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Monthly Archives: April 2020

Enduring Xenophobia and COVID-19.

ROY Blog PhotoAlissa Roy is an undergraduate student majoring in history at USF Tampa with an interest in environmental history, memory, and ancient Egypt.

Enduring Xenophobia and COVID-19

The Chinese Historical Society of America Museum and their response during the covid-19 pandemic optimally threads past immigration themes and patterns with aspects of contemporary society. The CHSA Museum is uniquely positioned, with content intimately dealing with the legacy of Chinese immigration, situated within the context of COVID-19 – and the outbreak originating in China’s Province of Hubei. Due to these factors, the CHSA Museum has been extremely responsive in their online presence and content distribution throughout COVID-19.

Perhaps most imperative, is the CHSA response to current Xenophobia directed at Chinese Americans. posted an article titled, “Xenophobia Heightens” on February 18th, 2020. This article addresses the increased occurrence of physical violence, bullying, and racial profiling that is affecting Asian Americans during this time. The article reads, “The COVID-19 is the latest in the sad and sorry mistreatment of Asian American communities during public health scares.”[1] The Museum’s Instagram page also contains numerous posts along the same lines. On March 27th, their Instagram page posted about their partnering with San Francisco State University with a link ( to report xenophobic incidents, stating there are “almost 100 cases a day reported and growing.”[2]

Picture2On April 9th, their Instagram posted an anti-Asian American cartoon from the museums’ collection stating, “this tradecard from the 20th century perpetuate the underlying racism against Asian Americans and how issues back then are still reoccurring today.”[3]

Despite the hardships being endured by the CHSA Museum at this time, they continue to offer a variety of activities on their website and other platforms. MandoMeet, which would usually come together as a physical meeting to discuss and use the Mandarin language, has transitioned to incorporating resources on the website to sharpen Mandarin language skills while face-to-face conversations are not an option.[4] Additionally, the museum hosts an online roundtable discussion, or “book club” that anyone can sign up to participate in. The next “meeting” will occur on April 22nd from 3:00p.m. – 4:00p.m. and focuses on books, films, and tv shows, such as Finding Kukan, Netflix’s Tiger Tail, and The Woman Warrior to name a few.[5] Participants are also encouraged to discuss their favorite recipes and what they miss about visiting Chinatown, while San Franciscans are asked to shelter-in-place.[6] Additionally, on April 1st the website updated their policy regarding COVID-19 and the museum closure. The article states that they will remain closed through May 3rd, 2020 but hope to reopen by May 6th, 2020.[7] However, should this timeline change, they will continue to update these measures as needed.[8]

Picture1In conclusion, in the face of ongoing harassment and discrimination, Asian Americans and the CHSA Museum work to report xenophobic incidents and continue to educate the public about the pervasive effects of racism – both historically, and unfortunately, within contemporary society towards Asian American immigrants. Their unique position and incredible actions to combat racism and misinformation, like those of their brave predecessors, deserve a positive moment in the spotlight, amidst a plethora of negative and largely false media coverage.









COVID-19 and Pearl Harbor

odowdDaniel O’Dowd is a M.A. student at the University of South Florida, concentrating on European History in the Early Modern Period.

COVID-19 and Pearl Harbor

Much of the talk about the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has centered around comparisons to earlier national crises and the relative efficiency of the government and public response.  Some of the most common non-disease comparisons have been to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy on Pearl Harbor in 1941.  As the sites of these attacks have their own related museums and memorials, public memorialization of those events has been impacted by the current pandemic.  While the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor is a National Park Service administered site, the USS Missouri Memorial, the USS Bowfin Memorial and Museum, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum are all non-profits without direct government funding.  All of these sites have been closed since March 17th, following guidance from the CDC.  I wanted to take a look at how these sites were handling the pandemic and resulting closures, and to see if any of the parallels in public response to crises were being recognized by the museums themselves.

The Pearl Harbor National Memorial has been posting updates on Twitter, along with images from the memorial exhibits, referring to this as a #VirtualVisit. While there are some short videos about the exhibits available on the official website, these predate the current situation.  The @PearlHarborNPS account did promote a Zoom educational talk on April 8th featuring an eyewitness to the attack, which shows there is some effort being made at replacing events which would normally have been done in person.  As the memorial is government funded, there are no appeals for extra support from the public.

The Battleship Missouri Memorial is offering free guided virtual tours over Skype[1], although these tours are not a new COVID related effort and have been done for over a decade.  The Memorial does not appear to have made any special appeals for public support at this time.  The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park is still posting updates on Twitter but does not appear to have any new virtual content available.  However, the museum was undergoing substantial renovations prior to the pandemic, and while the submarine itself was still open to the public prior to March 17th much of the grounds and the main museum building had been closed and under construction since August 2019.  For this reason, the current disruption in attendance and income from the pandemic may be less keenly felt by the institution.

The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum has added a section to their website, called Pearl Harbor At Home,[2] to provide educational materials for parents at home with children during school closures.  In addition to materials that were available before the pandemic, the museum is offering web seminars over Zoom.  The museum is also making special appeals for donations, and offering discounted membership, to try to raise funds.  Using the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter and the WWII propaganda catchphrase “We Can Do It”, the museum is making appeals to patriotism and national civic identity to help drive support and try to keep spirits up.  It is interesting that this is the only one of the four main Pearl Harbor museums and memorials to do this, as I expected to see more attempts to appeal to WW2 patriotic sentiment in relation to the pandemic given how frequently the comparison is being made outside of the museum context, in news media and politics.



Public Health Meets Public History.

Miller 2Scott Miller is a PhD student at the University of South Florida. His area of concentration is 20th Century American history with a focus on the Cold War.

Public Health Meets Public History

While all museums have been impacted by COVID-19, for some its hit especially close to home. Across the country, health museums have had to wrestle with the same issues as other similar institutions— how to stage engaged with the public, layoffs and furloughs, etc. But they also feel an additional responsibility to educate their communities about this health crisis.

In Houston, The John R. McGovern Museum of Health & Medical Science, better known as The Heath Museum, has attracted over 2.5 million visitors. Just last fall, the Smithsonian Institution exhibit Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World opened at the museum. The exhibit reveals how infectious diseases emerge, how they spread so quickly and what scientists are doing to fight them. A review described entering the exhibit— “A mockup of a real-life pandemic response—complete with HAZMAT equipment and staging—will serve as the dramatic entrance to the very real world of life-threatening potential outbreaks.” Since closing on March 17, the Health Museum has been very engaged in the fight against COVID-19. Staff members have appeared on local television to discuss the virus and its webpage contains an impressive list of links to useful resources, everything from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the US Chamber: Resources to Assist Small Businesses. Both its Twitter and Facebook accounts have been very active, posting videos and articles on such topics as how to fight the social distancing blues to advice for caregivers treating COVID-19 patients. And just last week the museum hosted a four day blood drive and donated 3,000 face masks and 3,000 hand gloves from its DeBakey Cell Lab to a local hospital.

The National Museum of Health and Medicine (Silver Springs, Maryland) aims “to preserve, inspire, and inform the history, research, and advancement of military and civilian medicine through world-class collections, digital technology, and public engagement.” While the museum is currently closed, visitors to their website can tour several virtual exhibits, including Closing In On A Killer: Scientists Unlock Clues To The Spanish Influenza Virus. The exhibit gives the history of the 1918 epidemic and the work of Dr. Jeffrey Taubenberger to recreate the genetic structure of the virus in the 1990s.

According to its website, the Public Health Museum (Tewksbury, Massachusetts) “strives to preserve artifacts and records of our nation’s history in public health and serve as a resource to the community to educate and promote public health initiatives that address current health issues.” Among its current exhibits is an Infectious Diseases display that teaches how medical experts attacked previous infectious diseases and the impact of their work has on us today. The museum was forced to close on March 13, but has remained active on social media, posting several COVID-19 related articles and links to videos about hand washing and social distancing.

COVID-19 has driven these museums to shut their doors, but they still have found creative and important ways to serve their communities.


Covid-19 Closes the USS Constitution.

BursteinCheryl Burstein is pursing a Masters degree in history at the University of South Florida.

Covid-19 Closes the USS Constitution.

With the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, a great many of us have been asked to hibernate for at least for the next month, and public spaces throughout the country have been forced to close, including entertainment and educational venues. As such the museums around the country have been shuttered. Through my perusal of the internet, I found many of the larger museums and museums in larger cities are offering wonderful activities for families and students ranging from downloadable histories of the time period, to craft booklets, and videos. I would like to share with you one museum has done an excellent job creating their site for viewer engagement,The USS Constitution Museum in Boston, MA.

They announce their closure on their website’s front page and in the same announcement proclaim they can bring their museum to you. On this page is a list of areas on their site that “serve students and the public who are working remotely, we will provide complimentary access to additional content on our digital platforms for adults, children, educators, and students”. [1] There are resources for pre-k to adult visitors, from knot tying, sailor games, or being on a voyage. Photos of artifacts are easily accessible as are histories and stories shared by the current museum historian, Carl Herzog. The museum has included numerous videos not only to invite you into their museum but also aboard the Constitution, herself.  Their commitment to the museum’s mission of engaging all ages in the story of “Old Ironsides” to spark excitement about maritime heritage, naval service, and the American experience is well articulated in the on-line offerings.[2] There is so much to do and see on this site, it will surely help pass the time at home as we wait for the virus to depart.


[1]  page 1 “read more” prompt in top box

[2] Ibid.

Three Viennese Museums’ Responses to Covid-19. Three Natural History Museum Vienna.

ObermuellerAlexander Obermueller currently works on his Master’s thesis on the Raiford prison uprising of 1971. Before coming to USF he graduated from the University of Vienna and worked on a project on the Austrian Civil War.

@nhmwien Natural History Museum Vienna

A picture showing the closed but well lit facade of the natural history museum Vienna informs the public that the museum remains closed due to Covid 19. Like the Jewish Museum of Vienna the NHM staff invites visitors to visit the Google Arts&Culture page to investigate some objects of their collection like the famous figurine Venus of Willendorf, in closer detail. Hash tags like #cultureagainstcorona and #cultureintimesofcorona accompany the post from March 17th.

NHM staff posts regularly in English and German and uses already existing digital material like a video on the current exhibition concerned with the moon. Astronomer and astrophysicist Gabor Herbst-Kiss stresses that even astronauts have to go into quarantine in preparation for their venture into space. Highlights of the NHM’s collection like dinosaur skeletons and the mineral collection make a featured appearance on the institutions Instagram channel. Staff first references the new reality, namely social distancing, directly in a post on Bronze Age jewelry. Its spikes supposedly assist in the quest to keep a distance from potentially contagious peers.

With schools closed, NHM staff devised a format to entertain and inform kids about the museum’s collection. In the first colorful episode of a segment dubbed #NHMWienFromHome facilitator and educator Elli Jegel talks about unicorns. Donning a unicorn onesie, Jegel takes kids into the mythology of unicorns and ties the popular creature to the museum’s collection. Another educator with the NHM, Jasmin Hangartner, talks about ancient salt mines in the region of Upper Austria. After introducing the life of salt miners, Hangartner provides a recipe that archeologist came up with, after closely examining preserved left overs and human feces. Hangartner takes the audience through

the preparation of the dish called “Ritschert.” In doing so, Hangartner skillfully combines the necessity of cooking at home due to the Corona shelter in place regulations and historical knowledge usually presented at the NHM.

Irene Gianordoli addresses the viewer directly and starts her video off with a reference to protective facemasks she encountered on one of her rare trips outside. To engage children, who form a large part of NHM’s audience, Irene combines footage from the museum’s dinosaur hall with a how-to guide to create dinosaur sculptures out of toilet paper roles and fun dinosaur facemasks for kids to wear. Crafting miniature dinosaurs out of the left overs of the rare commodity toilet paper or facemasks provides children with an opportunity to make sense of the current situation while tying them to the museum. NHM staff usually uses these techniques during on site visits to engage their young audience. By moving them online in a worthwhile manner, they achieve the goal of engaging an absent audience and aid parents in their struggle to keep children occupied.

In the latest post, biologist Andreas Hantschk takes his audience to a pond, where he focuses on the mating season frogs and toads. After catching a toad and explaining its physique, Hantschk emphasizes the importance of protecting native species. NHM holds large collection of amphibian specimen that visitors are usually allowed to explore. Tying both the biologist’s fieldwork and the museum experience together, Hantschk stresses that visitors would soon be welcomed back to the NHM.

NHM chooses yet another approach to engage its audience during the Covid 19 shut down. By creating a series of videos aiming at children, an important segment of the museum’s audience, under the title NHMWienFromHome, museum staff certainly addresses Covid 19 but also tries to provide a framework suitable for children to make sense of the new reality. Unsurprisingly, different institutions respond to Covid 19 with their respective audiences in mind. Whereas the Jewish Museum sticks to its current exhibition and caters to an adult audience, the NHM clearly created its video series with its younger audience and their parents in mind.

Among the three museums under consideration only the Wien Museum varies its content depending on the respective platforms. Whereas the Jewish Museum and the NHM roll out every post in the same manner on Instagram and Facebook, the Wien Museum creates different posts for Facebook. Attuned to the possibility of longer reads, Wien Museum staff links to their blog where curators provide in depth analysis of historical parallels to the current situation.

Covid-19 and Presidential Libraries.

JoshJosh Sanders is a M.A. student at the University of South Florida. He majors in 20th Century American history with a minor in 19th Century American history.

Covid-19 and Presidential Libraries

As the United States reacts to the coronavirus, I have taken it upon myself to see how presidential museums and libraries have responded. I have been following their Twitter accounts to see how they have interacted with the public. Generally, there have been two standard responses. A few of these institutions have continued in their normal interactions with the public, tweeting out their usual “this day in history.” The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Libraryand Museum has not even acknowledged the pandemic on Twitter, instead maintaining its routine. The more common and expected response is the attempt to tie the current crisis to some crisis during their presidency. For example, the Fred W. Smith National Library has tied the coronavirus to various eighteenth century diseases George Washington would have dealt with. Even if there is not a direct correlation with disease, these institutions have taken this as an opportunity to tweet out inspirational quotes of national unity and perseverance during adversity. The most active of these accounts are Lincoln, Kennedy, and Reagan, with their institutions tweeting inspirational quotes daily.

The most unique response has been that of the George W. Bush Center. Along with the typical inspirational quote, the Bush Center’s Twitter account is actively responding to the coronavirus outbreak. Rather than making a historical parallel to the uncertainty of the 9/11 aftermath, this institution has taken it upon itself to respond to the current crisis. In fact, they have made no correlation to 9/11 thus far. Instead, members of the Bush Center are writing about how to respond to the coronavirus. According to an article posted on March 19th: “Whether it’s reading lists to help with educating children from home, or teleworking tips to make your life easier, or insight from the unique perspective of Bush Institute experts on leadership during trying times, we’re working to provide a helpful, optimistic response to the unique times we’re experiencing together.” For the past several days, multiple times per day, their Twitter account has posted articles promoting social distancing, giving tips for online schooling, and suggesting activities to keep one busy at home.

This coronavirus activism seems out of place, especially in comparison to other presidential museums and libraries. However, I decided to take a look at how Dallas (where the Bush Center is located) was reacting to the pandemic. The local governments within the Dallas-Fort Worth area have been struggling to respond. A few days ago, a county judge threatened to overturn a stay-at-home order, believing it to be too strict. The McKinney mayor, George Fuller, said that he would ignore the judge’s rule and enforce it anyways. Another example is the mayor claiming on March 31 that citizens were ignoring social distancing measures by going to parks in large groups. As of April 3, Dallas county has extended its stay-at-home order until May 20. However, it seems that the struggle with the local government and actions of citizens was a cause of concern for those at the Bush Center. Since the local government was not responding efficiently enough, the Bush Center took it upon itself to actively respond to the pandemic. The Bush Center perhaps sees its role to engage with the community and provide materials to respond to the coronavirus that was lacking from the local government. It will interesting to see if the Bush Center continues tweeting coronavirus articles, or will it lessen now that the government has stepped in.

CV19 and the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site in Buffalo, NY.

Miller 2Scott Miller is a PhD student at the University of South Florida. His area of concentration is 20th Century American history with a focus on the Cold War.

The Strenuous Life of a Historic Site

April 18, 1906. 5:12 a.m. San Francisco, California. An earthquake rocks the city to its core.  When the shaking stops, a massive fire breaks out. When the smoke clears, 28,000 buildings are destroyed, half of the city’s 400,000 residents are homeless and an estimated 3,000 people are dead.  4,500 miles away, President Theodore Roosevelt immediately grasped the gravity of the situation. “At this moment I am much taken up with trying to do whatever can be done to help the poor people of California in the midst of the awful disaster that has befallen San Francisco. It is a terrible calamity,” he writes his son Kermit. Roosevelt establishes the precedent of direct White House involvement to aid major disasters; his approves a Congressional appropriation of $2.5 million and makes a public appeal for donations to the American Red Cross.

More than a century later, the nation is again stricken by a national crisis. Its effects are being felt throughout country. Including the very building where TR was sworn in as President, following the assassination of President McKinley.

Since it opened its doors in September 1971, the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site has been one of Buffalo’s historical treasures. But for years it was lost amongst the city’s other more high-profile landmarks, such as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Pierce Arrow Museum.  However, the last several years have seen it become one of the area’s premiere historical attractions. A key to the museum’s recent success has been an emphasis on widening its appeal through public programs. Such events as Speaker, Vintage Game and TRivia nights have been successfully attracting a new more diverse audience.

But with the corona virus forcing its closure, site leaders quickly regrouped and devised a new strategy. I spoke with Executive Director Stanton H. Hudson, Jr. to discuss their game plan.  He shared that several years ago they created a virtual tour of the museum that can be viewed through their website. But recently, they’ve been working to take things to the next level with the TR VR Tour. The new tour takes items from their collection (artifacts, newspapers articles, interactive exhibits) and incorporates them into a high-definition virtual reality tour geared towards school children. They also have developed corresponding lesson plans for teachers. The original idea was to make it accessible to local school districts later this year.  But with recent world events, they’ve decided to make what they have available to more than just to schools, but the general community. They plan to get the TR VR Tour up on their website shortly.

In a move that may surprise some, Hudson hopes to begin airing local television commercials.  The spots will direct viewers to their website to experience the virtual tour, with the hook of “watch the virtual tour, than book your actual tour.”  Hudson hopes these commercials drive more than just educators and students to the website, but also the general public.

To keep in touch with the more than 4,000 people on their contact list, the site will start sending out a weekly newsletter. Each newsletter will highlight a program the museum is running during its closure.  For example, the first newsletter will announce on the premiere of the TR VR Tour. The second newsletter will focus on previous Speaker Nite presentations that will be made available to view online. Besides keeping them informed, at the bottom of each newsletter will be a link that allows members to renew their membership or make a donation.

According to Hudson, the site will also be stepping up its social media presence.  Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday they will be rolling out new content. For example, this past Tuesday they posted on Facebook— “Quarantine Conversation: If you were stuck at a home with Alice Roosevelt Longworth, what would you talk about?” They hope that by having set social media days it will become appointment reading for their followers.

The site’s Deputy Director/Curator Lenora Henson is also working to save the popular Speaker Nite event. In addition to topics relating to Theodore Roosevelt’s 1901 inauguration and his presidency, speakers in this series discuss topics that were significant during TR’s time and remain relevant today. Henson is exploring the possibility of conducting the presentations remotely through a video conferencing program.

All museum’s efforts to stay relevant take on greater significance because next year it celebrates its 50th anniversary.  While Hudson and the staff’s primary focus is on current events, they already have an eye on next year’s celebrations. They realize all their work now is vital to making the golden anniversary truly golden.











COVID-19 and the Tenement Museum.

ROY Blog PhotoAlissa Roy is an undergraduate student majoring in history at USF Tampa with an interest in environmental history, memory, and ancient Egypt.

Blurring the Lines Between “Us” and “Them”

As an immigration museum, theLower East Side Tenement Museums’ purpose of providing meaningful discussions surrounding both historical and contemporary immigration and migration through exhibits, tours of homes and their surrounding neighborhoods, panel discussions, and their Your Story Our Story national project, was not catalyzed by covid-19. However, their mission eludes to a valuable connection to these rich histories, at a time where citizens across the world are rapidly migrating across state lines and countries by the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in an effort to reunite with family or to simply find safety. The Tenement Museums’ website reads, “HELP THE TENEMENT MUSEUM SURVIVE.”[1] While survival has become precarious for individuals and businesses alike, perhaps the silver lining to this situation is that it offers a chance for introspection within the U.S., toward what people have and continue to endure for the protection or betterment of themselves, their families, and safety. “While it may at times be easy to see the gaps between “us” and “them,” a closer look reveals how these newest citizens demonstrate the human spirit of our nation’s ideals.”[2]

Perusing the Tenement Museums’ website, it is quite palpable that the Your Story Our Story national project holds infinite meaning that is only magnified during the covid-19 pandemic. This curated online collection displays objects and stories submitted by groups, organizations, immigrants, and their families, “uncover[ing] patterns and differences of our experiences across the country.”[3] Currently, they are astutely highlighting individuals’ stories of “community resilience, health, medicine, and comfort.”[4] One can read about Lillian Chan, whose grandmother emigrated from China, in 1996.[5] When Lillian was not feeling well, her grandmother would apply tiger balm, a traditional Chinese salve that helped her to feel better.[6] It’s scent reminds her of her still.[7] Or perhaps about the medicine bottle found on the floor of the “Levine Apartment,” distributed by the Eastern & Good Samaritan Dispensary. “Dispensaries were municipally funded, medical walk-in facilities offering free or low-cost care to the poor.”[8] The aforementioned stories resonate during a time when we are quickly becoming intimate with the precarious nature of health and wellness during times of pandemic, and can even offer insight towards how to help our communities, perhaps with reduced costs to individuals who suffer from covid-19 – as did the historical dispensaries before us.

Irish immigrants throughout most of the 19th century, made up the bulk of those living in the tenement houses on the lower east side.[9] An gorta mór, or the Great Famine, was caused by a fungal disease phytophthora infestans, leaving 2.1 million Irish to flee the country – many of whom immigrated to America to avoid starving to death.[10] The Tenement Museum deals intimately with the history of these peoples and other immigrants who came to America for numerous reasons, not the least of which included survival. The Tenement Museum clearly hopes to thread this palpable connection by highlighting stories that hold significant meaning in contemporary society. The Tenement Museum has released member-only content to the public for digital viewing, provided remote learning activities such as reading or writing activities including oral histories, photographs, and videos, and allow you to virtually tour the museum content and more.[11] In order to survive it is essential for museums and other businesses to adapt – or risk closing their doors forever.[12] And perhaps, rather than isolating their message as a thing of the past, we need to fully recognize the value the immigrant experience brings to contemporary society. While we all attempt to remain safe and to protect those we love from covid-19 – whether that means fleeing New York for Florida, or wherever else, the lines between “us” and “them” might blur, so as to make one indistinguishable from the other. Isn’t it about time?

[1] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[2] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[3] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[4] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[5] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[6] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[7] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[8] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[9] Kenny, Kevin. The American Irish: A History. (Great Britain: Pearson Education Limited, 2000).

[10] Kenny, Kevin. The American Irish: A History. (Great Britain: Pearson Education Limited, 2000).

[11] The Tenement Museum, 2020, accessed April 3, 2020,

[12] Vagnone, Franklin and Ryan, Deborah. Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums. (Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press Incorporated, 2016).

Capturing COVID-19

Miller 2Scott Miller is a PhD student at the University of South Florida. His area of concentration is 20th Century American history with a focus on the Cold War.

Capturing COVID-19

“For several days there were no coffins and the bodies piled up something fierce, we used to go down to the morgue (which is just back of my ward) and look at the boys laid out in long rows. It beats any sight they ever had in France after a battle.” This is an excerpt from a letter written by a doctor stationed at Camp Davens (Massachusetts) during the 1918 influenza epidemic. Letters, diaries, and photographs from that period have provided historians with invaluable insight into the pandemic that took over 20 million lives.

As the world wrestles with a new pandemic, historians around the world are mobilizing to document this crisis for future generations. A recent New York Times article discussed how museums in such countries as Finland, Denmark and Switzerland are scurrying to record history as it unfolds.[1] The staff at Denmark’s Vesthimmerlands Museum have been busy capturing  photographs of the empty streets and shut down stores.  Museum curator Maria Hagstrup is quoted as saying, “Usually, we think of a museum as a place with objects behind solid glass. But right now, we have a chance to get people’s impressions in the moment, before they’ve even had time to reflect on them.”  When it is safe, the museum also hopes to collect objects relevant to the pandemic.

Here in the United States, several historical associations are reaching out to the public for help recording current events.

The Connecticut Historical Society has created a portal for residents to upload their personal stories, photographs and drawings. “We are living in historic times. We recognize that primary source material is the ingredient that history is made of,” said Ilene Frank, chief curator of the historical society in a recent interview. “One hundred years from now, people will be able to study the statistics about how many businesses closed, how many people got sick. We want the human touch, capturing the experience of living during this time.”[2]

Minnesota’s Historical Society isn’t new to documenting history in the moment. In 2016, following the death of native son Prince, the Society collected residents’ stories and photographs of the musical legend. Today, they are requesting COVID-19 related digital submissions— stories, images, sound files, or moving images.  Some selected material will be posted on social media, and some preserved at the History Center.

The Maryland Historical Society has created Collecting in Quarantine. The initiative consists of two parts. The first,  Letters from the Homefront, is asking Marylanders to email their first-person accounts of how this pandemic is affecting their lives. The Business Unusual element is requesting photographs to tell the economic impact side of this crisis.




COVID-19 and Mount Vernon

thumbnail_Rebekah_MunsonRebekah Munson is a graduate student at the University of South Florida with a major focus on Medieval Sicily and a minor focus on Digital Bioarchaeology. During her time in graduate school she has worked on numerous digital archaeological projects and currently is the editorial assistant for The Historian.

Global Time of Crisis and Museums: A Frontline View.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shifted many factors of daily life in different directions and restructured how people are able to work, shop, travel, and participate in typical life events. As social distancing has become a new normal for many, with many working remotely, standard operating procedures have shifted. This is especially interesting as it pertains to museums because they fill a unique niche in society, and each museum has its own mission whether it is a living history museum or a fine art museum. While the focus of any given museum is different, they are typically institutions who seek to educate and inform the public of a variety of facets of the human condition from science and nature to history to art. Many famous museums have taken steps to put their collections online so that people anywhere have access to their collections from the safety of their home. Hosting collections online, however, is a very topical look at how museums and their staff are handling this global crisis. To further understand what is happening on the front lines with museum staff during this transition, I spoke with Megan Little who is a collections technician at Mount Vernon, the mansion of George Washington.

RM: What is your role (at Mount Vernon), and what do you do when there is not a pandemic? ML: My title is Collections Technician so, basically, I help take care of the objects on the estate. Normally it’s me and three assistant collections managers (we call them ACMs) who clean the mansion every day as well as handle any object movements, inventory, and etcetera.

RM: How has the time of crisis shifted the role or focus of your museum?

ML: The crisis has not really shifted the role or focus of the museum, rather it has shifted how the mission is shared. People are still learning about George Washington and his home, just not in person through guided tours and visits.

RM: Were there any plans in place in case of some type of major crisis?

ML: There is already a disaster plan for any major crisis that has procedures for crisis.

RM: What is the museum doing during this time? (in terms of programming, increased online presence/content, etc.)

ML: The museum is mainly concentrating on outreach through online platforms. There are live streams with the President of the estate on Facebook and Instagram where he discusses the history of one particular room in the mansion (he lives on the estate so he can walk over) as well as live videos with education staff members from their homes where they answer questions from the public. These videos concentrate on different topics and time periods relevant to George Washington.

RM: Did you have any mechanisms to help you improvise and shift operations and procedures? Have they been useful? Why or why not?

ML: We are lucky enough to be a larger museum, so we have more tools and staff available to make the shift easier. As far as specific tools and procedures, I would say that the fact that we

have our own departments such as IT and security has been useful and made the transition smoother as all the directions have been coordinated and the same.

RM: How has the transition been to working from home?

ML: The shift to working at home has been equally difficult and easy. As a collections staff member, I am used to working with the objects: cleaning, inventory, etc. While working from home gives me the chance to catch up on paperwork and other desk work, I miss the hands-on aspect of my job. So at least for me, the hard part has been adjusting to how my job has temporarily shifted to something more remote.

During this time of crisis, it is important to not only think of the role that museums are playing through their online content to stay relevant and providing a platform of accessibility to those who are unable to visit these sites in person – due to quarantine, finances, or disabilities among other reasons – but also to pay attention to those who are facilitating this shift on the front lines. Without the front-line staff, none of this would be possible.

For content from Mount Vernon, follow them on Instagram.

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