Museums across the UK are gathering objects and accounts that reflect people’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This dress ensemble, worn by Queen Victoria in mourning for the Duke of Clarence, is one of the objects in the Museum of London’s collection that reflects the impact that past epidemics have had on London. [Image: © Museum of London]

The Museum of London was one of the first institutions to announce such plans. Its collections already include artefacts relating to previous outbreaks of disease that have been faced by the capital, and their impact on society and culture, among them the dress worn by Queen Victoria to mourn her grandson, who died of influenza in 1892. The institution is now looking for objects and first-hand accounts reflecting the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on three different areas: the transformation of physical spaces in London; the effects on the social and working lives of the city’s residents, including key workers; and the experiences of children and young people. Collecting for the new project will begin at a later date; individuals and organisations who would like to donate objects should get in touch on Twitter (@MuseumofLondon) or by email ([email protected] london.org.uk).

The Science Museum Group is collecting digital content and objects that reflect medical, scientific, and cultural responses to the outbreak. Again, formal acquisition is not currently taking place, but some items that have already been donated are being stored at the Science Museum, while others are being kept by donors until they can be safely added to the collection. Several other institutions, including Leeds Museums and Galleries, the Museum of the Home, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, and the Museum of Ordinary People are also collecting personal accounts and images that highlight people’s experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic, both positive and negative.

While few museums are in a position to respond to the situation at present, many are instead considering future collection. Discussions are also taking place about the best way to approach contemporary collecting, with institutions such as the UK Museums Association (www.museums association.org/ethics/03042020-code-of-ethics-covid-19-contemporary-collecting-statement), the Wellcome Collection (https://wellcome.ac.uk/press-release/wellcome-statements-novel-coronavirus-covid-19), and the London Transport Museum (www.ltmuseum.co.uk/assets/downloads/Contemporary_collecting_toolkit.pdf) offering guidance on collecting COVID-19 material in an ethical, sensitive, and respectful way.


This news article appears in issue 364 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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