Sarah Glassford holding her bookLeddy Library archivist Sarah Glassford sees parallels between the current COVID-19 pandemic and the wartime experiences of Canadian women documented in her new book.

History teaches the significance of community during a crisis

When Leddy Library’s archivist Sarah Glassford opened her mail last week, she found copies of her new book on Canadian women’s Second World War experiences, aptly titled Making the Best of It. Flipping through the pages she couldn’t help but notice parallels between wartime and the current COVID-19 pandemic — especially the significance of community to both.

“History shows that we look to our communities to shore up our resilience in periods of crisis,” said Glassford. “Right now, for instance, people are making extra efforts to stay connected by phone or internet to friends and family they can't see in person.”

Published by UBC Press as part of its military history series with the Canadian War Museum, Making the Best of It: Women and Girls of Canada and Newfoundland during the Second World War, examines the ways in which gender and other identities shaped the experiences of female Canadians during the war.

Edited by Glassford and University of Lethbridge history professor, Amy Shaw, it brings together 12 chapters of historical research from scholars across the country, covering topics ranging from wartime girlhood, patriotic shopping, and humanitarian work overseas, to wartime nursing, factory work, and military deaths.

“The personal connections women formed or maintained stood out in their memories as being one of the best aspects of that difficult period,” said Glassford. “These connections shaped the degree to which they were able to cope with wartime challenges.”

As the community works together to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, Glassford is encouraged by the work of historians, archivists, and others in Canada and around the world who are actively documenting the pandemic as it unfolds. Future historians will rely on the materials that survive in order to tell the story of these pandemic times. To that end, the Leddy Library Archives and Special Collections has been gathering materials relating to the University’s response to the coronavirus since before campus switched to essential services only.

Glassford was recently interviewed by Global News journalist Jane Gerster about the dangers of using wartime metaphors for the COVID-19 pandemic, but says that despite the dangers, some comparisons are inevitable.

“We’re all looking for familiar frameworks in which to understand our current situation, and the similarities between some aspects of wartime and this pandemic make war metaphors a handy vocabulary,” she says.

Drawing strength from our communities, says Glassford, is just one of those similarities. “It is as important to us now as it was to wartime Canadians 75 or 80 years ago.”

Learn more about Making the Best of It: Women and Girls of Canada and Newfoundland during the Second World War at: Read the Global News interview here:

—Marcie Demmans

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