Go back to article: Challenges of conservation: working objects


Just as the image is the essence of a painting, so the function is the essence of a mechanism. Although operating mechanisms brings risks of damage, and has conservation implications, we need to offer the experience of functioning, working objects to visitors. To do this effectively we need to know more about the nature of the resulting wear and damage and how to control and detect them. As technical processes are further and further removed from daily experience, and fewer and fewer mechanisms are operated manually or require skill, we owe it to visitors to give them an enhanced understanding of the scientific achievements of the past. This seems to me to be the essence of social conservation, and the way to give people experience of technological ingenuity and achievement, or even (in William Mitchell’s words) some ‘intimation of the technological sublime’.


I am very grateful to all the following for discussion of the subject of this paper: Nicholas Balaam, Louisa Burden, Richard Horton, Jannicke Langfeldt, and to the anonymous referees for their comments.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/160608/017