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Subject: Book conservation and ethics

Book conservation and ethics

From: Jessica Johnson <tqaa345>
Date: Monday, April 18, 1994
I wanted to add some thoughts about types of collections and the roles
they may play as embodiments of "culture" or "Culture".  In my first
year of grad school in anthropology a lot of time was spent defining the
ideas of culture with and small c and Culture with a large C.  I've
forgotten the authors we read, but the basic idea stuck with me and is
one I thought might be useful in organizing our ideas about just what is
it we want to preserve.  "Culture" with a large C is the things that our
(Western, literate) society has decided represent the epitome of what it
good.  This Culture is preserved in our art museums, shown in opera.

The part of this idea that direct affects conservation is the primacy of
the thing.  The painting by Monet, the Staffordshire china, the Verdi
opera.  So conservators who focus on this type of material are focussing
on preserving the embodiment of our own high culture. The other type of
culture with a small c, is basically those rules and regulations and
interactions that everybody practices to get through life. (This is a
gross simplification, on Anthro-L they spend days and weeks and years
trying to define culture, and haven't yet to everyone's satisfaction.)
So, collections that are there to preserve some idea of culture have a
very different set of requirements on them.

Personally, I am most experienced with ethnographic and archaeological
collections. Ethnographic collections embody something about somebody
else's culture, and primacy of saving that object (like Zuni war gods)
may not be most important to them.  Archaeological collections, at least
anthropological archaeology collections, are collected, by
archaeologists, not as things (though you may find a beautiful pot, or
an exquisite stone knife) but as embodiments of data that they have to
manipulate in various ways to answer their questions, which change over
time.  Natural history collections, again are not collections of things
but collections of data. And from what I've gathered through the
DistList about library collections, some of the same ideas--books are
repositories of information which may or may not be our own--apply.

To focus too much on the preservation of the physical aspects of things
in collections is to devalue or ignore all the other information they
may contain. I hope others will comment on these ideas.

Jessie Johnson
Texas Memorial Museum

                  Conservation DistList Instance 7:75
                  Distributed: Monday, April 18, 1994
                        Message Id: cdl-7-75-007
Received on Monday, 18 April, 1994

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