STATEMENT: National Museum of American History Implements Collecting Strategy in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has formed a Rapid Response Collecting Task Force to address the COVID-19 pandemic. This task force will allow the museum to react quickly to assess and document the scientific and medical events, as well as the effects and responses in the areas of business, work, politics and culture. Curators will look at the impact on individuals, institutions and communities as they document the diverse perspectives and experiences related to this historic moment.

Museum staff is working to formulate a plan that achieves a balance between the urgency to document the ephemeral aspects of the historic turning points as they happen and the need to provide a long-term historical perspective. Curators are considering how best to collect and preserve tangible materials, including objects, photographs and documents that will be added to the permanent collections. These materials will help future historians and visitors make sense of the challenges of the pandemic, as well as the resilient and innovative spirit of the country.

The enormity of the pandemic intersects almost every subject area covered by the museum. Members of the curatorial staff are pursuing leads to many kinds of objects and archival materials from medical history and business history to social structures and culture. They are considering several topics, including communications and operations as well as political, philanthropic and civic responses.

At this point, artifacts cannot be accepted because the museum building is closed. Curators are asking prospective donors to hold on to objects that will be considered for future acquisition into the national collections. Public suggestions regarding collecting should include photos or descriptions and may be emailed to

The new materials will join long-standing existing collections documenting past epidemics and pandemics, as well as other national crises such as the Great Depression and the Sept. 11 attacks.

The National Museum of American History is also working with other Smithsonian units to explore how cultural organizations can collaborate to serve broad audiences in this time of crisis. Preliminary conversations underscore the enormity of the challenges faced by these organizations and the need for a coordinated effort to collect and preserve objects that represent the scope of these events.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History seeks to empower people to create a more just and compassionate future by examining, preserving and sharing the complexity of our past. All Smithsonian museums continue to be closed to support the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.

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Media only:
Valeska Hilbig

Melinda Machado