London has faced several epidemics in past centuries, with collections concerning smallpox and influenza outbreaks forming part of the Museum of London’s offering. The organisation is wasting no time in preparing to add the coronavirus to its ranks.

Smallpox Epidemic in Wood Green, 1959. A line of patients await © Henry Grant Collection, Museum of London

There are three strands of collecting which the museum aims to focus on: how the physical spaces in the city have been transformed, while the social and working lives of many have moved digital; the effects on key and home workers; and how children and young people are reacting to and coping with the changes now that many schools are closed.

“Londoners, like millions of people around the world, have to find ways of coping with the new life the epidemic has imposed. This is a major moment in the capital’s history and we want to collect a range of objects, from clothing to hairclippers, from diaries to memes that reflect the physical and emotional response of Londoners to COVID-19,” explains Beatrice Behlen, senior curator at the Museum of London.

Influenza conquered by Flu-Mal, advertising poster © Museum of London

Objects that may find their way into the collection can be both physical and digital, and donations will be welcomed from any London resident via social media or email at [email protected]

“The Museum of London always strives to tell the story of London and its people. We feel it is imperative to capture this time for future generations, to help us understand how this city dealt with an extraordinary situation,” Behlen concludes.

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