During the spring of 2020, as COVID-19 began to dominate the global agenda, museums, libraries, and archives around the world announced efforts to document human experiences of illness, isolation, economic downturn, fear, adaptation, and solidarity. These efforts ranged widely in scale and methods, from local historical societies seeking personal reflections to large scale, federally-funded oral history projects. All of them sought to preserve narratives, documents, or artifacts of a global crisis, and so they provoke questions about how we remember disaster—and how we preserve those memories. What will become of these various collecting efforts, and how will scholars be able to locate them effectively? What are archivists and oral historians learning about documenting disaster and pandemic, even as the event stretches on?
This panel discussion will feature representatives from three documentation projects: A Journal of the Plague Year, a curatorial consortium of archival collections that reflect localized and thematic collecting across the U.S. and the world; Lothian Lockdown: The Lothian Diary Project, comprising individual video/audio diaries created by residents of the Lothian region of Scotland; and Signs of the Times: Documenting Covid-19 Signs in Southern Maine, a collection of crowd-sourced photographs of signs and messages created in response to the pandemic.
The round table is hosted by the COVID Collections Project, a collaboration among the Initiative for Critical Disaster Studies at Gallatin, the Archives and Public History Program in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the E.L. Quarantelli Resource Collection at the University of Delaware's Disaster Research Center. The project is building a database of ongoing COVID-19 documentation projects in an effort to enable these collections to be surfaced and described in ways that increase access and use.