How Will We Remember COVID-19?

By Colleen Boken

Throughout my time in college history and art history courses, I wondered after reading diaries, newspaper articles and other primary source materials, how would our current system of information gathering, with a massive amount of social media, a political climate unlike what has been seen before, and a radical changing of faith, would cope with an event of such significant magnitude.  

One might argue that we already know, given that in 2001, an event that rattled the United States as a whole changed the very fabric of how we travel. Yet, 9/11 was now almost 19 years ago, in an age when Macs looked like this (and they STILL HAD A CD PLAYER)!

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(Image via Wikipedia by Marcin Wichary)

Also, Facebook was still 3 years before launch, in a time before MySpace was even created. 9/11 was also a distinctly American event. Sure, security around the world changed, but no other country remembers 9/11 in the same way. Even people outside of New York, Pennsylvania, or DC remember it best because of the news coverage. Lastly, let’s not forget that kids right out of college now, born in 1996, barely remember, if at all, the event as a whole. Our entire student body is full of individuals who will now remember the COVID-19 quarantine as the defining historical event of their youth. It’s sufficient to say that the world this generation is entering into is not necessarily one of war, but one of health and politics.  

One must ask then; how will the historians of the future remember the events of the present? Admittedly, it is difficult to determine as history is not about predicting the future but instead making sense of the past. However, by applying a lens to our current situation, perhaps we can make some sense as to our present. 

Information is key to understanding any situation. The main issue of the past is that few people left remarks behind, and photo evidence can often leave us wanting more. Many people existed without leaving more than a passing note in a census of their very existence. We can only determine how things were by what was left by those individuals. In many of these cases, only the very wealthy were able to leave records that we could look back upon. 

Yet with the rise of social media, and sites such as the Wayback Machine, archives are becoming flooded with the digital realm. Take, for example, my Instagram. Over the course of the five years I’ve had my Instagram, I’ve posted at least 1,654 photos. Many of the places I’ve taken pictures of likely had never been preserved in such a way, such as this view of a nearly empty toilet paper aisle at the start of quarantine. Before the age of rapid digital photography and social media, images such as these would have no real purpose to exist. Now people can share images like this with the world. 

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(Photo by author in New London, CT)

It is not just in our Instagram posts either. Take this blog as a whole for example. In a way, it will serve as a sort of archive for future readers. What are seen as current thoughts and perspectives now will become primary/secondary sources in years to come. With a wide variety of authors and locations represented, Beyond the Pandemic will become a resource for future generations.  

Now, some argue that you cannot cite blog posts as “source material,” and that is true to an extent. A blog by anyone on the civil war may not carry much validity, but a blog written about the current situation by a witness? One has to make the argument that a blog in the latter case will serve to break the boundary, as it is not someone reading Wikipedia and writing about what they learned, but it is a witness describing their thoughts, sights, and overall notes on the situation as a whole.  

Lastly, this is a worldwide event. Unlike 9/11, which was largely focused on America, COVID-19 has spread, both literally and figuratively, across the globe, affecting nearly every country in different ways (some have not “reported” any cases). We all share in this lockdown, and the artists/writers are hard at work making sure we remember this event in every country. Archives are already starting to gather materials from this event, our digital memories preserved.  

So how will we remember COVID-19 after all of this? Will we remember the quarantine most or the political discussions more? What kind of world will exist after this, and how might it affect the way we live our daily lives? These are questions that nobody has the answers to, and will not for some time to come. As I sit here with the cat wondering why I have not left the apartment in a while, I can only speculate as we enter another week of quarantine. 

 

 

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