Document the coronavirus pandemic for future generations | Miller

Bruce Miller
Published 5:00 a.m. ET Sept. 13, 2020


Toms River Intermediate North 7th grader Madison Brand, 12, shares the virtual school opening with her mother ToniAnn.

Asbury Park Press

As the pandemic continues to impact the country, it should be noted that hopefully, someday, this will all be a terrible memory. However, collecting artifacts and photographs during this tragic time period will help future generations better understand what we are experiencing.

More: COVID-19 in Monmouth County: Town-by-town case list for September 6

Have you noticed the varied and personalized masks being worn lately? Well, as long as we are wearing them, we might as well make a statement. So start collecting masks, photographs and others items that will explain this time period to future generations. Photographs of friends and family wearing masks and utilizing social distancing at gatherings will be beneficial to visually explain this event. 


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Business-closure signs, thank-you  posters to health workers, toilet paper and food shortages, and signs denoting closed businesses are also useful to tell this story. Handicrafts woven or carved to pass the time indoors, home-school lesson plans, and photos of dining-out only restaurants can be included in this documentation.

If you were designing a museum exhibit that would explain the coronavirus pandemic, what would you include in it? Smithsonian curators in Washington, D.C., are trying to answer that question, even as the virus continues to spread in some states. The National Museum of American History has recently launched a coronavirus collection project. Yes, your read correctly!

Each collection will have its own particular focus. The American History Museum is taking a broad approach.  Curators on its COVID-19 task force are putting together lists of objects they want to collect, ranging from handwritten grocery lists, letters from patients, personal protective equipment, test kits and ventilators. Some of the objects will be put on display in an exhibit on the disease planned for late next year. “Obviously, those are objects we will not collect until the pandemic has really wound down,” said the chair of the American History Museum’s medicine and science division. “We don’t want to put pressure on supplies.”

Smithsonian curators are soliciting digital items and oral histories for their online collections. “Years from now, we really don’t want the human impact of this story to get lost. And so that’s what we’re really trying to collect,” says the director of the Anacostia Community Museum, which explores local social change. People can submit digital photographs, videos and written accounts to the museum’s new “Moments of Resilience” online collection.

This museum team will eventually start collecting objects for an exhibit tentatively planned for summer of 2021. Curators at the National Museum of African American History and Culture plan to collect objects that tell the stories of Black Americans during the pandemic. For the program, they’ll ask residents of urban centers to upload oral histories, images and short videos to an online platform. 

Even though certain object collection can’t start yet, the Smithsonian curators are hustling to get the word out about their various projects to keep people from throwing away would-be artifacts. Even a homemade face mask or an empty box that held a shipment of toilet paper could tell future historians a lot about the current moment.

Whether a somber handwritten journal or an endearing Facebook post, the contributions will offer a look at a world attacked by an invisible enemy. The stories will document sickness and death and the profound disruption of American rhythms and rituals, evidenced by empty shelves and streets, and the gnawing restlessness of sheltering in place. The ways people showed resilience and managed to still find joy are an integral aspect of this plague. What we as contributors record is what the future generations will remember, so start gathering your artifacts and tell your story to a future world not yet imagined.

Bruce Miller is a Jackson resident

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