Those of us who work in the realm of history tend to sit back in times like this waiting for the present to pass, mature or ferment a bit like wine and then become relevant and usable as history. Our gaze is backwards into the past where hopefully there are recorded events, human experiences, entertaining follies, dark episodes in human nature offset by remarkable acts of compassion and selflessness there to be explored and considered. The humanities are like a quest for the holy grail of wisdom hidden back there in the experiences of people who came before.
In a recent conversation with a journalist I found myself completely reversing my gaze, thinking about the future instead of the past and historians like me that will someday be searching this time and these days for material and that holy grail. It occurred to me that now might be the time to help the historians of the future by creating a time capsule (digital rather than quill pen on parchment). What pieces of my daily experiences best record the details of human experiences during the Covid pandemic of 2020? Equipped with a smart phone to make photo’s, video, record voices and sounds, play music, copy emails, write diary entries and even create selfies. What pieces of art provide inspiration, what jokes make you laugh, what thoughtless comments scare you and what are people doing around you that seem absolutely unique to Covid times (like the modern day town crier on his bicycle shouting out messages to people in their homes observing social distancing).
Finally here’s a secret. Public historians like me don’t
have a licence or a certificate like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz to prove our special responsibility. Anyone can be a historian and most families have one, often self appointed. So like it or not, we are in the middle of an historical event and our personal experiences will be of value to historians in the future. Let’s help them out and make a record of our time-a time capsule.
And a bit of advice, don’t become overly self important and mirthless about it. We all take this pandemic seriously but there are enough very important people talking about it and being recorded. Everyday life and the events in normal people’s lives are in many ways just as important.
Thanks to the Washington State Historical Society for images. You might also check out their collection efforts during the Covid pandemic at:
Tacoma has a 1,000 year time capsule. Sealed in 1910. To be opened in 2110…imagine that…do you know where it is?
Thank you Michael for this wonderfully written statement about what we should do, as historians, as people. Warm regards, Bruce Smith