Sustaining Campus Mounds at Beloit College, a panel talk


Beloit College is located on the ancestral homeland of Indigenous peoples, and the Beloit College Mound Group remains a visual reminder of our settler colonialism. Since its founding in 1846, College-sponsored projects resulted in mound mapping and destruction by development and erosion, excavation and removal of ancestors and funerary belongings, and more recently, mound preservation, education, and reburial. This panel brings together the perspectives of a Tribal Historic Preservation Officer of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, whose ancestors called this landscape home, a Beloit College Professor of Anthropology and students whose work focuses on mound preservation and education, and the Director of the Logan Museum of Anthropology who has accelerated NAGPRA efforts at Beloit College. These contemporary perspectives offer examples of successes, shortfalls, and ongoing challenges in recognizing our responsibilities to stewarding our cultural landscape.

The Lady Franklin Bay Collection: Historically Tracking Climate Change


The Explorers Club Research Collections are home to more than a century’s worth of materials relevant to climate change that contemporary climate scientists and explorers use to inform their work. The 1881-1884 Lady Franklin Bay Expedition is one such example.  The expedition team, led by Adolphus Greely, set out as part of an effort to study and document conditions above the Arctic Circle. Originally intended as a two-year mission, Lady Franklin Bay extended into its third year when multiple relief and supply vessels were unable to reach the team. Of the 25 men who began the expedition, only 6 survived.

Remarkably, after the surviving members of the expedition were rescued, this collection of documents detailing day-to-day official life and meteorological data remained intact in the Arctic until it was recovered on a subsequent expedition in 1899. This session will explore the ill-fated expedition, its surviving materials, and how explorers have used these materials to document and track our changing planet.

History and Preservation of an American Treasure: The Plant Collection of the Lewis and Clark Expedition


Two hundred and twenty-two dried and pressed plant specimens sit in a climate-controlled, windowless room at the Academy of Natural Sciences in downtown Philadelphia.  The room is filled with tall metal cabinets that nearly touch the ceiling.  Opening the cabinet doors releases the tangy odor of dried, dead flowers.  It’s a musty fragrance of age, of decay arrested, of captured moments in the lives of landscapes and collectors long dead. Three of the cabinets contain the Herbarium of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, housed today in the city where in 1803 Meriwether Lewis was sent to be trained for the scientific work of the expedition. The flattened flora specimens are mounted on paper sheets and represent the enduring scientific physical and legacy of the iconic journey across the North American continent 1804-06. This presentation will give an overview of the history of the collection, which spans more than two centuries, beginning with the collection of the plants, and their preservation and study by 19th-century scientists. Meriwether Lewis was the primary plant collector on the trip, charged with learning about the vegetation of the unexplored landscape from the Native Nations living there, writing descriptions in the journals, and bringing back specimens and seeds to his scientific mentor, President Thomas Jefferson. The presentation will also focus on the work of Academy Botanists and conservators at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts at the time of the expedition bicentennial, to modernize the materials used to preserve the specimens so that they can be preserved and, on occasion, displayed, for another two centuries and beyond. Customized protective folders, temperature and humidity controls, and other improvements were developed especially for this priceless collection. A video guided tour of the collection will be provided, with commentary by curators and Botany staff.

What’s Our Impact? Calculating the Greenhouse Gas Emissions of an Academic Research Library


According to the Society of American Archivists' Core Values Statement on Sustainability, "caring for collections and serving communities—along with developing acquisition, processing, storage, and service models—must necessarily involve an ongoing awareness of the impact of archival work on the environment." Similarly, the American Library Assocation’s Core Values of Librarianship states that libraries are “leading by example by taking steps to reduce their environmental footprint.”

It is now widely accepted that humanity must rapidly decarbonize to avoid the worst impacts of future climate change, but in order to contribute to a societal net zero goal, the library and archives professions must have a better understanding of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their activities. This presentation will share the results of a 2021 study at Penn State University to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions generated in one year by its academic library system. It will also explore initial findings from an effort to estimate the emissions generated by the energy consumption and environmental controls employed at a dedicated archival storage facility.

Coming Full Circle: Bioplastics and the Problem of Designed Decay


Bioplastics are a category of plastics that are relatively new to the museum field.  They can be, often by design, relatively unstable in the context of other artist materials found in museums.  This paper discusses works of “designed decay” in contrast with “inherent vice”- a term long used in the heritage field to describe misbehaving materials. Drawing on literature from material culture history, material ecology, material politics, industrial ecology, and economics,  I argue that we should use the framing of  “emotional durability” (a term borrowed from design/economists) and “uncanny preservation” (described here) to help shed light on this problem.  For bioplastics designed to decay, treating them with other materials in a state of suspended or arrested change is counter to their stated purpose, yet essential to maintaining displayable examples for the future, according to current norms.

First, we must acknowledge that museum professionals frame material durability in very different terms from the general public. Plastics are a paramount example-- if you asked most conservators whether plastics were durable materials, they would certainly say no. Plastics in museum collections are problematic: oozing plasticizers, blanching, cracking, crazing, and fatiguing. But in terms of environmental impact, plastics, especially single-use plastics designed for packaging, are far too permanent and degrade too slowly. How can we, as caretakers of cultural heritage, reconcile these philosophically conflicting issues? What would it look like if conservators abandoned their habitual behaviors to preserve and protect materials and instead actively encouraged decay?

SPECIMEN: Exploring the Natural History of a Historic Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Prison


A biodiversity study of Eastern State Penitentiary, a historic Philadelphia, Pennsylvania prison, was inspired by a 19th-century prison inmate discovered making an insect collection in the exercise yard of his cell. Eastern State Penitentiary, maintained as a stabilized ruin and now a National Historic Landmark, operated from 1829 to 1971 in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia. The penitentiary is an urban island surrounded by 30-foot-high walls with more than 1,000 species of insects and other invertebrates documented within its 11-acre grounds. The animals and plants collected inside the walls of the prison are displayed as an artist installation, “Specimen,” a cabinet of curiosities housed in a prison cell. The exhibit invites public discussion of urban biodiversity, the importance of insects in our lives, science advocacy, and the history of natural history. The archives of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University and its biological reference collections were invaluable resources in understanding and interpreting the research and installation. An important theme of Specimen underscores the role that the preservation of natural history collections plays in helping to understand the natural world past, present, and future, and in this case, against a backdrop of prison justice reform.

The Pollution Solution: Archival Collections about Recycling


One of the single biggest problems the world faces is pollution and how people must change their habits to find a better solution. The IUP Special Collections and University Archives welcomes resources that offer collaboration with the community. The Pollution Solution archival collection was one of the first collections donated by a community activist group. This singular collection and now dozens more reflect the diversity and meaningful impact within the community. More than 250 manuscript groups have been donated by individuals, businesses, organizations, and activists throughout Pennsylvania. How can your community change the mindset of students and the future? There are many concerns about the sustainability of recycling in the region as well as the world. This presentation will feature discussion about the collection and the impact on collection development with regard to the environment and finding sustainable methods of recycling that can be exhibited to our students, university employees, and the community.

Influencing Exhibition Design through Preventive Conservation: Maximizing Scientific Utility of Natural Science Collections


The goal of exhibition planning through the lens of a preventive conservator is to identify and mitigate risks to long-term preservation of the collection on exhibit. Within the realm of natural science collections, that goal is further complicated by the need for preservation to address not only the aesthetic and structural stability routinely considered in art and history collections, but also the scientific utility of the specimens to answer contemporary and future questions about the natural world. Natural science collections are vast, diverse, and heavily altered from their natural state for long-term preservation within the museum context; often their preparation and preservation materials and methods were employed with research rather than aesthetic goals in mind. To exhibit such materials in a manner that satisfies education and public engagement needs without sacrificing scientific utility, a collaborative process with an equally diverse team of colleagues is required. Various forms of formal and informal communication are also required for this effort, including (but not limited to): team meetings, collections tours, review of construction and design drawings and schedules, and even ad hoc calls and emails. At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, a temporary exhibit of some of its most treasured collections entitled “Objects of Wonder” stands as a case study in influencing exhibition design from the preventive conservation perspective through the various forms of communication.


Lead To Change: How Natural History Collections Can Impact Collection Care


Natural history collections are wonderful repositories of knowledge and beauty. They hold information about where and when different organisms have lived in our planet, about diverse human cultures around the globe, and about the building blocks of planet Earth. They house specimens and cultural objects as well as art, archives, field notes, and scientific instruments, to name only a few. Research and exhibit have traditionally been the main goals of these collections but throughout the years, many institutions have begun to embrace the power of community connections and the importance to decolonize attitudes towards access. Natural history institutions are also key players in the understanding of climate change and its effects on human life and collection care. In addition, the great numbers associated with these collections make them ideal to understand sustainable models for environmental control and reduction of carbon footprint. Conservation of natural history collections involves the understanding that every item in the collection may be researched, exhibited, used, or worn, which adds to the complexity of their care. Unfortunately, conservation of natural history collections does not have the same access to funding sources as other disciplines, limiting the treatment of important specimens, objects, and art, but also limiting who enters the field, as most fellowships in conservation exclude the work on these types of collections. Natural history institutions are becoming well connected through efforts as those by the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, but still lack connections to non-natural history institutions. This translates into siloed expertise and lack of networking, which only hinders innovation and creativity in the care of all heritage collections. By building bridges of collaboration between different museums, collections, and disciplines, natural history collections can become key players in aiding to understand our changing world, while preserving collections for the future.