As people across the nation counted down the final seconds of 2019, cheering in the New Year – and the new decade – few could have foreseen the turmoil that lay ahead. By March, a coronavirus pandemic had swept the entire globe, including North America.
As that was playing out, May brought us another sweeping news story. The death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis triggered an outpouring of social activism perhaps unrivaled since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
If it feels like we’re living in historic times, that’s because we are. And much of it is being captured on smartphones and spread across social media platforms. But few events in history are truly unprecedented or have no applicable ties to the past.
As an example, the United States (and many other countries) suffered through a pandemic just over a century ago, when the so-called Spanish flu ravaged populations, closed down towns and confused doctors and scientists.
The outbreak of COVID-19 led many to dig into the history of the Spanish flu outbreak. In fact, numerous local and regional papers started researching how the virus impacted their own communities. Many of them turned to microfilmed records and collections for information, including old newspaper accounts and photographs. AARP, one of the nation’s largest nonprofits, recently ran a feature about the 1918 pandemic that included a number of photographs from the National Archives.
Obviously, smartphones and digital media are relatively new technologies, so much of our history is preserved in microfilm collections. Microfilm is still the preservation standard for archivists, and duplicate copies of microfilm documents can be produced just as easily as they could decades ago. And, of course now we also have the added advantage of digitizing these pages of history in order to share them and publish them online, such as AARP did.
In another related example of bringing history forward through microfilm, the University of Oregon used grant money to digitize a microform collection that will share the stories of a civil rights trailblazer from the early 20th century.
While textbooks will always contain the most repeated stories, such as those of Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, there are so many additional and less publicized stories of people across history striving to break down barriers, make new discoveries and change the world in some way. These stories are captured in archive collections – many of them still on microfilm.
While we must wait to see how posterity treats 2020, we know that we can experience related historical events through our archived collections of the past – those preserved on microfilm collections, which can now also be easily brought into the 21st century through machines like the ScanPro® All-in-One™. Smartphones might be the preferred tool of the day, but when history is involved, you can expect microfilm to play its role.