Collections: Why Preserve Them?
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 currently numbering more than 32 million cataloged items, support research, educational outreach, and exhibition initiatives, serving as a vital resource held in trust for present and future generations.
The Museum’s collections are not a passive archive, but a dynamic and evolving with more than 90,000 new items acquired annually (primarily through the Museum’s scientific expeditions), including creation of new collections that address emerging scientific questions and research needs. AMNHmust preserve and protect these vast, diverse, growing, and aging collections, while at the same time ensuring and expanding access.
Mission and Responsibilities
The Conservation Department for scientific collections at the American Museum of Natural History is a treatment, research, and support facility whose primary aim is the care and preservation of the collections for use in research, education, and exhibition, thus supporting the museum’s mission and compliance with the collections policy. The department supports the five scientific divisions providing preventive conservation, exhibition conservation, condition documentation, collection surveys, and research. The conservators have an established history of research, education, and outreach providing information about and access to collections for the museum community and beyond, including a decades-long intern and fellowship program providing in-depth experience to conservation students of all levels. Major responsibilities of the department include:
- Oversight of disaster preparedness, response, and risk management initiatives
- Development and implementation of museum-wide standards for collections care
- Education and training for staff regarding conservation policies, procedures, and standards
- Acting as a resource for Collections and Exhibition Department personnel on storage, display, , transportation, and treatment of collections
- Conducting research to further collections research and preservation
- Treatment of collection items as needed for preservation, stabilization, or in preparation for research, display, or publication.
- Outreach and collaboration with other organizations working in diverse areas of collections care, and other collection stakeholders.
Day-to-day care of the AMNH collections of scientific specimens and objects of cultural heritage is the responsibility of the professional Collection Managers in each museum department, who have a good understanding of the preservation needs of their collections. Conservation lab projects and initiatives are devised according to the needs of the collections, staff, or researcher requests. Many of the projects undertaken by the lab have been supported by grant funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the Mellon Foundation, and National Science Foundation.
Learn More About Our Team
The AMNH conservation team works together on preventive conservation measures and exhibition related projects museum-wide. Some members of the team specialize in the care of the the collections from the five natural science divisions, while others focus on the care of material culture.
Becoming a Conservator
Conservators are responsible for the long-term preservation of the collections in their care. This work requires an understanding of the processes of deterioration, knowledge of strategies that prevent damage, and manual dexterity to carry out remedial conservation treatments. The broad base of knowledge to conduct this work requires an interdisciplinary background involving studio practices, sciences, and the humanities.
For more information on conservation training visit the American Institute for Conservation.