Maryland Historical Society Collecting Stories of Coronavirus

Across the internet, people are recognizing that we are living through a huge historical moment. The Maryland Historical Society has started a new initiative to preserve records of people’s everyday experiences of the coronavirus pandemic.

The project began when the historical society looked to its collections to see how it could provide people with perspective on this moment. The MdHS’s Vice President of Collections Allison Tolman said that the institution realized it had to respond quickly. “We like to do everything very thoughtful and precise, and we take a long time to develop it. But here, we had to be reactionary and quick. We had to get it out there.”

The Maryland Historical Society decided to solicit testimonials and photographs from Maryland residents about their experience of the pandemic. The project follows two themes: “Letters from the Homefront” and “Business Unusual.” The first theme, deals with emails sent from residents documenting their daily routines under quarantine. One submission from a fourth grade class details how they are adjusting to remote learning. In another a local artist describes a quilting project they had started in 1996 and now decided to finish.

“Business Unusual” uses social media to collect photographs from business owners, employees, and patrons. Users can contribute photos and see submissions using #BusinessUnusualMD. The historical society will use the images in a future photo essay. You can view submission from both parts of the project on the historical society’s blog.

The Maryland Historical Society has not yet determined what this collecting effort will culminate in. Rapid changes in life as a result of the virus have led to shifts in the project. However, the historical society believes these efforts will be an important part of the historical record. Allison Tolman described the potential long-term impact of the project: “Collecting living history [in real time] is a new thing, but it’s certainly important. We need to be getting those collections now, so in 100 years when another pandemic happens, people can look back on our stories and realize what was different then versus now.”