© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2022

Covid Dreams: documenting dreams for the future

Finlay Dunseath
Woman Sleeping
Woman sleeping

University of Otago social anthropology lecturer, Susan Wardell, has been running an online dream diary from the comfort of her home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 'CoviDreams' project allows people to document their dreams anonymously through an online survey. The dreams are then logged on a world map.

The project was inspired by a 'human impulse' to document during a time of historical significance. Wardell didn't create CoviDreams to aid academic research, but instead to collect the dream accounts in one place for anyone to read and reflect upon.

 "My hope for this project is that someone else, whether that's an artist, a historian or a psychologist would take this and say 'Wow, this is a really interesting record of that moment in time' and that it would help them gain a better understanding of the pressures we face now and in the future," said Wardell.

Wardell is particularly interested in the cross-cultural aspect of dreams, and curious about how different groups affected by COVID-19 are mentally processing the events, to find out  whether any symbols, themes or key figures are repeating during the pandemic. 

Wardell notes the project is inspired by a similar dream diary recorded in The Third Reich of Dreams,” by Charlotte Beradt, which described the appearance of key figures and symbols throughout people's dreams in Nazi Germany.

Anxiety is a common theme in dreams submitted to Wardell's project. It was understandable to see this coming through in people's dreams but interesting to see what the focus was, she said.

"It's not just anxiety of dying or getting sick but it's a lot of those really mundane human anxieties about being in proximity to other people or being distant and separate and not able to reach people you love.''

Dreams included the human equivalent of COVID-19 trying to break into the dreamers' office, and being stuck in a crowded building with no social distancing in place.

Another dreamer from Wellington recalled the fear of being told they would have to isolate underground.

"I was in a bar and then I remembered about the pandemic and that I should leave. I couldn’t find the door, and I kept going through different doors and getting more lost... I eventually came to an underground hospital, and they wouldn’t let me leave because I’d now been in contact with sick people. I realised I would have to isolate underground. It was very claustrophobic."

New Zealand Historian, Dan Bartlett, claims human experience-focused studies like Wardell's will prove invaluable for future historians.

"From a social history perspective, and for the benefit of future historians, collecting the stories of everyday people during unprecedented times is invaluable," said Bartlett.

"Collected accounts of life during the current pandemic will enable future historians to get closer to the coalface of this time."

Bartlett added that research projects like 'CoviDreams' being made available for public use is an important step in taking research out of the academy and making it 'public history.'

You can add your own dream accounts to the collection here.