The Pandemic at Home: Learning from Community-engaged Covid-19 Documentation Efforts in the Southeastern US
Cultural heritage institutions of all kinds around the world responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by launching community-engaged collecting efforts that solicited the submission of documents capturing the daily experience of an historically significant phenomenon. While the pandemic is global in scale, these collecting efforts document the impact of Covid-19 at local or regional levels. This article reports on research to better understand how cultural heritage institutions in the Southeastern United States have developed community-engaged collecting projects. Analyzing data collected from the public websites of 30 institutions, as well as semi-structured interviews with 10 cultural heritage professionals active in the Covid-19 documentation projects at these institutions, this research broadly characterizes the nature of these collecting efforts and surfaces key issues and challenges that have impacted the launch, development, and ongoing management of these collections. These collecting efforts have required the adaptation of existing workflows along with the acquisition of new skills and archival practices, particularly in the area of digital curation. As part of planning and managing these projects, practitioners have grappled with complex ethical questions about how to responsibly and equitably engage communities in the midst of a traumatic event. In both acquiring new skills and reframing an ethics of collecting, practitioners have turned to many sources for learning and growth; notably, communities of fellow practitioners involved in Covid-19 documentation projects have proven instrumental in sharing resources and discussing emergent issues and challenges.