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Collecting Covid: the Museum of London seeks to mark pandemic for the future

Smallpox Epidemic in Wood Green, 1959. A line of patients await vaccination. (c) Henry Grant Collection_Museum of London.jpg
Smallpox Epidemic in Wood Green, 1959. A line of patients await vaccination. Photograph by Henry Grant

COVID-19 is affecting the lives of the global population in unprecedented ways. London saw its first cases of the virus appear in January 2020, swiftly followed by a huge shift in our social and working lives in March; organisations began to close and restrictions were made on people’s movement across the city.

The Museum of London is seeking to collect both objects and first-hand experiences to reflect Londoners’ lives during this time, in order to keep a record and to ensure future generations of Londoners will be able to learn about and understand this extraordinary period.

As a major urban centre, London has faced several epidemics, including smallpox and the 1889 -1893 and 1918 flu pandemics. The museum holds collections relating to these outbreaks, such as the dress Queen Victoria wore to mourn the loss of her grandson to influenza in 1892, serving not only as a reminder of the suffering during that time, but also of the effects on society and culture, changing the way people dressed and interacted.

The museum is keen to focus on three strands of collecting: how the physical spaces in the city have been transformed – from a bustling metropolis to hushed streets – while the social and working lives of many have moved digital; the effects on key and home workers and how children and young people are reacting to and coping with the changes now that many schools are closed.

The Museum of London is hoping to collect both physical and digital objects, reflecting the voices and experiences of a broad range of Londoners. From those working on the front line to those quietly working in the background, from parents turned home-school support to young people online gaming, the museum wants to collect objects from those that can tell the story of London in lockdown.

Individuals and organisations who would like to donate objects should get in touch via social media @MuseumofLondon or email enquiry@museumoflondon.org.uk.

As London’s landscape has changed dramatically during this time, the museum is shifting from the Museum of London, where we tell the history of this city and its people, to become the Museum for London, moving towards being an organisation that supports our communities and provides content that educates and intrigues.

This new collecting project forms part of our action to be the #MuseumForLondon.

Beatrice Behlen, Senior Curator at the Museum of London, said: “Londoners, like millions of people around the world, have to find ways of coping with the new life the epidemic has imposed. This is a major moment in the capital’s history and we want to collect a range of objects, from clothing to hairclippers, from diaries to memes that reflect the physical and emotional response of Londoners to COVID-19. The Museum of London always strives to tell the story of London and its people. We feel it is imperative to capture this time for future generations, to help us understand how this city dealt with an extraordinary situation.

About the Museum of London
The Museum of London tells the ever-changing story of this great world city and its people, from 450,000 BC to the present day. Our galleries, exhibitions, displays and activities seek to inspire a passion for London and provide a sense of the vibrancy that makes the city such a unique place. The museum is open daily 10am – 6pm and is FREE to all, and you can explore the Museum of London with collections online – home to 90,000 objects with more being added. www.museumoflondon.org.uk.


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