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Article VII of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, Code of Ethics states “The conservation professional shall document examination, scientific investigation, and treatment by creating permanent records and reports.” This is an essential part of a conservator’s job, and is expanded upon in the AIC Guidelines for Practice.
Conservators use a variety of simple and sophisticated methodologies in their work. Examination techniques, alone or in conjunction with chemical and physical analysis, allow them to understand how an object was made or used, to evaluate and track changes in condition, or to gauge the success of past treatment efforts. Those assessments, in turn, provide a fuller picture of vulnerability to risk, and inform decisions in preventive efforts, treatment, and allocation of preservation resources across a collection, department or institution.
The results of examination and analytical activities are preserved and interpreted in conservation documentation. The format (e.g. written, pictorial, photographic, etc.) and the level of detail will vary according to the needs of the project and the resources available. Whether focused on an individual object or whole collections, it is important to remember that the resources and effort put into creating documentation make it valuable to the institution and, in a larger sense, part of the history of our collective cultural property. As such, it is important that resources are also expended to ensure that these documents (whether paper-based or digital) are maintained in as permanent and sustainable a manner as possible.
Learn more about equipment and methodologies used in examination, documentation, research and technical study, project planning, and treatment at AMNH.