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Science Museum Group

Collecting COVID-19

Context

Through its rapid spread, global reach and capacity to overwhelm healthcare systems, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a public health crisis that impacts on all our lives.

The pandemic has brought with it enormous social change, the repercussions of which will be felt for years. It has seen the introduction of strict public health controls and placed enormous demands on key workers, but it has also galvanised the international scientific and medical communities in the fight against it.

The Science Museum Group cares for one of the world’s most significant collections of science, technology, engineering and medicine. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic our curators are actively, and sensitively, researching stories and identifying objects to collect on the nation’s behalf.

These items will join the Science Museum Group Collection, providing a permanent record for future generations of medical, scientific, industrial, cultural and personal responses to the outbreak and chronicling its impact on society.

Our collecting project began in early March 2020, prior to the temporary closure of our five museums and before the lockdown began. It is of the utmost importance that we collect ethically and responsibly at this time of national emergency, ensuring objects are safely acquired for the collection when it is safe to do so.

Our curators are undertaking this project within strict ethical guidelines (see ‘Outputs’ below) and will not distract healthcare professions from their vital work.

Aim

  • To research and collect materials for the Science Museum Group Collection that reflect the medical, public health, industrial and scientific responses to the COVID-19 pandemic from a range of different sources, both national and international.
  • To research and collect materials which reveal social and personal interactions with COVID-19 and its wider and often unexpected impacts on our lives, society and culture.
  • To use these new additions to the Science Museum Group Collection as a permanent record of the impact of COVID-19, for future research and potential public display (there are no immediate plans for the public display of materials collected during this project).

Outcomes

The items we aim to collect fall into the categories outlined below. Given the rapidly changing nature of the current situation we may also acquire additional objects outside of these categories.

If you have a relevant object you wish to donate, please follow the guidance on our object donation webpage.

  • Tangible and digital forms of public advice and guidance produced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, from official sources at national and local levels.
  • Material associated with assessing, monitoring and testing those suspected of having severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or those who may already have had it.
  • Material relating to medical treatment for SARS-CoV-2, in a pre-vaccine environment as well as the provision made for the expansion of care facilities.
  • Items associated with the scientific response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Material related to the impact of COVID-19 on our culture, economy and society. These items may reflect significant changes to whole industries, such as our rail or air transport networks. Other items collected might be highly trivial, moving or outlandish, and may at first seem removed from scientific or medical aspects of the pandemic.

Outputs

We are aware of the challenges and sensitivities around collecting during a global emergency. Our approach is both considered and ethical. Physical collecting will only take place during the pandemic if it is essential and time-critical, with the majority of items added to the collection once it is safe to do so.

In addition to our Ethics Policy and Ethical Practice in Research guidelines, we have produced additional guidance for ethical collecting of COVID-19 materials.

Related links

Read more about coronavirus on our blog