Conservation according to ICOM-CC

Although conservation has been a concern from the Early Ages on, conservation as a scientific discipline took off after the second World War, especially in English speaking countries as the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Later other countries stepped in, conservation gathered momentum and is now applied worldwide.

Anybody working in conservation nowadays has to be able to work in international context and has to keep himself informed of new evolutions in the field. Since publications are not only published in English it is very important that people understand each other when discussing conservation topics.

During these years many terms came into use: preservation, conservation, passive conservation, active conservation and many others. Because of the different languages in the world the terms did not always mean exactly the same thing in different countries. This lead sometimes to misunderstandings and confusion.

Therefore the Committee for Conservation of the International Council of Museums (ICOM-CC) proposed some terms and definitions to be used in international context. This terminology was accepted during the 15th Triennial Conference of ICOM-CC in Delhi (India) in 2008 by the attending members. This terminology is now being used in all current contacts and literature. It was approved in English and French and translated in Spanish. By now it has found its place in many languages.

The general term “conservation” is defined by ICOM-CC as:

all measures and actions aimed at safeguarding tangible cultural heritage while ensuring its accessibility to present and future generations. Conservation embraces preventive conservation, remedial conservation and restoration. All measures and actions should respect the significance and the physical properties of the cultural heritage item.”

The general notion “conservation” was refined by 3 other definitions, each of them well specified. These are:

  • Preventive conservation
  • Remedial conservation
  • Restoration

Moreover all measures taken have to taken into account the “meaning” and the properties of cultural heritage. We will come back to this when we talk about historical and material context of cultural heritage.

In French the current terms are now:

  • Conservation préventive
  • Conservation curative
  • Restauration

In Spanish the terms are:

  • Conservación preventiva
  • Conservación curativa
  • Restauración

Similar terms are now being used in Italian , German and many other languages.

This terminology is quite similar to the one used in medicine, where a distinction is also made between preventive and remedial actions. In medicine prevention is everyone’s concern, while the act of curing or stabilizing processes is the prerogative of specialists. We find this distinction also in conservation. In a broad sense conservation can be considered as the health care for cultural heritage.

In a next post we will explain the difference between preventive conservation, remedial conservation and restoration.


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