Since the New-York Historical Society’s founding in 1804, the museum has collected materials in response to current events. The founders, who had experienced the American Revolution firsthand, believed that citizens needed to actively preserve the artifacts of their own historical moment. The historical society is continuing that sentiment today with its efforts to save objects related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The New-York Historical Society is calling for donations that relate to all aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic as a part of its History Responds initiative. Three divisions of the historical society are seeking different kinds of objects. The Patricia D. Klingenstein Library is collecting paper ephemera including handbills, signs, applications forms, and more. The Museum Division seeks objects and images, as well as their related stories. Objects may range from medical supplies and household items that reflect quarantine to public art projects. The historical society’s education department is asking for young people to submit diary entries about their experiences under quarantine.
Curators at the historical society have perceived the challenges of collecting during the pandemic. Social distancing measures have changed our relationship to physical objects; people are more cautious about touching things and implementing strict cleaning regimes. The pandemic has also limited the amount of pubic outreach the historical society is able to do. However, curators look forward to connecting with donors and gathering objects when it is safe to do so.
The History Responds project began in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The historical society’s then-president Kenneth T. Jackson called on the staff to continue their work in the wake of the attacks. Jackson observed that “there was little time to collect the debris that was littering downtown streets—trash to some, but treasure to us.” Since then, New-York Historical Society has collected objects related to Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter protests, Women’s Marches, and the Climate Strike, among others. The aim of the project is to preserve these artifacts as research sources and to use in future exhibitions.
More information about donating objects related to COVID-19 the the New-York Historical Society can be found here.