In an effort to document the COVID-19 pandemic as it unfolds, the Fernie Museum devised two projects to help preserve municipal perspectives for future study. Taking inspiration from the Royal BC Museum, Ron Ulrich, executive director of the Fernie Museum, created a journaling initiative and a time capsule assignment.
The idea behind these projects came when Ulrich noticed other museums documenting the pandemic, pointing to a growing trend of collecting information in real time. Adding urgency to physical documentation is the digitalization of the COVID-19 response, which makes the process of transferring information to archives increasingly difficult.
“The reason we are trying to get people to put pen to paper is because we need to be able to have material that isn’t digital, because we don’t know if 20 years from now we can access all those formats. However, we know how to conserve paper and photographs really well, so we are encouraging people to print off copies of their journals for us,” said Ulrich.
With the initial project, titled Journaling During a Pandemic, Ulrich hopes to gather a localized snapshot of COVID-19’s effects through journal entries. Through this assignment, the museum seeks to address the importance of valuing even the most mundane of experiences, as such information might prove useful for future generations.
While they encourage limitless exploration of topics, the museum offered suggestions to help writers focus on their experiences, should residents need help putting pen to paper. Proposed tips include scheduling regular writing times, choosing preferred mediums, and focusing on different topics per entry. The museum also listed a number of prompts to propel writers to reach into the deeper areas of their pandemic experience. The prompts include questions pertaining to changes in preferred activities, work life adjustments, and political opinions.
“Journals, as a historical resource, offer unique first hand perspectives of significant moments in history in a way that official historical records rarely can. Think about how the diaries of Anne Frank, for example, have shaped our perspective and understanding of the plight of the Jewish people during World War II,” said Ulrich. “Journals are fascinating and we would love to see more of these become part of our archives. On a personal level, as an exercise, journaling can really help with mental health especially in times of transition or crisis.”
Entry donors can request the length of time they want their personal records to be withheld from the public, ranging from quick exposure, to release once the donor passes, to only granting viewing rights to researchers. Names may also be withheld on request to ensure privacy, as Ulrich assures the objective of this project is historical research.
To share COVID-19 related journal entries with the museum, participants are asked to either send digital Word documents or photos of handwritten pages to firstname.lastname@example.org, or to bring journals into the museum once it reopens.
The Fernie Museum’s second historical documentation endeavour is their Family Time Capsule project. With a similar scope to the journaling initiative, it encourages the aggregation of artifacts in a variety of mediums, while also allowing for the participation of children.
To help with ideas for creation, the Fernie Museum posted ideas on their website, including a step by step guide to assist with the process. The guide informs participants about which containers to use for their capsule, how to decide on what to include, and information on setting a future date for reveal.
Any mediums representing this point in history are accepted within the Family Time Capsules. This includes journals, letters to future selves, creative writing, school lessons, articles of clothing, toys, photographs, art, music, and videos. The museum also encourages participants to incorporate as many COVID-19 related artifacts as possible, such as grocery lists, streaming subscriptions, and newspapers.
“We want to capture as much information about how Fernie-ites lived through the pandemic, including what may seem mundane as it is actually important to record for the historical record,” said Ulrich. “Recording how we felt as the pandemic continues is an important part of understanding the fuller response to pandemic. If families can only give us a snapshot of say, only a week, we would welcome that too.”
While the museum is currently focused on the collection of artifacts, depending on the nature of submissions there may be a physical or digital exhibit in the future. Should a family wish to donate their capsule to the museum, a time will be selected to make contents publicly accessible. If donors wish to keep their capsules, the museum kindly requests to copy the contents for historical records, after which they would return the physical entity to the creators for personal burial.
At the moment, the museum is asking families to hold on to their time capsules until they reopen. For more information and tips on the Family Time Capsule project, visit the Fernie Museum’s website.
Adding to these two initiatives, the Fernie Museum is also partnering with a number of local organizations to assist with recording Fernie’s ongoing response to the pandemic. This includes receiving recordings of church sermons, going over Zoom meetings with the Fernie Chamber of Commerce, being granted access to Gabriela Escobar Ari’s photographs, and recording virtual concerts hosted by local artists.
Ultimately, Ulrich celebrates the incredible sense of community present in Fernie, without which such endeavours would not be possible.