The Archaeology of Pandemic Project
Historic England in April 2020 launched an initiative to archive public pictures from the COVID-19 related lockdown. The ‘Picturing Lockdown Collection‘ aimed to archive images from the quarantine that has been applied across the UK to tackle the spread of the new Coronavirus. More than 3000 people contributed with images that show the impact that lockdown had on everyday lifeways. It is important that Historic England reacted rapidly to the temporality of the current events and tried to preserve the Heritage aspect, launching a community-based initiative. The collection is publicly available and can be accessed through this webspace.
Here in Bristol, we believe that the disciplines of Archaeology and Anthropology should play a more active role studying the impact of the pandemic and helping to preserve the related tangible and intangible Heritage Assets. We advocate that archaeology is a tool to study past and present societies alike through their material print while the methods of anthropology enable us to document individual and collective thoughts in the contemporary. Thus, we decided to launch a two week ‘fieldwork’ programme that studies the material response to lockdown.
The ‘fieldwork’ is digital and socially distant! We are working from our homes, and in our neighbourhoods, tracing the objects and the buildings that have changed use, meaning, and/or importance during the lockdown. Alongside we are looking for objects that have been created specifically to battle the pandemic. We are also interested in seeing how the public interacts with these objects and buildings, and how active perceptions have changed during the different phases of the lockdown.
The idea of studying materially pandemics and quarantines is not novel, and relevant outputs can be observed from medieval plague burials in London to modern quarantine stations in New South Wales, Australia. Our aim is to identify the dynamics of the lockdown and how material cultures change meanings. In order to achieve these goals, we are recording objects (such as the Shetland Scrubs), buildings (such as the makeshift hospitals) and intra-landscapes (such as the arrangements for social distancing in shops).
We are using padlet boards to organise our research along with Slack and Zoom for team communications. We are following Historic England guidelines for the building and object recording, when the norms of ‘Object and Building Biographies’ are the theoretical baselines of our research. At the end, we aim to have a digital record of lockdown-related material culture and built heritage across the UK.
We will be posting daily updates in this blog about the project and its outcomes. So watch this space for the progress of the Archaeology of Pandemic Project’s digital fieldwork.
Dr Konstantinos Trimmis
Archaeology Technician and Associate Teacher