Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cultural Respect in Preservation and Conservation

This topic will be discussed at the North Carolina Preservation Consortium Annual Conference, which will be held on November 20, 2008 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Preservation and conservation of collections in libraries, archives, museums, and historic sites are guided by professional ethics, standards, guidelines, and best practices.

This year's North Carolina Preservation Consortium (NCPC) annual conference will address the issues of cultural respect. Objects of material culture often hold intangible values for the community of origin. Do collection institution leaders honor these values with policies of respect and community collaboration? Some artifacts may not be intended for use or view by the public. Do collection institution caretakers place restrictions on access and exhibition? Some communities may wish to use artifacts in traditional ceremonies and rituals. Do collection institution stewards approve such requests? Some communities believe their cultural objects should deteriorate naturally. Do preservation and conservation professionals permit this to happen? We often profess to champion diversity in our collections. Do we respect multicultural perspectives on the preservation and conservation of heritage collections? Is there a moral imperative to preserve and conserve books, manuscripts, documents, photographs, film, sound recordings, art, and artifacts?

One of the papers presented at the Indigenous Graduate Student Research Conference discussed ancient baskets. During the discussion it was mentioned that there are some tribes in California which view baskets as sentient beings which are created for a specific use and that it was wrong to put them in glass cases where they could not be handled and touched, where they would not be allowed to do the task they were intended for, and where they would not be allowed to die a natural death.

I find this a fascinating topic. I'm hoping that I have the chance to read more and perhaps write a paper on this topic for my class on Preservation this summer.

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