Archiving COVID-19 heritage in Ho Chi Minh City

Project Details


The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted almost every facet of our world, prompting a variety of material responses in societies across the globe. This project, funded by a grant under the AHRC/GCRF 'Imagining Futures' programme, draws on approaches in contemporary archaeology to witness and document COVID-19 materiality – posters, signage, murals, graffiti, discarded personal protective equipment, disinfection paraphernalia, barricades – on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam through photographs and sketches to create a fully accessible online archive of COVID-19 heritage. The project is timely. As lockdowns fade from memory, debates are ongoing as to how the extraordinary period of pandemic will be remembered. Meanwhile, material traces of pandemic are beginning to disappear as daily life resumes under ‘new normal’ conditions. Our research seizes the opportunity not only to create an open access archive of COVID-19 heritage but to test the extent to which material perspectives in research on disasters can improve understandings of the relationships between public action and government policies.

Methodological tools to document unexpected, ephemeral events and investigate the social dynamics of disasters and disaster recovery are lacking. This study uses a mixed methods approach incorporating ethnographic, archaeological and arts-based methods to create an ‘archive from below’ that acknowledges alternative visions of the past and may offer a counterpoint to official narratives. Through informal conversations, semi-structured interviews and potentially through extended ethnographic encounters, the three research team members will engage with city dwellers who interface with transient COVID-19 materiality to understand the social meaning they ascribe to it. By employing visual arts practices – sketching, painting, photography - we stretch the meaning of archive and engage non-academic audiences. And in creating a social media repository, we will be developing an innovative mode of archival practice that accommodates diverse community experiences of pandemic. Learning from our research may support and inform others seeking to understand the social impacts of disasters through the analysis of space and material. An end of project exhibition will be held in Ho Chi Minh City. Contributors to the online archive will be invited to attend.

Through a £11,885 grant from UEA's AHRC Impact Acceleration Account, impactful activities drawing on the findings from this research project are being taken forwards until 2025.
Effective start/end date19/09/2218/09/23


  • University of Exeter: £15,000.00