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Missouri History Museum seeks stories ‘Stories of the Pandemic’ for a new digital display

The Missouri Historical Society [MHS], which operates the Missouri History Museum, the MHS Library & Research Center, and Soldiers Memorial Military Museum, is asking residents of the St. Louis region to share stories of how they are responding to COVID-19.

The new initiative titled Stories of the Pandemic: A St. Louis COVID-19 Digital Archive asks the public to submit written stories or upload a photo or video that illustrates how they are responding to the pandemic via an online form.

“Natural and human-made disasters are part of history, and history is made every day,” said Angela Dietz, director of digital initiatives for the Missouri Historical Society. “The stories and images collected as part of this digital archive may be valuable to future researchers, scientists, and historians seeking to understand the full community impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Collecting stories and images helps to deepen our perspective of how the pandemic is affecting individuals, resulting in a more inclusive understanding of this historical event.”

A digital archive is an informal collection of community contributions [digital stories, photos, videos, audio, or scans of documents] that help tell a story of an unfolding event or a moment in history, as well as serving as a way for a community to share a collective experience. The MHS team will curate these stories and share some of the submissions on social media and on their website, mohistory.org. Some of the submissions may be considered for addition to the Missouri Historical Society’s permanent collections.

“During disasters, museums often serve as places for communities to gather and our work always functions to preserve community memory,” said Dr. Frances Levine, president of the Missouri Historical Society. “This is especially true during a time when the community is unable to come together physically. We hope this digital archive will foster community engagement, serving as a way for people to share, connect and reflect.”

Any and all observations relating to how the St. Louis area is responding to the pandemic are welcome. Submission suggestions include:

  • A photo of a sign announcing a business closure
  • Experiences working from home or not being allowed to work from home 
  • Ruminations on social distancing or sheltering in place
  • Stories of community engagement and resilience
  • Experiences with the healthcare system

Stories of the Pandemic: A St. Louis COVID-19 Digital Archive is the first phase in the Missouri Historical Society’s collecting response to COVID-19. In the future, MHS hopes to collect 3-D objects that aid in telling the story of the pandemic.

“A regular part of a curator’s job is to meet with individuals about items they are considering donating to permanent collections — many of these meetings are in-person,” said Dietz. “In-person meetings are not feasible at this time due to the necessity of social distancing, additionally we feel allowing more time to pass could give us the perspective needed to collect meaningful objects.”

Currently, the Missouri Historical Society is not actively collecting physical items related to COVID-19, however, MHS encourages people to consider what 3-D objects related to the pandemic they might hold on to and donate at a later date. One example is physical, written diaries for the archival collection. Diaries are hugely important for understanding the past and MHS encourages adults and children to keep diaries of their experiences during this time that they might donate in the future.

“How the St. Louis story is told is dependent upon what is collected and preserved right now,” said Levine. “We consider it our mission to actively collect oral histories and physical objects relating to current events in order to preserve history for future generations.”

To contribute to Stories of the Pandemic: A St. Louis COVID-19 Digital Archive, visit mohistory.org/stories-of-the-pandemic-a-st-louis-covid-19-digital-archive.

For more information on artifact donation, visit mohistory.org/about/policies-and-guidelines/artifact-donation.

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