What is Conservation?

A Conversation about Conservation:

“We’re conservators. The explanation at a bar usually goes something like this: We fix old stuff. Well sometimes it’s not old. And sometimes we don’t fix it. No trust me, it’s fascinating. Actually once I really explain what I do, most people see the appeal. We work on old things, pretty things, ugly things, rare things, historically important things; we use technology and tools borrowed from other professions to solve problems you might not have thought about. And at West Dean, most of us work on objects that serve a function. Readers of books generally want their books to open; owners of clocks want them to tell time. We balance the value of the object as a historical artifact against the requirements for its use. We try to make repairs as minimally interventive as possible, and reversible if necessary. We do our best to prevent further damage. We’ve learned that in time we often find a much better way of doing what we once thought was a great idea, and that objects mundane in one time period may be interesting and rare in another. To that end we study chemistry, physics, art history, craft, conservation theory and ethics, in addition to practical work. We thought, with the kind permission of our clients, we would share some of our work with you, in hopes that when you meet a conservator in a bar you can immediately say—and mean it—ah yes, how fascinating.” – Abigail Bainbridge from A Letter from the Editor

Brittany Nicole Cox, founder of Memoria Technica, is a Professional Associate of the American Institute of Conservation (AIC). All conservation work performed at Memoria Technica is governed by the following code of ethics laid out by AIC:


The primary goal of conservation professionals, individuals with extensive training and special expertise, is the preservation of cultural property. Cultural property consists of individual objects, structures, or aggregate collections. It is material which has significance that may be artistic, historical, scientific, religious, or social, and it is an invaluable and irreplaceable legacy that must be preserved for future generations.

In striving to achieve this goal, conservation professionals assume certain obligations to the cultural property, to its owners and custodians, to the conservation profession, and to society as a whole. This document, the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (AIC), sets forth the principles that guide conservation professionals and others who are involved in the care of cultural property.


I. The conservation professional shall strive to attain the highest possible standards in all aspects of conservation, including, but not limited to, preventive conservation, examination, documentation, treatment, research, and education.

II. All actions of the conservation professional must be governed by an informed respect for the cultural property, its unique character and significance, and the people or person who created it.

III. While recognizing the right of society to make appropriate and respectful use of cultural property, the conservation professional shall serve as an advocate for the preservation of cultural property.

IV. The conservation professional shall practice within the limits of personal competence and education as well as within the limits of the available facilities.

V. While circumstances may limit the resources allocated to a particular situation, the quality of work that the conservation professional performs shall not be compromised.

VI. The conservation professional must strive to select methods and materials that, to the best of current knowledge, do not adversely affect cultural property or its future examination, scientific investigation, treatment, or function.

VII. The conservation professional shall document examination, scientific investigation, and treatment by creating permanent records and reports.

VIII. The conservation professional shall recognize a responsibility for preventive conservation by endeavoring to limit damage or deterioration to cultural property, providing guidelines for continuing use and care, recommending appropriate environmental conditions for storage and exhibition, and encouraging proper procedures for handling, packing, and transport.

IX. The conservation professional shall act with honesty and respect in all professional relationships, seek to ensure the rights and opportunities of all individuals in the profession, and recognize the specialized knowledge of others.

X. The conservation professional shall contribute to the evolution and growth of the profession, a field of study that encompasses the liberal arts and the natural sciences. This contribution may be made by such means as continuing development of personal skills and knowledge, sharing of information and experience with colleagues, adding to the profession’s written body of knowledge, and providing and promoting educational opportunities in the field.

XI. The conservation professional shall promote an awareness and understanding of conservation through open communication with allied professionals and the public.

XII. The conservation professional shall practice in a manner that minimizes personal risks and hazards to co-workers, the public, and the environment.

XIII. Each conservation professional has an obligation to promote understanding of and adherence to this Code of Ethics.

The conservation professional should use the following guidelines and supplemental commentaries together with the AIC Code of Ethics in the pursuit of ethical practice. The commentaries are separate documents, created by the AIC membership, that are intended to amplify this document and to accommodate growth and change in the field.

Full code of conduct available here.