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COVID-19 time capsule showcases dynamic moments from 2020

Posted at 11:05 AM, Dec 17, 2020

Alyson McClaran is a photojournalist who has captured many of the raw moments and emotions in 2020, including a photo of nurses blocking protestors in Colorado earlier this year.

“The nurse kind of put his hands out,” McClaran said. “Then, the gentleman got in his face and the nurse just looked away from him and ignored him.”

That photo would end up gaining international attention.

“Within 30 minutes, I had thousands of shares,” she said.

And for good reason.

“I remember when I first saw it, it was really striking,” Hahrie Han, professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, said. “It sort of felt like it brought together a lot of the complex streams of conflict and tension that we were having to grapple with as a society.”

Han was chosen as a curator for a COVID-19 time capsule created by the non-profit Social Science Research Council, or SSRC. She chose McClaran’s photo.

“The act of both people in that picture was an act of trying to make change in some way,” she said. “The people in the cars who are protesting are protesting against the shutdown order and they're using their right to free assembly and free speech to voice their concern. And likewise, the healthcare worker is standing up against that saying, 'No, we want people to stay home because that's how you’re going to protect us. That's how we are going to protect each other.'”

As we close out this dynamic year, the SSRC decided to create this time capsule, not only for future social researchers but for the general public, as a reflection on 2020.

The content ranges from ironic toilet paper shortage-related memes to images of hope and human connection.

“They were like instant artifacts of that moment and there were a lot of those moments,” Alexa Dietrich, program director at the Social Science Research Council, said. “I believe it has accomplished a set of goals in the sense that bringing this type of analysis and perspective to much broader audiences.”

Dietrich said the capsule is meant to bring about ongoing reflection, just as these curators had to do when coming up with their selections to put in the project.

“That image I chose is the sort of 'how would you like to pay?' sign you'd see at any retail store or restaurant. But instead of having just the Visa, Mastercard, or Amex, it also has a roll of toilet paper,” said Bill Maurer, professor of anthropology and law at UC Irvine and another curator for the time capsule. “It really spoke to things like the concerns over hoarding that were taking place early on the pandemic, particularly around toilet paper. But, then, also that broader philosophical question, when you're in a global pandemic and there is an economic shutdown, what really is valuable anymore?”

The time capsule is part of a bigger project the SSRC is putting together, free of use, to offer a range of perspectives and thoughts on the past year.

“We’re not just delivering, we’re also really trying to learn and promote conversations,” Dietrich said.

“The world is just in this moment of dynamism and flux and so to take this snapshot this moment in time, to think about what we want to capture and to create a historical record for future generations, I think is really important,” Han said.