Atlanta's Plaza Theater marquee features coronavirus messages. This image is among the artifacts collected by the Atlanta History Center to document life during the pandemic.
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Atlanta's Plaza Theater marquee features coronavirus messages. This image is among the artifacts collected by the Atlanta History Center to document life during the pandemic.

The Atlanta History Center has launched an online platform for the public to help document the history of the coronavirus. 

GPB’s Rickey Bevington spoke with Atlanta History Center CEO Sheffield Hale, who began the conversation by describing what historical artifacts they're looking to collect. 

 GPB's Rickey Bevington speaks with Atlanta History Center CEO Sheffield Hale about the center's Corona Collective, where people can submit artifacts documenting their experience living through the coronavirus pandemic.

Sheffield Hale: We're looking for items that people find iconic already with respect to this pandemic and the quarantine that we're all now living through. And other items that are mundane, that they don't necessarily think are iconic, but may be the real "tells" later on. Everything from signs, ways people reach out to other people. It could be the way that people are trying to help waitstaff at restaurants. I mean, there are a lot of things that we've never thought about before, that are happening, that future generations will resonate with them about what we went through at this time.  

Rickey Bevington: I'm thinking of things like homemade lesson plans for your kids who can't go to school. Things that you don't necessarily think of as history but that will be really interesting in the future.  

Hale: Well, everything from that to homemade masks. For example, yesterday I saw a mask, which was a University of Alabama mask. People are coming up with creative ways to improvise. Those are the kinds of things that will tell about, well, why were people having to create masks? Why do we not have enough masks? Why did we not think about that? Or was it completely unforeseeable? Will we have masks in the future? Will that be standard operating procedure? Finding items like we have today and sequestering them for future generations to be able to sort through and determine whether or not they're of interest and are telling about our society.  

Bevington: But you also want digital items.  

Hale: Absolutely. And we've opened up our web site where you can submit photographs or, you know, obviously something that are infinitely interesting. Videos, pictures of all of these tangible artifacts, in addition to the tangible artifacts, in their location. How are they used? We want you to reflect on what is going on in your community now. See if you can stand back and the from the middle of the maelstrom and take a look around and see what you find. 

Bevington: History is often told through the biases of the people telling it. How are you ensuring that this collection represents everyone's version of what happened, so to speak? 

Hale: We' re calling this crowd collecting and we're trying to cast as wide a net as possible and the Internet is as a great catchment basin for artifacts and for stories. This is an incredibly important time and we're all living through it. Let's think about that and then think about what you might want to be able to save to indicate what you went through. 

Bevington: What are the advantages to documenting history as it's happening rather than after the fact?  

Hale: We have a maxim, "That which is the most common will be the most uncommon later on." The things that you don't think about in the present, that are just part of your everyday life, are the ones that are most likely to disappear. And so if we can take this period of time to collect items that seem mundane those items will be particularly appreciated by collectors in the future.  

Bevington: Are there disadvantages to trying to do this now?  

Hale: Well, the disadvantages are that you aren't able to predict the future and know what's interesting and you might over-collect. But I would rather err on over-collecting, at this point, and letting future generations make that decision, than under-collecting because we don't have the perspective to know what's going to be important in the future.  

Bevington: Right now, we're looking back to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 - 1919. What do historians wish they had more documentation of from that era that we can be sure to collect now, as you say, for future generations?  

Hale: It would be really interesting to know more about the efforts at social distancing that went on at that period. There's been a lot of talk about how people didn't talk afterwards about that pandemic as much because they felt like they maybe had been embarrassed by the fact that they hadn't reached out to their fellow citizens as much as they should have. We don't have the documentation with respect to that to say if that's true or not. We don't have masks from that period. How did they deal with it? A lot of it just went unrecorded.  

 

From the Corona Collective website:

 

If you’re having a hard time thinking of things that you or your family might be able to contribute, here are some topics to kickstart your brainstorming:

 

Medical Professionals: How has your work changed? What are your concerns for yourself and your family? What innovations have you seen or worked with?

Service & Safety Personnel: How have your work procedures and practices shifted? How are you staying safe? Have you received support from your community?

Local Businesses: How have you changed your offerings? How has your business changed? What support are you getting? How will this impact you long term?

Education: Teachers and students, how have you changed how your approach learning? What are your struggles/triumphs? How are you dealing with this change to your learning community? How did your school, college, or university respond?

Leisure & Recreation: How are you handling social interactions during this time? Have you learned a new skill or hobby? What have you spent your leisure time on?

Neighbors: How are your neighbors supporting each other? What changes have been made to current social offerings? Have your relationships with your neighbors changed?

Caregivers: How has your work changed? What resources have been made available to you?

Travel: Have you had a trip cancelled or changed? How are your future travel plans changing? Have you traveled during the outbreak? What changes have you seen in the travel sector?

Home & Garden: What changes to your home or garden have happened during this time? How are you using your extra time at home? What have you learned about yourself?

Pregnancy & Child Care: How has your day-to-day changed? How has your partner supported you? Are you homeschooling?

Recipes, Cooking, & Food Delivery: How are you chowing down? Have you taken this opportunity to hone kitchen skills? What food services are you supporting? How has your relationship to food changed?