General Conservation

A153709_4 ©Justine Cooper, Courtesy Daneyal Mahmood Gallery

Why Preserve Natural Science Collections?

Since its founding in 1869, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) has been steadfastly committed to its stated mission “To discover, interpret, and disseminate—through scientific research and education—knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe.” The Museum’s collections, global in scope and now numbering more than 32 million specimens and artifacts, support research, educational outreach, and exhibitions initiatives and create a precious legacy held in trust for the use of present and future generations. This becomes critical as the natural and cultural diversity of the planet is reduced with each passing year.

The Museum’s collections are not a passive archive, but a dynamic, evolving resource with more than 90,000 new specimens acquired annually (primarily through the Museum’s own scientific expeditions), and the creation of new collections that address emerging scientific questions and research needs. As a result, AMNH, like all similar institutions must respond to the critical issue of how to protect vast, diverse, growing, and aging collections, while at the same time ensuring and expanding access.

Culturally, biologically, and geologically, natural science collections are a shared legacy and, at all educational levels, provide the basis for much of what we know about this planet and our place on it. The data held in natural science collections is infinite and new information is discovered with each new technology. Preservation of collections is a critical concern so that as new techniques emerge, we have intact and well-preserved collections upon which to use them. Much remains to be learned from even the most studied specimen.

The information presented here is applicable to collections, no matter what their size. While there will always be a need for remedial conservation treatment for specific specimens, the focus of this site is preventive care, which provides the most strategic approach to applying resources that will maximize the life of collections and, hopefully, ensure that they provide the basis for research, learning and education for generations to come. For more general information on the power and importance of natural science collections, see the Natural Science Collections Alliance booklet, Collective Knowledge.