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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Dr Chris Caple

Caple, C. (2009). The Aims of Conservation. In Conservation: Principles, Dilemmas and Uncomfortable Truths. Richmond, A. & Bracker, A. Abingdon, Oxon: Butterworth-Heinemann. 25-31.

Author(s) from Durham


All societies have objects they retain and cherish and in Europe, in the 21st century, that typically means placing them in a museum and letting conservators and other museum staff ‘take care’ of them. But we conservators are invariably focussed on how and not why we are doing this. We spend our time talking to other conservators about ‘ethical approaches’ and obsess about the disparity between the different areas of conservation. We stand uncertain and mute as decisions are made in museums, universities and wider society that threaten the existence of the objects we care for and the institutions in which they reside. Do we have an accurate all-embracing view of conservation, a clear sense of purpose, a lucid series of aims, and can we articulate them in less than 500 pages? (e.g. Stanley Price et al 1996). If we cannot clearly and simply tell/convince society why we do what we do, what right do we have to intervene with society’s most valued and treasured objects? In the following paragraphs I outline a basic series of aims for conservation. Do I accurately describe what conservation is and are these aims sustainable for the foreseeable future?