Atlanta History Center receives hundreds of submissions for coronavirus archive

Bike messenger Chad Pack and a companion pose in masks downtown in one of the photos taken by Atlanta History Center staff.

Hundreds of items — from personal essays to photo collections — have already poured into the Atlanta History Center’s digital files in its call for the public to submit documents of the historic coronavirus pandemic.

The “Corona Collective” initiative launched April 7, and within two weeks had received materials from more than 100 people, according to Paul Crater, vice president of collections and research services at the museum.

He said donated items include a 26-year-old woman’s account of how she nearly died of COVID-19 and a Google Docs file describing ways to help shuttered restaurants and their employees. Then there are more whimsical artifacts.

“We received a short documentary about this band who played social distancing shows in Ormewood Park before the stay-at-home order, and they’re being tugged around in boat by a truck and they’re playing to people while people are sitting on their porches, and it’s really fun,” he said.

Crater said that similar efforts from the DeKalb History Center and the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, were among the inspirations for the “Corona Collective.” A particular model for gathering history as it happened, he said, was a similar program by the Missouri History Center during the 2014 Ferguson police-shooting protests.

Choosing which items to preserve in the museum’s collection — and even how to preserve such items as that Google Docs file with its hundreds of hyperlinks — are among the challenges of the effort, Crater said. “But I’ve always had this aspiration to do something like this and to be nimble like this,” he added, and the opportunities are big, too.

A sign promotes social distancing on the Atlanta BeltLine. (Atlanta History Center staff)

One goal is to use the material as starting points to solicit donations of physical items and oral histories for the still-shuttered museum when it is safe to do so. Another possibility: pop-up exhibits highlighting some of the neighborhood-oriented artifacts and inviting residents of those areas who might never have visited the museum before.

The museum chose to seize the moment and collect history in action that affects everyone, Crater said, and the submissions so far show a “sense of civic involvement and humanity that is really compelling to me.”

The “Corona Collective” accepts materials from anywhere in metro Atlanta, including Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs. The museum’s staff is taking photos in the neighborhoods as part of the collection as well, with many of the images available on the website at atlantahistorycenter.com/research/coronavirus-collective. The website includes details about what types of materials will be accepted, copyright and other usage rights, and other information about the “Corona Collective.”

Other pandemic history projects

The following organizations also are seeking pandemic items and memories from metro Atlantans.

DeKalb History Center
“The COVID-19 Chronicles”
dekalbhistory.org

Heritage Sandy Springs
“COVID-19 Community Journal Project”
facebook.com/heritagesandysprings

Georgia Historical Society
“COVID-19 in Georgia”
georgiahistory.com

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