulated during the first two years of the health emergency via social media and other digital platforms. This is a significant body of writing that is at critical risk of getting lost in an ever-growing mass of digital content.

During its first year, the project will explore social media outlets – mainly Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – to identify and archive Spanish-language publications engaging with the pandemic written and shared by Latin American writers.

In the second year, the project will create a website that hosts the data collected and place it on an interactive map signalling where it comes from and how it connects to other resources. This will be the open-access digital archive. The research outputs will shed light on the Latin American narration of the Covid-19 crisis to provide new understandings of a global catastrophe.

Moreover, the digital archive created by this project will become a significant resource for future access, which will, on the one hand, facilitate further research into how people lived through and communicated their pandemic experience in Latin America; and, on the other, enable public access to primary sources that lay bare how authors and audiences connected with each other's suffering, loss, grief and hope during the darkest times of the crisis.