THE LEGACY OF ANTHROPOLOGY COLLECTIONS CARE AT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
MICHELE AUSTIN, NATALIE FIRNHABER, LISA GOLDBERG, GRETA HANSEN, & CATHERINE MAGEE
The many methods used over the years at the NMNH to stabilize and exhibit the anthropology collections have left a lasting but largely undocumented legacy. This review, reconstruction, and analysis of the archival records have created a more complete picture of artifact care. Similarities of intent in the preventive conservation goals of museum staff over the past 150 years and ACL staff today are striking. Early curators and preparators strived to prevent damage to collections by attempting to remove or prevent attack by agents of deterioration. Later collections staff including preparators and laboratory assistants endeavored to provide methods to care for what they observed as inherently unstable materials through a variety of treatment techniques. The unifying goal of each generation of staff was essentially to ensure collections survival and availability for public exhibition and research. While the term “preventive conservation” may be of relatively recent coinage, its basic theory and practice are not. Museum staff writing in 1923 noted that, “By putting into practice methods of prevention, the collections were kept in a good state of preservation” (Hough 1923, 36).
We would like to acknowledge the many individuals who have made significant contributions to the care of our collections over the years. These include temporary staff, contractors, students, volunteers and other SI staff. The article only references permanent staff in an attempt to clarify the timeline.
For a more complete history of the ACL and its leadership, please visit www.nmnh.si.edu/anthro/conservation/.