Brooklyn Historical Society solicits COVID-19 material for new archive collection

Window rainbow
A rainbow in a window in Brooklyn Heights honoring essential workers.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

The Brooklyn Historical Society is asking Brooklynites to submit materials related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which the archivists hope will provide a snapshot into the tumultuous era of the viral outbreak in the borough.

“We wanted to do this project to collect these materials that are new and unusual, but also just these everyday items now, to document the tremendous impact of COVID-19 on our daily life in Brooklyn,” said Maggie Schreiner, the society’s manager of archives and special collections.

The COVID-19 Project launched at the end of April when the history buffs asked Kings Countians to send in photos, videos, recordings, or writings related to the coronavirus outbreak that capture life during the pandemic — and they’ve since received almost 300 submissions, Schreiner said.

The objects so far include photos of life during the pandemic, such as people wearing masks, children learning remotely, do-it-yourself haircuts, and a passover meal held via the teleconferencing app Zoom.

There have also been plenty of written documents, including reflections and poetry, Schreiner said.

So far they’re only soliciting objects digitally, due to the pandemic, but they plan to also accept physical objects and eventually oral history interviews, according to the archivist.

People can also send a picture of the objects they would like to add to the collection by email, and the materials might make it into the society’s permanent collection and future exhibits, Schreiner said.

They hope to be able to show what it was like both for people who quarantined at home and the many essential workers who still had to venture out to their jobs risking their lives daily, she said.

“This will allow future Brooklynites and researchers to understand what the daily reality of living during this pandemic was like,” Schreider said.

The organization has done similar calls for artifacts during recent historical events like Hurricane Sandy and the 2016 presidential election.

A longer list of possible submissions — digital or physical — from BHS’s website includes:

  • Artifacts
  • Artistic reflections (e.g. rainbow artwork)
  • Business and restaurant signage about closures, fundraising initiatives, social distancing measures, and amended menus
  • Government issued posters, reports, and decrees concerning public health and safety
  • Grocery store lists and receipts
  • Housing-related material, such as rent abatements, strikes and eviction notices
  • Local and mutual aid organizations’ flyers, newsletters, mass mailings, records, and reports
  • Lesson plans and other educational material related to remote learning and homeschooling
  • Personal correspondence and journals
  • Photographs of closed businesses, hospitals and temporary medical facilities, social distancing, homeschooling, and religious activity
  • Video and audio diaries, journal entries, and reflections

Those wishing to make a submission, can do so either via the BHS’s online form, or by emailing library@brooklynhistory.org. For more information, visit www.brooklynhistory.org/covid-19-project.