Museum Practice Chap 13: ‘Conservation theory and practice: Materials, values, and people in heritage conservation,’ by Dean Sully

I have been profiling my new book Museum Practice in recent months on this blog. In this post I outline the last chapter in section two. In this chapter, Dean Sully provides an overview of conservation theory and practice, the central means of caring for material culture so as to preserve objects for future generations through “careful management of change”. But even here, in this ‘core’ museum-based discipline, we can see changes afoot, a shift from objects to values and people. Critically assessing the usefulness of a conservation process “bound by frameworks of restrictive theory and practice that creates conserved objects separated from the present and from the people who provide meaning,” Sully argues for “a shift in conservation practice from a specialist technical service aimed at preserving heritage to a mechanism for the creation and recreation of culture.”

Dean Sully is a Welshman who lives and works in England. He is a lecturer in conservation at University College, London, Institute of Archaeology, where he co-ordinates the MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums. He joined UCL in 2000, after studying conservation at UCL, and working as a conservator for the National Heritage Board (Singapore), Museum of London, The British Museum, and Monmouthshire District Council Museum’s Service. Since 2001, as the National Trust’s Conservation Advisor for Archaeological Artefacts, he has been involved with the conservation of Hinemihi, the Māori meeting house at Clandon Park, UK. This led to the publication of Decolonising Conservation in 2007, and the development of a peoples-based approach to heritage conservation.

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About mccartco

Conal McCarthy is a former museum professional and academic who has published widely on museum history, theory and practice. He is the Director of the Museum and heritage studies programme at Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.
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