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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Caring for Evidence: perspectives of archivists, librarians, museum curators and conservators

Judy Burg (Head of Archives and Special Collections, Durham University)

At the heart of the working practices and principles of heritage professionals is the imperative to preserve evidence. In the process of acquiring, appraising, cataloguing, conserving and providing access to collections, we ensure the preservation and dissemination of facets and layers of evidence, whether physical, textual or intellectual. We are concerned with provenance, authenticity, understanding the purpose and context of creation, linking items with their creators and owners, working with consistency and objectivity.

Of necessity, much of this activity is carried on ‘behind the scenes’ - it is a prerequisite and therefore precursor to resources being made available for research. In this panel we would encourage a discussion between researchers and curators (encompassing museum curators, archivists, conservators and librarians) around questions such as:

  • How can we do more to bring together curators and researchers in different disciplines? To explore the way that we each understand and evaluate evidence; the links between the methods we use to preserve evidence and mediate access to it, and the ways in which it is interpreted by researchers.
  • How can curators and researchers work more closely together to select and gather evidence? As scholarship changes and technology develops, would this help us collect evidence for future as well as current research? What more can archivists and museum curators learn from each other in terms of their approaches to information and materiality as evidence? How do you define, select and evaluate so-called ephemera?
  • What more can we do to help shape future researchers? How could students benefit from our perspectives on evidence throughout the curriculum, as they are developing critical thinking and knowledge of the key concepts within their disciplines?