History Lab: Measuring Time in the Era of COVID-19

Tuesday, June 9, 2020
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m.
Eastern Daylight Time (UTC -4)
United States

History Lab returns with this virtual edition featuring lively discussion about questions from science and history that have immediate, real-world implications.

Much has been made of how time has no meaning in the era of COVID-19, but time plays a major role in the scientific process. It shapes funding, research, even lab setups. Time is also the fundamental way we organize our lives. Clocks, watches, calendars, and the other tools we use to measure time tell us what to do and when to do it. But what happens when the fundamental ways we experience time are disrupted?


Ad for Catalin Styrene in Modern Plastics, February 1957

Advertisement for Catalin Styrene in the February 1957 issue of Modern Plastics.

Science History Institute

Join us as we think about the ways life under quarantine has changed our routines, including how we measure the hours, days, and months we spend in isolation. We’ll consider how typical timekeeping methods may feel arbitrary and talk about how the rhythms of the natural world are a more fitting way to notice time passing. By examining the ways we mark time when disconnected from “the clock,” we’ll be able to ask real questions about how we observe “progress” and growth and what that means for scientific research.

While you don’t need to prepare anything in advance, here a few questions that are guiding our thinking for the session:

  • What are the traditional materials/instruments we use to keep time? What are the “new” ways we’re noticing the passing of time (natural growth, weather, knitting, pets, etc.)?
  • What is the purpose of clock time and what does it prioritize? Does it make us view the world in particular ways?
  • What does it mean to be “on time” both traditionally and during quarantine? How do these new perspectives on time make us think differently about how we organize our days?
  • Science is often observed as a finished product, but how does living in quarantine without a COVID-19 vaccine and with inconsistent testing make us think differently about the timelines of science?

Further reading to inspire your thinking:

About the Series

History Lab is a series of free seminars that explore big questions from science and history that have immediate, real-world implications.

We’re Working to Make Our Programming Accessible

This program will have ASL interpretation. If you have questions or other needs in order to join us, please contact Zack Biro at zbiro@sciencehistory.org.

Learn more about accessibility at the Science History Institute >>