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'Your great-grandchildren will want to know': Doing your part to document the pandemic
WOODSTOCK, ONT. -- In a case of irony, Karen Houston, the curator of the Woodstock Museum National Historic Site, recalls searching for local photos of the 1918-20 global flu pandemic.
She was preparing an exhibit on what was then known as the Spanish flu in late 2018.
She was shocked to discover the vast archives in the region had no photos from that time, not of everyday people wearing masks, the efforts of the local health workers or even journal entries of people staying at home.
Instead, news stories focussed on the 600 cases of the deadly flu in Ingersoll alone, the public upset over church closings, and the advice of health experts.
Houston says the latter guidelines are eerily similar to what we are used to in the current pandemic.
“There was no mention of washing your hands, but they talked about cleanliness. They talked about keeping distance and, if you had any of these symptoms, stay home. So there’s a lot of similarities between the two.”
Now, weeks into our COVID-19 reality, Houston has made another observation of similarity between then and now: we are not documenting enough.
She admits it seems like an odd statement in our current world, where everyone is constantly taking pictures with a smart phone and posting them to social media.
But what we post, and where we are posting it to, presents a problem for historians.
As we all know, technology and how we communicate changes, meaning in 100 years a Facebook post might not be useable or accessible.
So, Houston has made a plea to the public to get stories directly to her museum, or one in their own community.
“The whole idea is, if you want to write something on your Facebook page and then [copy it] and email it to the museum, we can actually store in a way that in 100 years actual historians will be able to look at it.”
But which stories and pictures are archivists looking to save for future generations?
Houston has the following suggestions for journal entries and photos:
- describing a trip to the hospital, grocery store, or pharmacy
- documenting daily work life, whether working remotely from home, or in industry or farming
- encouraging children to write about online home schooling
- taking a photo your empty street, and other moments of our new daily lives
Another suggestion is documenting how family time has increased, or even how you and your kids are staying socially connected.
“We would love to get video of playing games or video games, or anything you’re doing in their houses, because everyone is stuck at home. We are trying to entertain ourselves and keep sane.”
And in a century people aren’t going to know how we kept ‘sane’ without a record.
“People in 100 years are not going to realize, all health activities stopped or people were afraid to go to the their own hospitals. So that little piece of information will actually have meaning then.”
If you’d like to take part in the project via the Woodstock Museum National Historic Site, you can get more information on their website, or you can directly share your story by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org