By Carol Tannenhauser
Books will be written about The Pandemic of 2020, and museums will create exhibitions. People who lived through it, particularly at its epicenter in New York City, will be invaluable as eyewitnesses and firsthand sources.
In preparation, the New-York Historical Society, the oldest museum in New York City, located on Central Park West at 77th Street, is asking the public to donate materials related to the current health crisis, in an effort to “preserve history as it happens.” The initiative is called History Responds.
“History Responds came to fruition during September 11, 2001, when curators began to collect items and mementos from downtown Manhattan,” a press release explained. “Since then, the program has preserved objects and documents related to marriage equality, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and Women’s March, among others.
“Now New-York Historical is putting out the call for objects and paper/digital ephemera (things that are used or exist for a short time) that document all aspects of the current crisis, including the heroic efforts of medical personnel; the plight of the victims; the effects on businesses, schools, and cultural groups; and the creativity borne of isolation.”
The release detailed what the museum is seeking:
New-York Historical’s Patricia D. Klingenstein Library is gathering paper ephemera that reflect the various elements of the pandemic and how people are dealing with it through flyers, postcards, small signs, small posters, application forms, emails, and print-outs of emails. The Museum division is collecting objects and images and the stories connected to them, including household items that reflect life under quarantine and social distancing measures; new products created by business and industry; artwork placed in public view; and items that represent community projects and initiatives. And the Education department invites youth to keep and share diary entries on their experiences with the coronavirus pandemic. Students can record their diaries in whatever form they would like—digital, analog, video, voice memo—and share them.
“When the New-York Historical Society was established in 1804, our founders had just lived through the turbulent years of the American Revolution and recognized the need to preserve eyewitness evidence of their own historical moment,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “In that vein, 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.”
To learn more about History Responds and how to donate objects and papers, visit nyhistory.org/history-responds.