The terminology associated with the discipline of conservation can sometimes lead to confusion. This is true in particular of the distinction between preservation and conservation, only compounded by the fact that some languages use both words to express the same meaning. In some countries the distinction between conservator and restorer is a matter of semantics while in other countries the profession of conservator corresponds to that of curator in English-speaking countries. Following are a collection of definitions on the topic of conservation adopted by internationally recognised conservation bodies.
- Conservation: The profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the future. Conservation activities include examination, documentation, treatment, and preventive care, supported by research and education.
- Preservation: The protection of cultural property through activities that minimize chemical and physical deterioration and damage and that prevent loss of informational content. The primary goal of preservation is to prolong the existence of cultural property (from Definitions of Conservation Terminology, American Institute for Conservation (AIC) website.)
- Preventive Conservation: This refers to the mitigation of deterioration and damage to cultural property through the formulation and implementation of policies and procedures for the following: appropriate environmental conditions; handling and maintenance procedures for storage, exhibition, packing, transport, and use; integrated pest management; emergency preparedness and response; and reformatting/duplication. Preventive conservation is an ongoing process that continues throughout the life of cultural property, and does not end with interventive treatment.
- Restoration: 'Treatment procedures intended to return cultural property to a known or assumed state, often through the addition of non original material.' (from Definitions of Conservation Terminology, American Institute for Conservation (AIC) website.)
The rationale behind a restoration procedure is not necessarily prolonging the life of cultural property. The sole purpose of a restoration treatment might be to improve the aesthetic appearance of an object even when such intervention is not justified by an immediate threat or does not offer a real improvement in the condition of the object.
- Interventive Conservation: The deliberate alteration of the chemical and/or physical aspects of cultural property, aimed primarily at prolonging its existence. Treatment may consist of stabilization and/or restoration.
Standards and Ethics
The objectives of IDP with regard to the preservation of the Central Asian material can be summarised as follows:
- To stabilise and extend the lifespan of degraded and fragile material, where possible with minimum intervention.
- To employ safe and recognised techniques in line with the discipline current developments; where possible marrying modern techniques with traditional Asian methods and materials.
- To aid the dissemination of well known and recognised conservation codes of ethics in order to harmonise ethical approaches to the conservation of Asian material among its members.
- To develop new approaches to the conservation of Asian material.
- To develop common standards in conservation, preservation and documentation.
- To share expertise and information among specialists involved in the field of conservation including conservators, scholars and material scientists.
- To make information on the work carried out by conservators in IDP available through conferences, publications, open days, workshops and online resources.
For further information about ethics in conservation and to view a selection of well known codes of ethics employed by the profession see conservation links.
Conservation documentation is the systematic collection of textual and visual information related to a cultural object undergoing any form of conservation or preservation intervention. Conservation documentation can be viewed as analogous to a medical record for a human being. The content and the extent of the documentation are dependent on the policy of individual institutions.
A good conservation documentation policy is as important in a modern institution as is a good conservation and preservation policy: it should be considered intrinsic to any such policy.
As many conservators will have experienced, one of the most challenging problems is the lack of information regarding the history of past intervention on cultural objects in their care. The lack of records means that more time must be spent in piecing together information that is known, often by resorting to colleagues for their recollection of what might have happened to specific objects or collections.
The main reasons to keep an updated conservation documentation system can be summarised as follows:
- To document treatments for future record including recording techniques and materials.
- To provide future conservators with a guide on which to inform their future decisions on the basis of what might have worked or failed in the past.
- To save time and resources for future treatments.
- To have a record of tests and investigations already carried out.
- To avoid the collection of further samples for investigation if they are already available from past investigations.
- To provide material information to be used by curators, historians and researchers when investigating the history of a cultural object or collection.
- To provide material evidence of pre-treatment conditions if and when needed.
- To provide a body of information for future surveys or similar activities.
- To have full documentation to be used for insurance purposes, should a claim become necessary.