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Lockdown 2020: your history, your voices

May 6th, 2020 By Shannon Wellington

There are many ways to record history. Our curators suggest some great ways you can document your COVID-19 life.

Unique and unparalleled times

There is no doubt we are navigating an unprecedented time in New Zealand’s history. Collecting institutions such as galleries, libraries, archives and museums are conscious that the events unfolding are unique and unparalleled. Institutions globally are now working with their communities to consider how to collect content which reflects the challenges and opportunities we are experiencing.

The National Library and the Alexander Turnbull Library have also been documenting New Zealand's response to COVID-19. The Library has a number of collecting projects underway including actively collecting the COVID-19 digital landscape. Today we highlight some of the other types of activities that can contribute to the daily record of our lives during COVID-19.

There are many ways to record history

It has been said that in times of crisis we often look for control, ways to be heard, ways to tell our stories. We might be documenting our experiences for future family generations, or simply looking for something to pass the time under lockdown. We might need an outlet to vent our frustration and fear, acknowledge the compassion and kindness of others, or simply reflect on the numerous changes as they occur.

There are many ways to record history. As a nation we have embraced taking images of empty streets, parks and cities while out walking, we’ve recorded video diaries, created memes, written songs and kept journals. We have expressed the challenges and frustrations of lockdown and wholeheartedly embraced humour to cope with the many uncertainties.

Colourful gnome wearing a mask painted on a concrete wall.
Wellington Road, Paekakariki. Photo: Deidra Sullivan

How can I document my experiences during this time?

The COVID-19 pandemic situation is impacting us all differently. The format or materials you use to record your experiences are up to you. For example, you could:

  • create a video or audio log — either your own experience or an interview with someone else
  • use a written journal or blog
  • make photographs of your ‘bubble’ and immediate environment, and
  • collect digital or physical material that reflects the changes of life under lockdown.

Photographs — Deidra Sullivan

We all have a photographic archive. The vast majority of us now carry extensive collections of autobiographical photography on our phones. Chances are the content of our photographs has changed quite dramatically over the past few weeks.

From looking ‘out there’ to ‘bubble’

From looking ‘out there’, we’re now likely to be recording our immediate environment — our ‘bubble’ and the people in it, lockdown pastimes, our garden, walks in our local area. My own collection documents plenty of walks, some large Lego structures, teddy bears in windows, chalked haiku pavement poetry and a range of baking experiments (some more successful than others).

Collective photographic responses

Communities are also responding to the lockdown situation collectively. One example being this great photo essay from members of the Paekakariki community, on the Kapiti Coast

Keep taking those photos

Our photographs can be valuable records of a unique time, made by the people living through it. Keep taking them!

'Covid haiku' written in chalk on the footpath.
Wellington Road, Paekakariki. Photo: Deidra Sullivan

Manuscripts — Shannon Wellington

When we think about the ways to record our thoughts and experiences, journals, scrapbooks, diaries and correspondence generally come to mind. Of equal importance, are the often-overlooked smaller written items we generate on a day to day basis. Given our bubbles are largely home based, all things domestic have become a focus.

Family recipes

We have been writing, adapting and annotating family recipes to deal with the bare pantry essentials and swapping sourdough starter instructions.

Shopping lists

In our household we have been retaining our shopping lists. These show how challenging it has been to get certain types of groceries; the panic-buy item de jour! Our windows are adorned with pictures of elaborately coloured-in Easter eggs and we have been embracing the sending and receiving of letters and drawings, to and from grandchildren.

Fragments are important

Large or small, these written fragments contribute to the record of our daily lives during lockdown.

A painted Easter egg attached to a chain link fence.
Easter Egg Hunt in Mornington. Photo: Sean McMahon

Circulars & Fliers — John Sullivan

The postie always gets through, even when the rest of us are in lockdown.

Mail and other things from my mail box

As well as letters, cards and bills, they also bring circulars, official information handouts and community notices.

I have seen a few of these come through my letter box.

We might like to consider keeping these. It is interesting to know what information is still being conveyed on paper in these days of instant electronic communication.

Various flyers from New Zealand Post and New Zealand Government.
COVID-19 advice from the Government sent through the mail. Photo: John Sullivan

Oral history — Lynette Shum

In these strange and uncertain times, you may be in contact with somebody who has interesting reflections on the situation.

Maybe you share a bubble with them or are in contact with them via live internet audio-video or telephone. With the convenient recording technology we have at hand, you may be inspired to record your conversations with them for posterity. These recordings can be a source of delight and wonder for generations to come. While you may not have access to specialised oral history recording tools, you can still interview people in a way that has enduring value.

Mutually agree on purpose and use of recording

When you are recording someone, there are a number of things you should do to be sure you and your interviewee mutually agree to the purpose and use of any recordings. From the outset, you need to have their agreement that they will be recorded and tell the interviewee why you are doing it, why you are talking to them and, most importantly, what is to happen to the recording afterwards.

They may want to put conditions on its use, especially if you both decide that it should be offered to a library (or another repository). Decisions about these matters need to be recorded, ideally in verbal and written agreements, whether they share your bubble or are on the other side of the world. Even if the recording is for family or personal use only, it is important to document the wishes of the interviewee. Make sure you both agree on the topics you want to cover. Your role is to listen, clarify and record.

Stop the recording if you need to

Stay mindful of your own condition as well as your interviewee’s. Feel free to stop recording if you sense that either of you is finding it difficult to continue for any reason. You can always pick it up later if you both agree to do so. Doing more than one recording over time can show changes in thoughts as the situation progresses.

Label your recordings

Labelling your recordings, agreements and notes carefully is always a good idea! Make sure your information includes vital details about who has been recorded – their full name – when, where and how the recording was done, and ideally store them in a safe place with a copy somewhere else.

Practice a bit before you record

It is good to be aware that sound over the internet can be uncertain, so practise a bit with different options before you record to find out how to get the best results.

We are here to help

Finally, if you need advice or assistance we are here to help. You can contact us at Ask a Librarian.

Kaitiakitanga for the historic and contemporary record

The Alexander Turnbull Library provides kaitiakitanga for the historic and contemporary record of New Zealand’s people, events and places.

Many and varied voices make up our documentary history. The Library welcomes submissions of content from all members of the community.

For information about donating to our collections during COVID-19, or at any time, please visit our donations page.

Co-written by Deidra Sullivan — Curator Photographic Archive, John Sullivan — Curatorial Services Leader, Lynette Shum — Oral History Advisor and Joan McCracken — Outreach Services Leader.

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