Science and Heritage Programme

"Collections Demography" On Dynamic Evolution of Populations of Objects

Centre for Sustainable Heritage, University College London

Award holder - Dr Matija Strlic


"Collections Demography" On Dynamic Evolution of Populations of Objects

Centre for Sustainable Heritage, University College London

Dr M Strlic
Amount Awarded: £610,710.00

Collections of heritage objects have a specifically dynamic evolution: they constantly grow and constantly degrade depending on use, environment and material properties. Understanding of this dynamics is currently lacking, yet it could significantly optimise of collection management. To achieve this, the project poses several fundamental research questions:

  • How to explain collections as dynamic populations?
  • What is the relationship between an object and a group of objects (collection)?
  • How to describe the demographics (changes in a population over time) of collections in relation to age, use, environmental influences and values we attach to heritage?

Significant reference points in an object's life need to be defined, particularly the 'point of failure', therefore, a philosophical framework defining (un)acceptable levels of damage is necessary. Given the extent of knowledge and existing data collected in the last decade for paper-based objects, this project will largely focus on library and archival collections.

Demographic statistical tools will be exploited to model changes in populations of objects. The established functions of change based on agents such as environment, use and inherent properties of objects will be overlaid on existing and new collections survey data (census data). The main output, the demographic model will be informed and interpreted through an overarching framework of cultural values. This management tool will, therefore, be based on a holistic understanding of the value of collections.

The Collection Demography proposal is ideally nested within the theme Nature of Transformation. Beside focussing on material agents of change, the proposal principally examines the transformation of cultural values over time and addresses the culturally-driven question with scientific tools. Appropriate computational tools will be developed to interpret the demography of historic collections. Exploration of the effects of environmental change on collections also addresses the Resilience and Adaptation theme. Despite the project's focus on archival and library collections, the outcomes of this research project will have application to all cultural heritage collections. The rich interdisciplinarity arising from the collaboration of art historians, conservators, heritage managers, environmental, building and material scientists, and statisticians strongly supports the goals of the Science and Heritage Programme. The cooperation between the higher and non-education sectors will help to diminish sector fragmentation and build the much needed capacity in full alignment with the Programme goals.

The wider relevance of the project has been stressed at many recent fora: 62 expert participants in the Science & Heritage Programme Research Cluster 'Environmental Guidelines: Opportunities or Risks' (EGOR) strongly stressed the need for tools integrating the relationships between people, collections and environment. The project will also provide arguments in the BSI/CEN debates on new environmental standards and guidelines. The CATCH22 Cluster (Cultural Encounters and Explorations) was largely based on debates linking change and damage as an issue still widely unknown.

A number of facilitated public and expert engagement workshops are planned to explore the values attached to objects and collections. Dissemination is planned through two international workshops, refereed publications posters, interactive project website with video information and printed materials. The collaborating partners will organise an international conference on value, material and environmental change in relation to heritage collections. The heritage partners will also review their collection management policies in line with project outputs. The project partners are UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage, University of East Anglia, UCL Department of Statistics, The National Archives (UK), English Heritage and The Library of Congress (USA).