Your day-to-day routine, let alone your daily activities during quarantine, may seem like nothing special, but actually, it could be something for the history books.
That's why the Los Altos History Museum recently put out a call for submissions asking Santa Clara County residents to share their experiences of what life is like during the COVID-19 crisis. The submissions will be compiled for the museum's permanent collection.
"We're hoping for things that show a broad range of experiences. Whether that's diary entries, photos, videos — what we're hoping is that we can preserve these things that right now just exist on our computers or on our phones. If the museum is holding on to them in some way, then that ensures that they get preserved," said Exhibition Curator Amy Ellison. She and Collections Strategist Dianne Shen spoke with the Voice in an interview that was itself conducted via videoconference.
At the moment, for safety's sake, the project is seeking only digital submissions, but will also accept objects after the museum reopens whenever stay-at-home orders are lifted, Ellison said. So far, submissions have included a variety of responses, everything from a link to a blog about everyday life during the pandemic to a poem about the experience.
Although the Los Altos History Museum's collections typically focus on Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, for the purposes of the COVID-19 project, Ellison and Shen broadened their scope to the entirety of Santa Clara County, which as Shen noted, was one of the first areas in the United States affected by the coronavirus. "We thought that specifically because Santa Clara County has been so impacted during this time, that this would be such an important voice, an important narrative," Shen said.
Also with Silicon Valley's (usually) highly mobile culture, people in the region rarely live and work in the same town, Shen noted, so opening submissions up countywide seemed the best way to fully capture this moment in history.
"I think we're living in such a unique time and in that, we are able to document in real time, people's experiences, we wanted an opportunity for our community members to be able to voice their experiences, how it impacted their lives. Much of that is very important, going forward for future historians, future researchers," she said.
And it's really about the future: preserving the community's stories and experiences for later generations' understanding is the goal of this project, rather than collecting submissions for a present-day exhibition.
"It's a technique called rapid-response collecting. It's not by any means new to us. A lot of museums are doing things like this," Ellison said, noting that after such varied but significant events as 9/11 or the first Women's March in 2017, many museums sought to document the experiences of those who were there.
To ensure that this collection reflects the community's great diversity, the museum encourages submissions in any language, Shen said.
"I think that's a very important part of the dialogue as well, to be inclusive and have that representation from all different kinds of voices and people. I think Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County, we're a very international group. And so I think that's also a very important part of this project, to showcase that diversity that we have in our community," she said.
Because the COVID-19 crisis is such a major, far-reaching event that is still unfolding — history in the making — Ellison and Shen are leaving the deadline for submissions open-ended, to give people ample time to process events and to think over what they might like to share. As Ellison noted, it's such personal stories that can reveal unique and important insights to future readers.
"So many histories are all the big players, the names that you read in the newspapers, they're celebrities, they're politicians, they're big names. They're not necessarily me and you. Our stories count for something as well — the people in our community, their stories are incredibly valuable. And we don't want them to be absent from history books. That's what makes a full and rich history," Ellison said.
For more information or to contribute to the collection, visit the Los Altos History Museum website.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.