Documenting the Moment

We are currently living through an historic moment. The COVID-19 pandemic — and the extraordinary measures the world is taking in response to it — have vastly impacted our lives. Future historians will likely study not only this moment, but its long-term impact.

As an archivist, my thoughts go to documentation. How will the historians of future generations learn about not only the responses of government, but the impact on individual lives? What can we do now to record our stories in ways that might end up in archives?


Write down your experiences.

Journaling – daily, weekly, monthly – is a great way to document personal and historic moments. My personal love of paper and physical writing means that I have fancy journals. But basic loose leaf, notebooks, even blank computer paper are perfectly fine.

The plus with journals and ruled paper is that we know a great deal about how to preserve these materials for a long time. If words aren’t your thing, illustrations can also be important sources of information.

One of the biggest issues archivists face today is the nature of our current documentation – how can we collect and preserve digital content? But the profession is working on it, so if typing on a computer is best for you – do that.

writing implements

Write to your friends and family.

Correspondence have always been fantastic sources of information for historians. We may not think about the future of our personal emails and birthday cards, but they could end up in archives one day. Traditional notecards and snail mail are great ways to reach out, but emails are as well. Look at the email system you are using and consider creating a folder to consolidate your emails from this time period.

The author’s home setup

Take pictures.

Use your phone, use your cameras, take pictures of your daily life. If you have a polaroid camera and film,use that every once in awhile for a physical photograph to add to the potential record.

Save your social media

Don’t overlook the potential historical benefit of social media. As with digital records, the preservation of social media content is an issue of continuing discussion among archivists. But these platforms do have huge potential for understanding us and our world 100years from now.

For many people, posting on social media regularly about their experiences may be far easier than pulling out a journal or even opening Word on their computer. If later you want to collect your story through your social media, think about taking screen shots and saving the images as jpg or tiff files. Use hashtags. Hashtags could help archives or museums looking to preserve the social media output to select pertinent posts.

Many museum and archives are beginning to launch programs to collect personal experiences of people throughout the country. If you are interested, visit the websites of your local institutions to see what documentation initiatives they may have underway.

Text and images by Jennifer Vess, The Brooke Dolan Archivist, the Academy’s Library and Archives

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One comment

  1. This Spring Our feeders have attracted downy woodpeckers, white-crested sparrows; all regulars. On May 14th a rose-breasted grosbeak appeared. (western New York)

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