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Connecting With the Public: The Importance of Conservation

March 27th, 2013

Connecting With the Public: The Importance of Conservation

Kate Clothier

The driving factor behind conservation, in my opinion, is the desire to create a connection with the past for current and future generations. Maintaining this link to the past is pivotal in keeping the information and knowledge of older societies from being neglected and ultimately forgotten. Once the past is forgotten it is near impossible to regain the lost knowledge, take for example the Library of Alexandria. The library had been filled with texts and writings that explained ancient knowledge and societal information. It was the most extensive library of its time and the amount of information it possessed was insurmountable. In a tragic accident, the library was burned down and the information within it was lost to the world.

Preserving the past is not enough. The information gathered must be made accessible to the public or else it is as good as being lost. Not only does the information need to be widely accessible but it has to be presented in a manner that is safe for the artifact while maintaining historical accuracy. It is in this step that conservation becomes a key component in the preservation, the knowledge and know-how of the conservator guiding the presentation to the public. The National Park Service (NPS) is one such example of a successful marriage between conservation projects and public outreach. This blog will explore how the NPS works together with conservators in order to create a successful public outreach program.

The unique aspect of the National Parks is that they are geared more towards public interaction. Museums are also geared towards the public but in a very different aspect. There, people go into rooms filled with pieces of history that have been gathered over years to represent different events and view them from afar. At the National Parks, people have the opportunity to go to the actual site and experience the history themselves, interacting with the environment and site. The National Park Service keeps these sites going because “History is a part of who we were, who we are, and who we will be” (National Parks Service 2013. “Discover History” National Park Service: U.S. Department of the Interior, Accessed: Web. 4 Mar. 2013) and the conservator is charged with keeping the site well preserved. By having the conservator working with the sites it allows NPS to watch the site and artifacts and monitor their health.

When the conservator is working with the National Park Service they have to take several different factors into account. Unlike museum conservation, which is also very viable and important, most of the NPS sites are outdoors. This means that the conservator has a new set of problems to face. They cannot control the relative humidity, the temperature, or light exposure. Instead, the conservator must alter their approach to preserve and conserve the site to fit the given environment. For example, preserving wood that is going to remain outdoors at a NPS site would probably not benefit from a sucrose treatment. This treatment would attract insects and have a higher possibility of becoming moldy because the conservator could not control the ecological factors. Therefore, the conservator must make the artifact and site able to withstand their environment without experiencing further deterioration. That being said, the conservator must also make the judgment call of whether an artifact should remain at the site. If it cannot be properly protected and runs the risk of complete deterioration then steps to properly protect it will have to be taken.

This is just one of many working examples where the presence of conservators benefits the public outreach concerning history. These sites offer a chance to preserve the historical significance of a site in addition to creating a place for the public to interact. Public interest and concern is key in assuring that the information will not be lost over time. By the conservator working with the National Park Service it opens up the accessibility to history that might otherwise not be available. The balance between keeping a site open for the public and safe from the wear and tear of the public can be a thin one. By knowing the environment of the site and a general history of it, as well as the type of public interaction, the conservator serves as the backbone of the site. With the use of good, well-rounded conservators, the National Park Service and the public should see the maintenance of sites for years to come, and the preservation of our shared historical connection.


National Parks Service 2013. “Discover History” National Park Service: U.S. Department of the Interior, Accessed: Web. 4 Mar. 2013


General Conservation

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