‘Everyone Has A Story’: How Will World Remember Pandemic?

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tags: museums, PRESERVATION, cultural history, pandemics


The enormity of the event is forcing historians to balance capturing ephemeral moments and those that will transcend time.

At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, a task force is looking into how to gather and preserve objects, images and documents that could become part of permanent collections. But the pandemic itself is challenging the group’s ability to collect because the museum is closed, so curators are asking potential donors to hold onto items.

“We are trying to take the long view on this, so (we are) focusing now most on objects that are ephemeral, things that might disappear, that might get thrown away or just used up,” said Benjamin Filene, the museum’s associate director of curatorial affairs.

Unlike during other national crises, people have a camera in their pocket at all times, documenting whatever they deem relevant and sharing it on social media, from the cloth mask they sew and the sourdough bread they baked to the cheer for front-line workers and the Zoom meeting of school students.

But not every quilt made or puzzle finished can tell the story of what happened in the U.S. in the spring of 2020.

“There is sort of this overwhelming mass of information, but that information is not necessarily being captured in a way that’s going to be preserved,” Filene said. “And there’s also the possibility that it is so fragmentary that how much will it translate to somebody else five years from now or 25 or 50 years from now? We don’t just need a thing; we want the story that goes with the thing.”

The National Museum of African American History and Culture has been working with doctors, nurses and other health workers who have offered to donate personal protective equipment. Senior curator for history William Pretzer said cultural organizations nowadays do “rapid-response collecting” and no longer wait until materials are considered memorabilia.


Read entire article at WTOP

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