The Connecticut Historical Society needs your help documenting life during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic

April 15, 2020 · CHS in the News

West Hartford resident Colleen Kearney lights candles outside her home participating in a neighborhood effort organized by Patti Albee in coordination with a national “Let There Be Light” event. The effort, organized via Facebook, asked people across the country to light a candle at 7 p.m. Wednesday to show support for healthcare workers on the front lines against the COVID-19 pandemic.(Mark Mirko / Hartford Courant)

Memes about time travelers stumbling into the unexpected events of 2020 abound on social media right now but 100 years from now how will historians tell the story? To document this historic moment, the Connecticut Historical Society is seeking stories, pictures and videos about life in Connecticut during the time of the coronavirus pandemic.

The historical society has launched an online portal – chs.org/covidinct – for Connecticut residents to give first-hand accounts of how life has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic started raging.

“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 the past, those would have been letters, journals, diaries. But people don’t write as much on paper anymore.

“We want to hear the special stories and feel the special emotions of the experience of living through trying times. That’s what makes history rich and alive,” Frank said. “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.”

The portal is open for use by people 18 and older. It requests not only writings about pandemic-related experiences, but also photos, drawings, paintings and short videos. The site, however, tells participants to not put themselves in danger capturing photos or videos.

Frank said when it is safe to do so, CHS also will be collecting materials – signs, posters, mailings, face masks, bottles of hand sanitizer, etc. – that reflect life during coronavirus.

“Right now we can’t collect those objects. The sanitizers and other things need to go to health care workers,” Frank said. “When the moment passes, we would love to add those objects to our collection.”

Frank said CHS did an exhibit a few years ago about World War I, which included a few items relating to the 1918-19 influenza pandemic.

“We realized that we didn’t have some objects about the flu that we would have loved to have, emergency hospital photos, photos of people in masks,” she said. “That inspired us now to make sure we got this out there as soon as we could. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to collect the images that historians will want 100 years from now.”

Frank said she is especially keen to get documentation of how people celebrate traditional spring holidays during a time of social distancing.

“Passover and Easter will be celebrated in completely different ways. Ramadan starts on April 23,” she said. “How will people maintain their cultural traditions?”

Susan Dunne can be reached at sdunne@courant.com.

The Connecticut Historical Society (www.CHS.org) is a private, not-for-profit educational organization that includes a museum, library, and the Edgar F. Waterman Research Center.  Founded in 1825, the CHS is the state’s official historical society and one of the oldest in the nation.  The CHS, a Smithsonian Affiliate, works to connect visitors to the story of Connecticut, and to help create a society that values historical perspective and understanding as essential tools in shaping communities and making informed decisions.  The museum’s collection exceeds four million items, which are available to the public onsite at One Elizabeth Street in Hartford, off-site at other locations, and online.

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The Connecticut Historical Society is closed to the public through August 18. All on-site programs and events are canceled during this time.
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