Day 6

Danes are sending their quarantine journals to the national museum

Denmark's national museum is asking people to send letters describing their 'feelings and reflections' about the COVID-19 pandemic and life while under lockdown.

'Everyday life is not on hold, but it’s been ... turned upside down in many ways,' says museum director

'We ask them about how they're doing, but also their accounts about their feelings and reflections,' said the National Museum of Denmark's Christian Sune Pedersen. (Independence_Project/Shutterstock)

Lots of people are turning to social media to chronicle the monotony of quarantine, peppered with the brief excitement of sourdough starters and family kitchen parties.

But folks in Denmark are taking it a step further, by sending pages of their lockdown journals to the national museum to preserve them for posterity.

"What we're asking people to document — and that can be either by writing or using video or audio format, whatever format, really, people are comfortable with — we ask them about how they're doing, but also their accounts about their feelings and reflections," said Christian Sune Pedersen, head of research for modern history and world cultures at the National Museum of Denmark. 

Museums around the world are scrambling to preserve this unique moment in history and its impact on people. Conveniently, Denmark already has a blueprint for the journal experiment. 

In 1992, Danes were asked to send in their journal entries for a randomly selected date to get a sense of everyday life in the country. 

"We received 51,000 journals. Considering there's only five million of us, that's something like one per cent of all Danes writing," Pedersen said. 

"So that was quite mind-blowing. Today, this represents an archive of everyday life that's just so incredibly interesting." 

Inspiration for 'profound stories about the coronavirus'

The writers from the 1993 project were people from all walks of life, said Pedersen, including those in prison.

It was clear some of the writers took up the project for therapeutic reasons, he added.

"I remember an account by a woman who relayed how she was lying down next to her husband at night and thinking about another man. … And this was shared with the national museum, you know, for the purpose of the future," Pederson said with a laugh. 

"It's quite moving to read through these journals, really." 

Christian Sune Pedersen is the head of research for modern history and world cultures at the National Museum of Denmark. (Submitted by Christian Sune Pedersen)

The museum repeated the journal experiment in 2017. But now, the project is motivated by the pandemic and its unique impact on Danes. 

Researchers are lining up to study the journal entries for insights on everything from how Danes are maintaining a sense of community under lockdown to the impact of isolation on their mental health.

"Our everyday life is not on hold, but it's been changed, turned upside down in many ways," Pedersen said. 

Once the lockdown is lifted, the museum will also collect artifacts that represent this moment in history. 

"It might not be that the best objects for future exhibitions are the most obvious — like sanitizers or masks," he said.

"What we hope is that we can go through … the journals and find some inspiration, maybe find the less obvious objects that can tell profound stories about the coronavirus."


Written and produced by Yamri Taddese. 

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