The New-York Historical Society (N-YHS) has launched an open call for the donation of objects, photographs, digital documents and other ephemera that document the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic as part of its long-standing initiative to preserve pivotal moments in the history of the city.
The organisation is seeking thermometers, digital device sanitisers, works of art and signs posted in public, flyers for emergency food services, homemade protective equipment and past-time activities adopted amid “safer-at-home” orders, such as puzzles and colouring books.
Established on Manhattan's Upper West Side in 1804, "our founders had just lived through the turbulent years of the American Revolution and recognised the need to preserve eyewitness evidence of their own historical moment,” says the president and chief executive of the N-YHS, Dr Louise Mirrer.
Receiving donations poses a logistical challenge during a pandemic, however, namely due to state-mandated social distancing measures that may prevent delivery. Other items, such as personal protective equipment like face masks, are still in active use. The N-YHS is therefore relying on spreading the word via its open call and is actively reaching out to individuals, small businesses other facilities about keeping objects and ephemera for collection at a later time.
According to data from the Center for Disease Control, New York City could be facing its most challenging and devastating week of the crisis as Covid-19-related deaths continue to rise and hospitals remain at critical mass. Mirrer says, however, that “we continue the practice of documenting history as it happens so that future generations will better understand the unprecedented times in which we are now living".
Part of the organisation's History Responds initiative, launched in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks on the city, the organisation has since collected materials related to major events like the 2017 Women’s March and the Black Lives Matter movement.
In preparation for archiving and future exhibitions, the museum division of the N-YHS will focus on narrating the stories connected to the Covid-19 objects collected, such as life under quarantine, while the library department will focus on collating paper ephemera. The education department is also inviting youths to record and share diaries of their experiences, which can be submitted in via video or in writing.
The New York State Museum, located in Albany, NY, and the Museum of the City of New York are also launching efforts to chronicle the pandemic, as are other institutions in other states, such as the Atlanta History Center in Georgia. As the N-YHS founders once said, according to Mirrer: “If we do not collect and preserve right now, history will be nothing more than dust and speculation.”