Brighid Pulskamp has made hundreds of face masks for the people of the Navajo Nation. The tribe lives in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. Pulskamp wants us to remember how the Navajo handled the pandemic. “Our people are resilient,” she told TIME for Kids.
Pulskamp has donated masks to a museum. The Autry Museum of the American West is in Los Angeles, California. In April, it put out a call for contributions. It asked for face masks, family recipes, and stories about how people were living through the pandemic.
The Autry is not alone. Museums everywhere are collecting items. When the pandemic is over, things like hand sanitizer and grocery lists will become valuable to historians. These ordinary objects will tell the story of how we experienced this life-changing event.
Eventually, museums hope to collect things like medical equipment and social-distancing signs. For now, they’re mostly collecting digital artifacts, like photographs.
Maria Hagstrup is a curator at Vesthimmerlands Museum, in Denmark. Lockdown began there in March 2020. Hagstrup grabbed her camera. “I walked around, taking photos of what did not happen!” she says.
In Hagstrup’s photos and in others sent to her museum, cities are deserted. There was a “feeling of great loneliness” everywhere, she says. But there were lighter moments, too: “A dentist in equipment that looks like something from space,” she says. “Or people singing from their balconies.”
The California Historical Society (CHS) has asked people to share their stories. Some are from kids. Xiomara, 13, is from Marina, California. She describes staying home during the pandemic. She has missed her grandmother. “I like to let her know that I love her,” she writes. “I could do that through the phone, but it’s just not the same as hugging someone and spending the day with them.”
Frances Kaplan is a librarian and archivist at CHS. She says stories like Xiomara’s will help future generations understand the emotional impact of the pandemic. “People are not shying away from personal details,” she says.
That’s what museums are counting on. “History is made by ordinary people and their everyday lives,” Aaron Bryant says. He’s a curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C. “Even ordinary things”—like face masks—“can reflect history in an important way.”
What’s Your Story?
How has your life changed during the pandemic? Historians want to know how people are spending their time, what challenges they face, and what brings them moments of joy.
Libraries, historical societies, and museums in your area might have websites where you can submit your account of pandemic life. You may also be able to share pictures of pandemic-related objects. These might include grocery lists or art projects you’ve created while at home.