OPINION: It’s time to embrace your inner archivist



Imagine you are a WSU student in the year 2065. You just turned 20 years old. 

The pandemic is long over. Your parents and their friends talk about it sometimes but you rarely pay attention. It’s old news after all. But now you need their memories and keepsakes. Your grade depends on it.

You are taking a class called “Living History”. It covers recent historical events — recent enough that there remain some people alive who still remember them. 

You decide to write your final paper on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only do you need to write a paper but you must do a presentation on the pandemic using artifacts — objects of historical interest that people who lived through the pandemic have saved. This could include photos, newspapers, audio and video files, diaries and more. 

You go to your parents and grandparents to see what they have stored in the attic from 2020 and 2021.

What will you find? What would be helpful? What will fascinate or infuriate you in their box of memories?

Now, imagine this scenario from a different perspective. A 20 year old child, grandchild or great-grandchild approaches you in 2065 asking you to recall the great pandemic.

What would you want to explain? What information would be the most difficult to impart? What would still hurt your heart or make you feel grateful? 

One thing I’ve learned in my relatively short life is that we all become experts on our experiences. Sometimes people look to you for knowledge and wisdom simply because you were there; you survived when others did not. 

You don’t need to ask for the job. It’s often thrust upon you. 

You may not consider your pandemic experience to be very special right now. If you have not had COVID-19 or have not lost anyone to the disease you may not feel as active a participant in the pandemic as those who have suffered these fates. 

But the fact is this pandemic is happening to all of us, globally. Whether you’re a taxi driver, a medical doctor, a teacher, a student or a stay-at-home parent all of us across the world are connected by this moment in time. 

These eras of global catastrophe are relatively rare in history. 

We should embrace our experiences and recognize that we’re all going to be a part of this living history in future years. We will be walking encyclopedias, historians, journalists and archivists in our own right.

Someday soon you will begin to forget how this time feels, how it looks, and your current worries and concerns. One day your faded memories will be soft at the edges — you will remember the big events but not the details. Eventually someone will ask you to recount this insanity, probably multiple times.

Sometimes I feel like the difficult and painful stuff doesn’t want to be remembered. We can’t carry all the anger or angst with us every day until the end of time without going mad. So our brains compartmentalize. 

But it’s been my experience that keeping what I call “memory-jolters” around is a good thing. It can be cathartic. If nothing else it will fascinate future generations the way Pearl Harbor memorabilia or Polio photos do now. 

So do yourself, and your future ancestors a favor and start gathering your “memories” together. Put it all in a box that’s clearly labeled: Pandemic 2020/2021. Embrace your inner archivist. What have you got to lose?

Put photos in a real photo album, make a collage, file newspapers or printed articles away. Put a mask in there, announcements from the health department, an empty bottle of hand sanitizer, an “I voted” sticker. 

In my box I’d add the funeral bulletins or obituaries of fallen friends and family, a lot of newspaper articles, the letter Trump sent with stimulus checks last year, photos from the George Floyd protest I covered last summer. But you can and should make it your own.

Write down a few things about the year. What’s school been like? Where are you living and with whom? What are your current goals? What keeps you up at night?

Now, do yourself a huge favor and date everything. If you have photos write the names and ages of everyone in the pictures on the back or underneath. 

I guarantee you are now working with people that you will only vaguely remember in a few decades (if at all.) So save yourself future troubles by labeling the things you don’t think you’ll forget.

Someday you’ll find this box in the garage or basement after you’ve moved a half dozen times. You will open it up and remember instantly the things that you never thought possible to forget. 

It may be a little sad. It may be hard but I promise you won’t regret it. Neither will that 20 year old kid in 2065 who gives the greatest presentation on living history that the university has ever seen.