Preserving COVID-19 History: An Important Museum-Community Partnership

April 23, 2020

We are already seeing how we are affected by this pandemic, and museums as well as historical societies are reaching out to the community to contribute photos, videos, stories, et cetera about their experience in quarantine. While it is not appropriate for museums to collect equipment that are needed now to help those with the virus, all of us are wondering what the future will be like once the pandemic is over and should understand that one day this will become a part of our global historical narrative. Museum professionals and historians especially know that the more we preserve from this time the more people in the future will understand the how and why the pandemic occurred. Historians researched and museum professionals developed exhibits on the epidemic that occurred in 1918 (also known as the Spanish flu) to help readers and visitors comprehend the impact it had on the world. This will most likely happen to help future generations understand the impact of the coronavirus and learn the lessons we are learning now to help move modern medicine forward. In the meantime, we will figure out how we will get through the pandemic, and how to express our emotions with and support one another.

Our healing as a community, state, country, and as a global community could begin by learning from what we experienced, talking with one another, and preserving our memories for future generations to learn about these experiences. One of the ways we can figure out how people in the world are affected by being in quarantine, limiting physical contact with others, and traveling for only essentials is to develop the relationship between museums and the community further so we would be able to preserve these memories.

It is hard to think about this pandemic in the historical context perspective while we all are still emotionally, mentally, and physically involved. The important thing in maintaining a museum-community partnership is to learn what the community needs during this time, and to provide resources and activities to help individuals cope with changes in our society caused by the pandemic. When we keep communication open between our community and our institutions, virtual visitors are able to continue to trust museums to be the safe space to express concerns they have on current events. The more visitors trust museums to help them through the tough times, the more likely they are to share with museums and historical societies that decided to preserve community memories of their pandemic experiences.

We are seeing historical societies contacting their communities to encourage them to share what they are doing in their quarantines. The Connecticut Historical Society, located in Hartford, Connecticut, released a message through their member contact lists and social media outlets asking them to reach out to their staff with photos to preserve this part of Connecticut history. Another example is the Rhode Island Historical Society which shared its call for stories on social media. On their Twitter page, the Rhode Island Historical Society stated

Help make history by contributing to the new online Rhode Island COVID-19 Archive. This is a collaboration of RIHS and Providence Public Library. Stay safe! As the song goes, Rhode Island is Famous for You.

http://ricovidarchive.org

1:40 PM · Apr 16, 2020

RIHS reach out to virtual visitors with a survey to make sure they produce content the audience would benefit from. Also, they created a website that offers a space to contribute to the online collections and to browse through the collections individuals already contributed. There is also a section on the website that provided individuals with a guide to personal archiving, and it gives advice for individuals on how to back up as well as share their records.

The next example is the Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket, New York. In a Facebook post, they asked

Please consider sharing your thoughts and experiences, for the archives, as we learn how to get through each day in our new normal. Most importantly, stay paused and stay healthy.

April 17 at 10:48 AM

The post also stated that community members in the Three Village district should send an email to submit their story, video, or image. In addition to sharing on social media, they released a blog post describing the importance of preserving this history to remember the anniversary of the town’s founding 365 years ago. According to the Town of Brookhaven Historian Barbara Russell,

This worldwide pandemic becomes part of our local history as it affects our residents as well as those across the globe. Historians in New York State have been asked to record this event in their local municipalities, so I ask you all in the days, weeks and months ahead to share your experiences with me. You can write, video, create visual art, even clip your local newspaper articles. Let your neighbors and family and friends know they are welcome to contribute. Let us turn our town’s anniversary into an opportunity to record an unprecedented moment of time for future generations to know and understand.

Russell stressed the importance of community through these difficult and unprecedented times, and to encourage the community to become involved in preserving their history.

Do you know a museum or a historical society that is asking about preserving pandemic experiences? Let me know in the comments.

As always, stay safe out there and be good to one another.

Links to Resources and Additional Examples:

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/83093-public-libraries-after-the-pandemic.html

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/

https://aaslh.org/museums-and-victory-gardens/

http://ricovidarchive.org

https://www.tvhs.org/blog

www.chs.org

www.rihs.org

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