Future Historians and the Pandemic of 2020

by Norma Aubertin-Potter

I n March 2020 Covid-19 changed the way we live, work, interact with friends, family and strangers in a way thought impossible a few months before. Have you noticed how difficult it is to see if people are smiling at you when they are wearing a mask?

One question as we slowly return to 'normal' or the 'new normal' as nothing will ever be the same again is 'what will future historians think of all this?'

Social historians will pour out many words on the changes to our working day – and be slightly amused that it took a virus to make us realise we could work from home most of the time. This in turn relieving the rush hour of crowded buses and trains. Social historians will also conduct surveys onto how children who were taught at home were affected by not seeing their friends or teachers.

Economic and social historians will look at the empty supermarket shelves in the first weeks and especially the incessant demand for toilet rolls – what part of our 21st century make up caused this – was it an outcome of the war years – did the thought of rationing make us panic?

One outcome of the virus and the closure of shops has been the huge increase in buying online – future historians will look at this in detail and discuss in wordy papers whether this resulted in the closure of the shops and thus empty High Streets. And the effect on the economy both local and worldwide. The furlough system where people were paid not to work will cause much comment and whether this delayed in any way people returning to their offices. Of interest to future historians will surely be how we adapted to the use of zoom meetings both for work and to see our family and friends. All this while self-isolating and social distancing.

The impact of the decline in tourism both in this country and abroad will attract researchers – how did countries cope with such a decline in the money generated by tourists. Oxford being a case in point.

The closure of theatres, museums, restaurants public houses had a severe impact on our lives and this again will be a source of research – and how we entertained ourselves while in lockdown. And lockdown – how did it affect our mental state – much medical research will be done on this aspect.

Political historians will also look at the government guidelines which as time went on became confusing as politicians didn't seem to understand the guidelines either. A history of the BBC will look in detail at the filming of the government daily briefings at 4.30pm and then were repeated again almost word for word in the 6pm and 10pm news. Why? The briefings became so dire that many of us stopped watching and therefore it lost whatever advantage it had in advising the general public.

Environmentalists will consider the benefit to wildlife as suddenly those that live near roads could hear the birds sing, and wild animals ventured into the streets from the hills. The empty roads and streets, the silence, will also attract comment. Future historians will try and imagine what the silence was like and write long papers on the reported intense blue of the sky which with the return of planes they cannot see.

Medical researchers will examine in depth the work of the care homes, the affect the lockdown had on those living there who were only able to see families through a window.

The NHS, postmen, bin collectors, bus drivers, factories, farmers, staff in the food shops all kept us going and for this we are very thankful and in awe of their devotion in continuing to service our needs. They deserve detailed scrutiny. The social clapping for them all was richly deserved, if a very small return.

While we can only speculate what commenters of the future will make of how we coped it is true to say researchers in the near future or in a hundred plus years time will be attracted to such a change in lifestyles.

To help future historians, from March 2020 the Kidlington and District Historical Society along with other institutions such as the Oxfordshire Record Office, the British Library, the National Archives and historical societies countrywide have been collecting material all to be available to the future historian to pore over.

SEE ALSO by Norma Aubertin-Potter:
My Father and the Merchant Navy
Honoured at Oxford
My Lockdown Books
To Zoom or to Teams
Future Historians and the Pandemic of 2020

Norma Aubertin-Potter is a resident of Kidlington Village and a member of the Kidlington and District Historical Society.

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