NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Historians around the city have projects in the works to make sure every aspect of the coronavirus pandemic gets preserved.

CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock recently spoke with two about how they’re recording this moment in history.

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“Why is this happening at this time, why is this happening in this place, and why is this happening in this way? What made New York City and New York State the center of the pandemic?” Manhattan Borough historian Robert Snyder said.

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These are the questions Snyder hopes all New Yorkers are asking right now, because while sometimes it’s hard to tell when history is happening, it is clear that right now we’re all living through history in the making.

“I think the most pressing question in the coronavirus is how did it track existing patterns of inequality and exclusion in our city and in our state,” Snyder said.

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His immediate focus is collecting oral history from those who are on the suffering edge of this pandemic.

He adds it’s critical our historical record includes the voices of grocery store employees, delivery men and women, police officers, nurses and doctors.


The New York Historical Society closed its doors to the public on March 11. That’s when historians began an aggressive search for artifacts, especially unique items. For example, a bottle of whisky, instead of being topped off with liquor, was filled with hand sanitizer.

President and CEO Louise Mirrer told Murdock some of the most moving artifacts collected so far include shop signs. One sign says, “Will give away one pair of disposable gloves for FREE if you cannot afford to buy one.”

“It’s really, for me, the most poignant sign of what has happened and the sadness,” Mirrer said.

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While historians are busy collecting, they want your help, too. The program is called “History Responds.”

“I think what is really essential is for every individual to have a consciousness of what he or she or they may be in possession of right now that will be useful to a future generation,” Mirrer said.

During tough times, Lisa Johansen leaves little somethings for her Kew Gardens, Queens neighbors. But now, instead of muffins or cards, she’s leaving rocks with inspirational quotes.

One of them is now forever etched in history at the New York Historical Society.

“Did you ever imagine this would be considered New York City history?” Murdock asked.

“No, I didn’t,” Johansen said.

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Also etched in history is a picture of a bedazzling rainbow by 4-year-old Lizzy Murphy.

The budding artist said she painted the rainbow, “because it makes people happy.”

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And while a rainbow may not shed light on why this is happening, it will certainly send a clear message about how New Yorkers responded to the pandemic — with hope.