COLLECTING HISTORY AS IT HAPPENS
by Robin Grotke, Director
Cowan Museum of History and Science
May 22, 2020
Every aspect of life around the world has been affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, resulting in unprecedented challenges to our health, societies, and economies. The combination of new policies and suggestions intended to contain the spread of the virus has upended our lives in countless, profound ways. For many, this crisis has raised awareness about the interconnectedness and weaknesses of our modern world and how it is structured.
As we live through this historic event, museums, such as the Smithsonian Institution, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Museum of Western Australia are doing contemporary collecting to reflect the impact of COVID-19 in their regions. Even the Cowan Museum of History and Science in Kenansville has begun to record and preserve stories and objects that illustrate how Duplin County has been affected and the ways residents continue their lives, with the joys, sorrows, and uncertainties. After all, the story of this pandemic also includes the story of Duplin County in 2020, which is what our staff is working to document.
Last month we posted on Facebook a scan of a letter from our collections composed in 1918 by the County Red Cross Chapter and the members of the Agricultural Extension Service stationed in Duplin County. The letter, a message to County residents, comprises a list of practices to follow (including recipes) during the time when the Spanish Flu raged around the globe. Out of all our Facebook postings, this one received the most attention because, I believe, there are parallels to the COVID-19 crisis and it provided people the chance to view their current life experience as a part of history. While the letter is a treasured piece of local history, it is the only thing the Cowan Museum has that offers a glimpse of life during that particular historic event. Examples like this expose existing gaps in our collections, which is a hindrance to a clearer understanding.
Accordingly, our staff would like you to help us track the events and repercussions of the pandemic as it happens - to do contemporary collecting, also known as rapid response collecting. If the Cowan Museum still exists one hundred years from now, future staff and visitors will want to know more about our everyday lives during the present crisis, just like our staff longed to know more about daily life in Duplin County when the Spanish Flu struck over one hundred years ago.
We would be grateful if you would share your stories and digital images with us. Additionally, when the environment is safer, the Cowan Museum plans to gather a wide range of local objects for the collections. Our staff asks you to consider donating items that are pertinent to what we are all now facing, like homemade masks, business signs, hurriedly written grocery lists, homeschool lessons, etc. We hope this project will help keep us connected with the community during a time of isolation. If you would like to talk about your experiences and possible donations, please feel welcome to contact our staff at (910) 296-2149. Though we’re temporarily closed to the public, if you leave a message we’ll return your call at the earliest opportunity.
Homemade mask made by Anne Skinner, our Museum STEM Educator. Her mother’s Singer sewing machine, which she used to make the mask, is pictured in the background.
A discarded mask in a parking lot, which is becoming a common sight. Photo by Robin Grotke, Museum Director.
Meagan Jasinski, our Museum Assistant, has been working remotely on artwork for the museum’s botanical garden, which will include this drawing of a Tuliptree silkmoth. A pen and ink class offered in Chicago had to be conducted online due to the pandemic, which allowed Meagan to virtually attend from her home in Beulaville.