Beyond the terrible statistics of those who have contracted the disease and the death toll, and the keyworkers who have had to endure it all, and the social isolation many are struggling with, the coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on society and the economy. How can archaeologists not only reflect upon the impact the #lockdown has had on our discipline and sector, but seek to record and evaluate the direct and indirect material traces of the lockdown and its legacy?
A fascinating video by Archaeosoup takes one perspective: reflecting on how the pandemic might enter the archaeological record over the longer term. Another perspective is to consider the material culture of the #lockdown itself.
What have I been up to ini relation to the lockdown, beyond working from home as required by my employers?
- I’ve already reflected on how the #lockdown has affected our public archaeological engagement. My endeavours whilst working from home for a UK HE institution have pivoted in the following ways:
- the short-notice re-organisation by ‘going digital’ of the #Special Offa event scheduled for Trefonen Village Hall;
- setting up a YouTube channel for ArchaeoDeath and using my government sanctioned daily exercises to visit monuments and also to film videos on a range of subjects in the outdoors;
- establishing a TikTok account for ArchaeoDeath to provide a further avenue for digital engagement with my archaeological research;
- Using social media, I’ve made my own humble contribution to #museumsunlocked initiative of heritage and archaeology specialists worldwide: The Archaeodeath Museum Unlocked, supporting the Offa’s Dyke Association;
- I’ve reflected on the #lockdown landscapes I’ve encountered whilst dealing with bereavement, the responsibilities and challenges of family life, and my local environment.
- Also, I entered the fray to reflect on two aspects of the #lockdown:
- Social Distancing and Cemeteries – I questioned the widespread policy of closing local-authority run cemeteries and crematoria gardens for mourners and other visitors as part of the lockdown. See also this follow-up post;
- Coronavirus and Offa’s Dyke. – I commented on a relatively small-scale and short-lived but insidious resurfacing of the portrayal of the English-Welsh border as ‘Offa’s Dyke’ among social media commentators and journalists during the easing of the lockdown in the UK.
One further thing I’ve done during the lockdown has been to support an initiative to document the various material cultures of the lockdown by sharing digital photographs online. From artwork to signs, the Viral Archive project has involved a collaboration between Rosie Everett (University of Warwick), Ben Geary (University College Cork), Orla-Peach Power (University College Cork) and Matt Pope (UCL) to record personal responses to the lockdown through its material traces. The personal responses are not only the subjects of many photographs, but also the photographs themselves: revealing what do people think is worth recording as distinctive or different about the landscapes of lockdown. Read about it here.
This timely digital initiative reveals (among other things) the institutional and government pandemic regulatory impositions on our built environment from public transport, pavements and parks to supermarkets, hospitals and beauty spots. Yet also, it reveals the host of emotive and mnemonic art and material cultures created during the pandemic: commemorating loved ones and honouring those working to combat the effects of the virus. It is a project that I think distills the exceptional adaptability and creativity of people. It also sheds light on the sadness and adversity of these times, but occasionally also its humour and ridiculousness.
You can follow the Viral Archive’s Twitter feed and make your own contribution to the way the lockdown’s material traces, many of them ephemeral, are recorded for posterity in an archive hosted by University College Cork.
I think I have one more blog-post up my sleeve about this and then I will stay quiet, but I feel the lockdown will leave little immediate traces, but more enduring subtle ramifications for our homes and public spaces which archaeologists might be advised to consider recording and discussing.