BPG Culturally Sensitive Treatment

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This page is an attempt to expand the Book and Paper Group Wiki to include tips and resources to make well-informed, culturally sensitive treatment decisions on book and paper collections. Further citations to useful articles or books, links to online resources, original content, images and pdfs, and conservation tips are welcome.

There are several pages on the AIC Wiki that contain overlapping, interrelated content. This page will focus on conservation ethics and the components of artifacts that should not be lost during treatment. Non-Western Bookbinding Structures and Their Conservation has a lot of information about binding structures from around the world. If a resource is useful in both pages, please include it in both or provide links back and forth. The AIC Wiki also has an overarching page on Conservation Ethics that may contain useful resources.

Wiki Contributors: Marieka Kaye, Katherine Kelly, Michelle C. Smith, please add your name here

Copyright 2020. The Book and Paper Group Wiki is a publication of the Book and Paper Group of the American Institute for Conservation. It is published as a convenience for the members of the Book and Paper Group. Publication does not endorse nor recommend any treatments, methods, or techniques described herein. Please follow these instructions for citing the BPG Wiki, keeping in mind that the Wiki is a work in progress and is frequently updated. The BPG Wiki coordinators can be reached at [email protected].

What is Sensitive?

As explored so eloquently by Brigitte Derlon and Marie Mauzé in their essay, "Sacred" or "Sensitive" Objects, the terms sensitive, sacred, and secret are very often tied to culturally significant artifacts. The idea of cultural sensitivity is fortunately becoming more ingrained in our code of ethics, as it is clearly a necessity to those of us living and working on invaded and stolen lands that belong to indigenous peoples - in particular North America, Australia, and New Zealand. The value of cultural significance is one created for members of the artifacts' originating communities. The designation "culturally sensitive," commands our respect and special care, and often implies that an artifact's use is rightfully prohibited or restricted.

The sensitivity or sacredness of an artifact does not necessarily require a religious context, but instead should encompass a community's broad values and ways of life. Conservation treatment, access, and display by museums, libraries, and electronic media must always include prior consultation with the communities from which the artifacts were collected. In a time when many patrons of cultural institutions want open and easy access to all varieties of cultural resources, it must be emphasized that some items are not meant for such access.

As Derlon emphasizes, any object having a historical and cultural importance to present-day indigenous or underrepresented communities can be defined as "sacred" or "culturally sensitive." Any display, photo reproduction, and use in electronic formats may be forbidden if the creating community wishes to keep their artifacts reserved for their members alone. These communities must always be included or consulted as essential partners with museums and libraries any time their cultural property is to be used.

Treatment of Religious Texts

See also the "Ritual or Sacred Objects" section on the Parchment page.

Materials made for use as part of religious observance may require special consideration. In Judaism, sacred parchment objects include Torah scrolls, mezuzot, tefillin kettubot, books, and Biblical scrolls. Their conservation treatment will require an understanding of their context in Jewish life to determine the appropriateness of various treatments (Greene 1992). Certain items, such as Torah scrolls, mezuzot and tefillin, should be given to a qualified religious scribe (sofer) if they are intended they be used for religious purposes. This should be discussed with a responsible custodian or curator before treatment.

Case Studies

Bibliography

Derlon, Brigitte and Marie Mauzé. 2010. "'Sacred' or 'Sensitive' Objects." Accessed July 16, 2020.

Greene, Virginia. “'Accessories of Holiness': Defining Jewish Sacred Objects.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 31, no.1 (1992): 31-39.

Further Reading

Alivizatou, Marilena. 2011 Feb. "Intangible Heritage and Erasure: Rethinking Cultural Preservation and Contemporary Museum Practice." International Journal of Cultural Property. Vol. 18 (1). https://doi-org.proxy.lib.umich.edu/10.1017/S094073911100004X. Accessed July 16, 2020.

Brajer, Isabelle (ed). 2013. "Conservation: Cultures and Connections." Interim Meeting ICOM-CC Theory and History Working Group (ePub). https://doi.org/10.4000/ceroart.3508. Accessed July 16, 2020.

Clavir, Miriam and John Moses. 2018. "Caring For Sacred and Culturally Sensitive Objects". Ottawa: Canadian Conservation Institute, Department of Canadian Heritage. Accessed July 16, 2020.

Engelhardt, Richard A. and Pamela Rumball Rogers. 2009. Hoi An Protocols For Best Conservation Practice in Asia: Professional Guidelines for Assuring and Preserving the Authenticity of Heritage Sites in the Context of the Cultures of Asia. Bangkok: UNESCO Bangkok, Regional Unit for Culture in Asia and the Pacific. Accessed March 23, 2017.

Heikell, Vicki, Dean Whiting, Miriam Clavir, Nancy Odegaard, Marian Kaminitz, and John C. Moses. 1995. "The Conservator's Approach to Sacred Art." WAAC Newsletter, Vol. 17 (3). Accessed July 16, 2020.

Hoffman, Barbara T (ed). 2006. "Art and Cultural Heritage: Law, Policy and Practice." New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kreps, Christina. 2003. "Liberating Culture: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Museums, Curation and Heritage Preservation." New York: Routledge.

O'Riordan, Caitlin. "Art Conservation: The Cost of Saving Great Works of Art." Emory International Law Review. Vol. 32 (3). Accessed July 16, 2020.



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