Day Three of the ‘Archaeology of Pandemic Project’

Today’s post is about the difficulties that we started seeing early in our project. As mentioned yesterday we have split into three groups researching the historical narrative, buildings and objects associated with the pandemic, respectively. Most items of interest – the announcement of the lockdown, the construction of temporary hospitals, and the repurposing of ski goggles as PPE for medical staff, due to shortages – will naturally fall into one of the above categories. However, there are exceptions which we came across today. Shipping containers are being converted into portable laboratories designed to carry out up to 2,400 COVID-19 tests per day. The metal containers started as objects but through conversion into testing centres, they have become buildings. Should the containers be recorded as shipping containers or labs? Should they be placed in the category of object or building? The answer is that they could be either – it is debatable. The materials and transportable nature of the finished laboratory would identify it as an object, whereas the uses of the shipping container as a lab, something which cannot be moved while in use, would identify it as a building. As we had to categorise the shipping container labs into one of the two categories, we placed them under objects. This is because the shipping container is what the lab was converted from and could be converted back to. How ordinary items have been altered due to demands caused by the pandemic is key to this project, as it is reflective of the changes caused by COVID-19 that we are documenting.

Another feature of the pandemic we found to be difficult to record is the digital replacement of physical events. The Hay Festival and Download Festival are just two examples of events that were due to take place this summer as physical events but have been forced to go online instead. When attending a physical event, one would expect to leave with physical reminders: tickets, wristbands, muddy boots, souvenirs. But those who attended virtual festivals have none of these. By taking the events online more people can be a part of the experience, although the experience is altered through the lack of materiality. We are taking note of these festivals both because they did not happen physically but also because they did which makes them difficult to record their ‘material print’. These events are best documented by looking at social media posts detailing the reactions to any festival forced online, as the use of such sites and technology as a substitute for physical interaction is a defining feature of this pandemic.

Continue to keep updated with our progress in documenting the historical narrative, and the heritage value of the objects and buildings associated with the pandemic, on our Padlet Map:

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Anneke Schadenberg

Second Year Archaeology and Anthropology Student

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