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.
MARIANA DI GIACOMO, PhD
Natural History Conservator
Mariana Di Giacomo, PhD is the Natural History Conservator at the Yale Peabody Museum and Chair of the Conservation at Yale Steering Committee of the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage. She was born in Uruguay, where she completed her B.S and M.S. in Biology and Zoology, respectively, at the Universidad de la República, both degrees with concentrations in Vertebrate Paleontology. While in Uruguay, Mariana worked in the Arroyo del Vizcaíno Collection, a fossil collection of Pleistocene mammals that has remarkable preservation and complicated field logistics, performing collections management and preparation tasks. This work inspired her to continue her studies in the conservation of fossils. She completed her PhD in Preservation Studies at the University of Delaware, where she also taught classes on collections documentation and natural history conservation. During this time, she also spent three years as a Conservation Fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Mariana is involved as a volunteer in several organizations such as the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections and APOYOnline. She is an advocate for the care and conservation of natural history collections, working with colleagues from around the world.