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Pieces of the Pandemic

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DU Museum of Anthropology

A Virtual Exhibition from ANTH 2020: Artifacts, Texts, and Meaning

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Pop Up Exhibit

Students from ANTH 2020 created pop up exhibitions around Sturm Hall discussing the Coronavirus Pandemic.

What object would you choose to help tell your pandemic story?  We asked that question of the students in the University of Denver course, “Artifacts, Texts, and Meanings.”  This exhibit is their answer.  It uses objects to help tell the story of 25 college students as they navigated a year in the shadow of COVID-19.  Some objects speak to the panic of the first days of shutdown, as students had to hurriedly leave campus.  Others reveal the ways they passed time when many typical activities could not be pursued.  Some items directly relate to preventing or facing the illness.  Others reflect the unintended physical consequences of our coping behaviors. Together they uniquely document an unprecedented moment in time, one whose repercussions will be felt for a long time to come.  

— Bonnie Clark, PhD, Professor and Jordan Bennett, Teaching Assistant

Passing the Time

  • Frank Lloyd Wright 1000 Piece Puzzle
    Frank Lloyd Wright Puzzle

    This Frank Lloyd Wright puzzle is one of the fifteen to twenty puzzles I completed during the Quarantine. It was one of my mom’s favorites, and she still plans to frame it somewhere in our house. I’ve always loved doing puzzles, but once middle school and high school hit, I rarely had the time to do them anymore. I find them very relaxing, because they start out as chaos, but with time and patience, even random pieces start to fit together. Once the work is put in and the final product is revealed, it makes the strenuous effort worthwhile. 

    – Clara Neavy



  • Pink Nike Tanjun’s Running Shoes
    Pink Nike Tanjun’s Running Shoes

    Quarantine offered plenty of free time. At first, I enjoyed the freedom, but eventually doing nothing got boring. Time went on and I started using these sneakers to go on walks with my mom around the neighborhood. This seemed like such a simple activity at first, but it was something that we both looked forward to every day. Finally, an excuse to leave the house! It gave us time to bond, have fun together, and talk about so many different things. These walks are so special to me now and allowed me to grow much closer to her. These pink shoes got scuffed up and don’t look so pink anymore, but the memories they hold are important to me. I’m grateful that they helped me find a positive side to being safe at home. 

    – Sydney Manno

  • Ukulele

    This ukulele lived untouched in a closet for three years prior to the pandemic, but during this past year this ukulele granted me a purpose and filled my time. Days in quarantine felt never-ending so I needed to find a way to use my time well. Instead of mindlessly burning through every TV show on Netflix or aimlessly walking around my neighborhood, I started playing the ukulele. This simple to learn musical instrument encouraged my mind to work in a different manner. It pushed me to set goals for myself again and allowed me to check a life-long goal off my bucket list. Additionally, this instrument helped me with my sleep cycle. Many people in quarantine struggled to maintain a healthy sleeping pattern as the idea of the standard workday had shifted dramatically. Having a project and a more structured day encouraged me to set other boundaries in my life. I eventually implemented a regular sleeping pattern again. Playing lullabies on the ukulele never hurt when trying to go to bed either.  

    – Emelina Catterson

  • Minibike Motovox Mbx11 Minibike
    Minibike Motovox Mbx11 minibike powered by 212cc Predator Hemi motor.

    By October 2020, six months into the pandemic, I needed a hobby. While I paid a premium for this minibike and its specialty parts, it took a lot of time and labor to make it run I took apart the entire engine block trying to troubleshoot before I discovered it burns through spark plugs at an alarming rate. Recently, with the assistance of a neighbor’s 3-D printer, I have been trying to reattach the back wheel cover without paying for a welder. 

    212cc Predator Hemi motor powering Minibike Motovox Mbx11 minibike

    Some minor surface mars remain, such as the snapped brake lever, but it remains functional to me. It took many hours but reassembling the bike was intrinsically rewarding as my hard work paid off. Scooting around on a kids’ toy might not seem like the most valuable hobby to some but reaping the rewards of my own labor feels incredible.

    – Phin Fox




  • Weighted Vest
    Weighted Vest

    Prior to COVID-19, I was working out in a gym six times a week. Once gyms across the country were required to temporarily close down, I was forced to find a new way to grow muscle without having access to weights. The weighted vest proved to be the most effective tool to keeping me healthy during quarantine. 

    Weighted Vest

    It originally belonged to the strength department at my high school and came with 40 removable one-pound steel shot packets. By the time I acquired it, only 25 shot packets remained, meaning I could only choose 1 to 25 pounds of resistance. Despite the limited resistance, the vest still allowed me to get extra sweaty on my daily workouts, which consisted of 3-mile runs in the park followed by 45-minute circuits. The vest itself bears witness to this through its use, wear, and residue. 

    – Caleb Smith


  • Mask from Community Garden Friend
    Mask from Community Garden

    Despite being a symbol of a tense and lonely event, this mask is a personal symbol of the kindness of others even during difficult times. Made with a pleated grey fabric and thin elastic ear loops, this simple, handmade cloth mask was a gift from a fellow gardener at a community garden over the summer of 2020.  

    Because of COVID-19, the community garden became one of the only ways I could speak with new people. At one point, I mentioned that I only had one mask, and I needed to reuse it more than I was comfortable with A kind older woman made and gave this mask to me so that I could switch masks and have a spare.  

    It has since become my favorite mask, not only because it was a gift, but also because it's well made and comfortable. Every time I wear it, I remember a spark of generosity that came at an important time in my life. It shows that people will reach out and be kind, despite the tension of the world around them. 

    – Lionel Collins

  • Fishing Licenses
    Fishing License
    Fishing License
    Fishing License

    Before the start of the pandemic, life was chaotic and fast-paced. The usual hustle came to a screeching halt when the virus began to spread, and countries were put on lockdown. Businesses and schools sent people home to work and learn. Everything from restaurants to malls and movie theaters closed. Health officials advised against gathering with people that did not live in the same household to avoid spreading the virus. Within a few weeks, people began to develop cabin fever and had to look for new activities, especially things that would allow people to get out of the house and away from the virtual world. People also began to panic that the food industry might shut down.  

    Fishing License

    Many people, including myself my family, began to buy fishing licenses. These New Mexico state fishing licenses each include a QR code that allowed officers to ensure their authenticity, their dates of validity, the permissions they grant, and the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish logo. The graphs show how many licenses people purchased in New Mexico and Colorado in 2020—much higher than the number purchased in 2019.  

    – Marina Wright

Coping with the Virus

  • Hospital Wristband
    Hospital Bracelet

    The hospital band below was placed on my wrist as I walked into the emergency room at the Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Colorado. What started as a trip to the emergency room for a presumptive kidney stone, resulted in a month-long battle with the novel COVID-19 virus, which still affects me today. Despite not testing positive until the next day, the doctors and nurses present practiced all safety precautions during my stay, to maximize their protection. Hospital bands are a safe way in which medical employers can quickly identify a patient, without contact or the removal of a protective mask. Such bands also share a surface-level description of the individual that’s admitted. My personal experience with this upper respiratory disease countered the common findings that the virus is only worse for adults. 

    – Oliver Fulton

  • Handmade Masks
    Handmade Mask
    Handmade Mask
    Mask from Grandma


    My grandmother made these masks for me in March 2020 and they are some of my favorites. She made them for my whole family using an online guide. 

    Her side of the family comes from Mexico, which may have influenced the patterns she chose while sewing. I wore them on an almost daily basis when I left my house to walk my dogs—so much that the strings on the side have lost some of their elasticity, and the seams where the mask was sewn together are fraying. 

    Washing the mask in a washing machine also caused some of the threads to come undone. 

    – Abran Romero

  • Plastic finger pulse Oximeter and Heart Rate monitor
    Pulse Oximeter

    This small battery powered device clamps onto the user's finger. It analyzes the user’s pulse to give a general Blood Oxygen and Heart Rate reading. As a respiratory disease, COVID-19 can have a negative impact on patients’ blood oxygen level.

    Pulse Oximeter

    Oximeters became much more common shortly after the pandemic began and are now a household item. You can use them as makeshift, at-home COVID-19 tests by comparing your blood oxygen level reading to healthy or normal levels. If your levels are too low, you might have COVID-19. But other factors such as exercise or other medical issues can also result in low blood oxygen levels. 

    – Simon Bigay





  • COVID-19 PCR and Spit Testing Results
    PCR Test

    To reduce the spread of COVID-19, the University of Denver community requires testing to keep students and staff safe; both on and off campus. DU offers two methods of Coronavirus testing; spit tests and PCRs. Students need to test once, twice, or three times a week in some cases. This requirement helps to ensure the safety of everyone living, working, and attending classes on campus and allows us to continue on-campus activities.  

    Spit Test Results

    Spit testing is unique to the DU community, as scientists here were the ones to develop it. The spit tests themselves are processed in an on-campus lab, while the PCR tests are processed at a nearby hospital.

    This commitment shows that the university values student safety and student learning as well as research. Coronavirus testing has now become a ritual in the community to slow the spread of the pandemic.  

    – Mackenzie Allen


  • Hand Sanitizer
    Hand Sanitizer

    Years before people started to hoard cleaning supplies at the beginning of the pandemic, I placed this pocket-sized bottle in a backpack and forgot about. It took up space in my backpack but I rarely used or touched it. As hand sanitizer became scarce and difficult to find in stores, I rediscovered this small bottle in the bottom of a backpack. It soon became a lifeline of security against COVID-19. Its small size came to symbolize the limited supplies we had to cope with in the early days of the pandemic. 

    – Benjamin Gedanken






  • Vaccination Card
    Vaccination Card

    The approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination marked a turning point in the pandemic—it is in many ways the beginning of the end. With 95% efficacy, this vaccine and those later approved are the most powerful tool in the arsenal against the virus. Every vaccinated person receives an official vaccination record card like this one that denotes both their first and, if appropriate, second dose. These easy to produce paper cards reflect the rapid development of these vaccines, a process that has led some people to distrust them. 

    Vaccination Event Sign

    Mass vaccination events are now common throughout the country, but for months the vaccine supply remained limited, causing appointments to become necessary.

    Vaccination Event

    The University of Denver partnered with National Jewish Health to vaccinate students, such as myself, and other members of the DU and broader Denver community, holding vaccination clinics twice a week where thousands are inoculated against the virus. 

    – John Seward



Life as a Student

  • Lock and Key
    Lock and Key

    The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March was characterized by abrupt changes for many college students, including myself. On March 13th of 2020 students on campus at DU were told they would have to suddenly leave campus in light of the increasing outbreaks of COVID-19. It was a time of immense stress and pressure as I figured out how to transfer all my belongings from my dorm room to the storage facility over a mile away. This lock secured that storage unit.  

    It is an example of the contradiction between this initial frenzy and the later stagnant patterns of quarantine. It is also a reflection of my experience as a college student during the pandemic. It represents the beginning of a journey halfway across the country and the start of my online college experience—a stark reminder of how quickly and unexpectedly life can change. As the pandemic wore on, and frenzy at school gave way to the monotony of the COVID ‘stay at home’ experience this lock became a literal symbol of the locking up and shutting down our belongings and daily life. 

    – Lily Fowler

  • Car Turbocharger and Broken Quarter-Inch Ratchet

    In the midst of final exams, students living in the dorms were given only a few days to either box up and leave their possessions in their rooms or move everything out. In my case, my home was over 1000 miles away in Milwaukee, WI. Unfortunately, this turbocharger from my car blew out, preventing me from going home. The turbocharger directs the exhaust gasses from the engine through a turbine, which connects to a compressor wheel through a shaft. This compresses the air from the intake, making it denser and thereby giving the engine the ability to burn more fuel more efficiently and increase engine power.  


    My turbocharger failed at the journal bearing—a metal collar around the shaft connecting the turbine and compressor wheel. Over enough time, especially when oil doesn’t reach the bearing, metal on metal contact can occur. This makes the bearing excessively loose around the shaft, and the oil seals on each side fail. The delicately machined turbine and compressor wheels grind against the housings, and oil is dumped directly into either side of the turbocharger, making clouds of smoke, loss of power, and unnatural noises. 


    I had to replace the turbocharger before I could drive back to Milwaukee. I had to improvise in a DU parking garage with tools that weren’t quite up to the job. Rust and heat made a bolt seize up, and my attempt to use a tiny quarter-inch drive ratchet resulted in breakage. Eventually, I got the job done, and was able to drive home.  




  • DU Out of Service Sign
    Out of Service Sign

    Made of plastic and paper, these “Out of Service to Stop the Spread” signs are durable enough to remain up throughout two quarters of school, at least. They discourage social interaction and link to real-time updates of cases and status that the University of Denver runs. These signs are helpful in restricting the spread of COVID-19. Yet, they have drastically shifted the community-building life on campus to a focus on individualism and establishing a very small group. Before, students could sit on a bench next to a stranger and spark a friendship, but there is no room for that now. Fewer students hang around campus, and community building is stunted. These signs show how the campus scene changed and could one day signify a permanent change.  

    – Luis Jaen

  • Alarm Clock set to 2:00AM
    Alarm Clock

    When Colorado was placed under a stay-at-home order in March 2020, and DU sent students home, I returned home to my family in Indiana, where I attended my classes over Zoom. I stayed in my room for school, with my only break being for meals. Over time, I struggled to remember the date and to keep track of when assignments were due.  

    The clock set at 2:00 am represented my only fixed point in time: the deadline for my classwork. Submissions were due by midnight Mountain Time, which is 2:00 am in Indiana. This clock helped me keep up with being a student at an institution thousands of miles away. 

    – Katie Sage

  • Glasses with Blue Light Protection Lenses
    Blue Light Glasses

    These are not your typical glasses, but blue light glasses. They are flexible, durable, and easily replaceable—which is important since I use them a lot. Blue light glasses protect my eyes from damaging blue ray and ultraviolet A and B light emitted from technology screens.  

    These glasses became a part of my life on April 9th, 2020, immediately following the shut-down of the University of Denver. They became essential for daily use because of my excessive time spent online for school and work due to the widespread COVID-19 stay-at-home order. These glasses have protected my eyes, prevented headaches and eye fatigue, and improved my sleeping habits. They have been, and will continue to be, with me at all times, even after the times of COVID-19.  

    — Allison McKenna

  • Pandemic Trash
    Pandemic Trash
    Pandemic Trash
    Pandemic Trash

    The waste I found in my trash can helps to represent a student’s life during the COVID-19 pandemic. The take-out boxes show how students had to get to-go meals while restaurants aren’t allowing in-person dining. From first glance, the outside of the box shows no wear, but the inside shows scratch marks from using a fork and knife and food residue.

    The broken, disposable mask shows that students will choose the cheapest option for a mask, even if it can only be used once and creates more waste in college trash cans. The strap on the right side of the mask tore off on one end, and the metal bar at the nose shows where I adjusted it.

    – Peyton Weeter

Unintended Consequences

  • Mask Box
    Mask Box

    This scratched, ripped, and dented 50-pack of blue cotton masks was one of the first boxes sent from China to the US during the mask shortage of the early pandemic. My parents’ company, established as a hotel and restaurant supply business, pivoted to distribute about 7 million of them last year. The masks helped to keep people safe, and helped my parents save their business.  This object exemplifies the COVID-19 experience for me because my job last summer was packing and unpacking boxes of masks.

    – Ethan Mayer-Perez

  • Hazard Paycheck
    Hazard Paycheck

    This hazard check represents what the pandemic was like for me, an essential worker. The state of Vermont sent hazard paychecks of $1,200 to all essential workers who worked during the height of the pandemic.  

    I worked in a grocery store every single day of the week. I began the pandemic watching people panic buying as much food and toilet paper as they could, and I thought that everything would blow over. I was shocked when I had to work my eight hour shifts with a mask and rubber gloves, constantly sanitizing my register. 

    This hazard paycheck changed my life. With the help of this paycheck, I was able to purchase and fix a vehicle that I need to get to a job that supports me. Without the paycheck I would have not been able to continue supporting myself. The pandemic changed everyone's lives and this check is an example of the positives.

    – Kelsey Buteau

  • Wilted Corsage from At-Home Prom

    This white rose wristlet corsage was given to me by my father on the day I would have had my senior prom—it was cancelled due to the pandemic. In all of the darkness and negativity of COVID-19, this corsage reminds me of a rare, joyful experience during my time in quarantine. My parents presented me with this corsage and surprised me with an at-home prom in an effort to replicate the experience I would have had. This corsage holds the memory of the fancy dinner, my elaborately decorated pool house, and dance party that was my “COVID Prom”. 

    – Abby Morgan




  • Takeout Food Container
    Takeout Container

    With a new and developing deadly virus, the University of Denver implemented a plan to use containers to supply meals for students. Throughout the pandemic, students have been able to take their food containers outside, to their room, and to the limited spaces in the community commons. The container is also biodegradable, a physical manifestation of DU’s commitment to sustainability. 

    This kind of packaging allows for social distancing and is part of a national trend. As restaurants pivoted to take-out only, packaging use increased exponentially. The pandemic allowed for delivery companies like DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Postmates to benefit. With many Americans unemployed, food delivery expanded the opportunity for many to gain income. But, the increase in the use of disposable containers and plastic bags by food companies harms the environment.  

    – Ade Wijaya

  • Liter of Ethanol

    Ethanol, the primary ingredient of Purell and other hand sanitizers, is not a new invention. People have been producing it for more than 12,000 years for its recreational properties and discovered its medicinal properties about 700 years ago. From there, even greater quantities were produced and in the year 2019, over 29 billion gallons of it were generated. The pandemic then caused people to dramatically increase their consumption of it, with Purell more than doubling the amount of hand sanitizer made last year. This was still not enough, though. 


    Individuals began attempting to hoard industrial quantities of it for personal use out of fear. Purell, the most well-known hand sanitizer producer in the country, could not keep up with demand, even after doubling their output. It didn’t take long for stores to start rationing the amount an individual could purchase at one time, and with that, scalpers struck.  

    These 1-liter containers were formerly easy to obtain at $15 a piece, but due to the panic and believed decrease in supply, people happily forked over upwards of two to four times that amount. This artifact symbolizes humanity’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, both in fluidity and volatility.

    – Jacob Binder

  • Amazon Packaging
    Amazon Package

    This Amazon shipping package delivered masks to the Gamma Phi Beta sorority house. COVID-19 made it harder to shop in person, so people have resorted to ordering essentials from places like Amazon. Stores are closing, and people need to stay home to try to stop the spread. Thus, online shopping has become a major player in the livelihoods of Americans and people all over the world.  

    This economic shift has unintended consequences, as an excess of non-recycled or non-biodegradable plastic waste presents challenges for the environment. This packing includes instructions for recycling although many recycling facilities do not accept this kind of packaging. Most of the Amazon packages delivered to the sorority house end up in the trash. 

    This phenomenon is situated in the context of climate change and economic crisis. It highlights the imbalance in responsibility among global corporations, such as Amazon, who’s CEO Jeff Bezos became the richest man in the world as Amazon workers risk their life daily to deliver goods. This Amazon package represents both struggle and privilege as the realities of climate change, poverty, mortality, economic inequality and global corporate responsibility come to a head. 

    – Hannah Yonas

CTA Pattern

Thank You to our Exhibition Team

Anne Amati, Jordan Bennett, Sarah Carlson and Bonnie Clark