Mar 13, 2023
Cultural heritage conservation is a multifaceted and intricate subject that requires extensive knowledge, cooperation, experience, discipline, moral responsibility, and funding. Heritage conservators spend months delving into a single object, collecting information, and conducting research before embarking on restoration. Even then, the conservation process can take months, if not years. Throughout this process, conservators collaborate with chemists, physicists, biologists, and other scientists to thoroughly analyse the object and share their findings.
Based on the results, conservators can then make decisions on which materials are appropriate for treatment. Thorough analysis is crucial for assessing the condition and identifying the initial cause of defects. Historical research helps us learn about an object and understand its social, economic, and artistic value. Chemical and physical research aid in assessing the artist’s creative process or the impact of previous restoration.
Once this information is gathered, it becomes a valuable set of data that could be applied for further research or data comparison. Unfortunately, this information is rarely accessible to the public and even among other colleagues within an organisation. While unique case studies may be presented at conferences or published in peer-reviewed journals, the rest isn’t available on the Internet. Therefore, this article was written to highlight that knowledge sharing is a problem within the heritage sector.
Some thoughts presented may be subjective, but the purpose of this article is to briefly analyse the reasons why knowledge should be shared, including both good and bad practices that could help professionals avoid mistakes and make improvements accordingly.
In 2021, Dr. Jorge Otero wrote a fantastic article titled 'Heritage Conservation Future: Where We Stand, Challenges Ahead, and a Paradigm Shift.' He analysed the reasons behind the lack of knowledge sharing and the value of cultural heritage for both present and future generations. According to his research, cultural tourism represented 40% of all European tourism in 2019, generating 319 million jobs and producing over 30 billion euros in revenue annually. These numbers show that cultural heritage is a valuable economic asset for any country and should be preserved accordingly.
He identifies that inadequate environmental conditions, conflicts, climate change, mass tourism, insufficient management, and lack of resources are currently the primary conservation threats to World Heritage Sites. Recent events in Turkey, Syria, and Ukraine where cultural heritage was destroyed or severely damaged further highlight the importance of knowledge sharing to help local practitioners preserve cultural heritage by applying best practices.
The same need for knowledge sharing is declared by ICCROM in the article called 'Key Challenges.' Another important aspect of preserving cultural heritage is utilising digital tools that can help systematically organise collections and keep associated documents in one place, sharing them with relevant organisations. This information may assist in the future in understanding what has happened to an object and what has been done to preserve it.
Although sharing knowledge is vital and common in many industries, heritage professionals are often hesitant to share this information due to concerns about it being manipulated or applied for malicious purposes. Lack of funding and inadequate pay are barriers to active participation in sharing knowledge, which cannot be easily solved.
Despite all the above, we believe that knowledge sharing and collaboration should be a high priority as it's extremely important in driving success, learning from mistakes, and protecting and preserving our cultural heritage for present and future generations.