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  • Writing Conservation: The impact of text on conservation decisions and practice

    Elizabeth Pye

    Chapter from the book: Piquette K. & Whitehouse R. 2013. Writing as Material Practice: Substance, surface and medium.

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    The purpose of conservation is to investigate and preserve objects, and the information they hold, and to make them available for study and enjoyment now and in the future. Illustrated with several examples, this chapter explores the way in which conservation approaches objects which carry written text. Objects can be seen as documents waiting to be read, and much of the embodied information remains latent until elucidated during conservation. The thinking and practice of conservation are governed by a number of concepts and principles including the need to establish the significance of an object and its future use; treatments should not affect the identity of an object and should change the object as little as possible, both materially and conceptually, while securing a satisfactory conservation result. The identity of an object is seen as the sum of the values assigned to it. Values may be material or conceptual: so the material form of writing may also carry meaning, as in early printing, or in handwriting. The conservator is faced with a dilemma if an object demonstrates several values because it may be necessary to prioritise one value over another. In practice, because of its evidential value, the presence (or assumed presence) of any form of writing will almost always take priority over other factors when making conservation decisions, even if this affects other evidence. Conservation cleaning may risk loss of material of an object such as the corrosion layers on a coin, in order to reveal the materiality of text, and here permanent material change is accepted if it results in exposure of the text. The recent development of digital imaging has introduced the concept and practice of ‘digital preservation’ which provides the possibility of virtual investigation and virtual restoration of text, thus obviating material change. Other modern techniques such as computerised tomography have shown potential for the detection of text by virtual unrolling or flattening of distorted documents. However, the ‘real thing’ still has considerable power and will continue to need material care. Furthermore, digital imaging introduces another dilemma as the hardware and software involved in producing the images which document and disclose textual materialities will themselves require conservation.

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    How to cite this chapter
    Pye, E. 2013. Writing Conservation: The impact of text on conservation decisions and practice. In: Piquette K. & Whitehouse R (eds.), Writing as Material Practice. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/bai.p
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    This is an Open Access chapter distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (unless stated otherwise), which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Copyright is retained by the author(s).

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    This book has been peer reviewed. See our Peer Review Policies for more information.

    Additional Information

    Published on Dec. 18, 2013

    DOI
    https://doi.org/10.5334/bai.p


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