The importance of preserving the history of the COVID-19 pandemic

Click to play video: 'Archiving the COVID-19 pandemic for future generations'
Archiving the COVID-19 pandemic for future generations
History professor from the University of Manitoba explains the importance of making sure the COVID-19 pandemic is preserved for the future – Mar 12, 2021

The year 2020: a year of quarantines, lockdowns, closures, major economic impact, millions of deaths globally, and resilience shown by front-line workers every day.

The COVID-19 pandemic brings a long list of moments that historians say should be archived for future generations.

Esyllt Jones is a history professor with St. John’s College, University of Manitoba, who studies the 1918-19 influenza pandemic.

She says there’s a difference between private and public memory. She believes a gap between the two was made during the Spanish flu and hopes history does not repeat itself.

“Education can play a really big role in bridging that space between what people remember in their own families and communities or what’s in history textbooks or history curricula,” Jones says.

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She says it’s important for people who have suffered this past year to have a place to share and look back on their experiences.

“For everyone out there now who’s living through COVID, who’s lost people or who’s had really negative economic impact in their lives, it’s important that that experience be honoured by placing it into the story of our history.”

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She says a major part of preserving history is on the shoulders of educators.

“As long as it remains a priority in the minds of people who are shaping these bigger public narratives about history, including educators, professors, textbook writers,” said Jones.

Jones believes teachers have a lot of leeway for what projects students do, and hopes educators take it upon themselves to continue conversations in the future.

“If there are resources available to (teachers), I think a lot of them will find a project like this very valuable.”

Jones also says outside of the classroom, it’s just as important to preserve the history.

A large portion of COVID-19 cases have been detected in Indigenous populations in Manitoba. Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, has said there are unique challenges with the virus’s spread in remote and isolated communities.

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“I think it’s really important that resources be there for Indigenous communities with information they can share with non-Indigenous people about their communities experiences, so there’s not a misunderstanding or a development of stigma.”

She says she’s hopeful this time around, this pandemic will be archived in a way future generations can read, look and learn about the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t know yet what the big stories of the 21st century are going to be, we’re still in the early end of it,” says Jones.

“We can at least make sure that the records are there for historians in the future, including the experiences of ordinary people, those who don’t normally have a voice publicly.”

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