Inventory of the Sustainable and Responsible Museum
Above all, being a Sustainable and Responsible Museum means examining which objects are chosen to inventory and introduce to the collections. It means establishing a clear course of action with regards to the future of objects, in particular those defined by the ICOM as “sensitive objects”. Since 2007, the Museum of Rouen has therefore been questioning society about the place and status of human remains, both in terms of heritage and ethics, as well as about the consideration of indigenous peoples and their claims, whether demands for items to be returned or simply for access to collections.
The inventory as a witness to the preservation conditions of the past
Inventories and documentation provide us with information about the state of collections, enabling us to identify inadequate conditions that prompt us to rethink our conservation practices: we have shifted from “all chemical” products and curative conservation to dynamic preventive conservation. In Rouen, the wide gap between the very poor conservation conditions caused by the lack of heating and the surprising “good conservation” of the collections led us to question the practices of the past relating to the large-scale use of treatment chemicals required to avoid infestations.
The inventory as a witness to the practices of the past
This observation led to an innovative and ambitious research programme aimed at detecting and analysing the chemicals used both during the preparation of specimens and during successive treatments, as well as at establishing whether residues of these products are still present on the specimens and in the museum’s environment. The beginnings of this research programme have naturally been tested as the Māori head was returned to New Zealand in order to prevent the potentially polluted head from contaminating the soil upon its future burial.
Since 2010, this research programme directed by the Museum has been led in conjunction with the Rouen National Institute of Applied Sciences (INSA) and its Industrial and Environmental Risk Management Department (MRIE), the Centre for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France (C2RMF) and Air Normand, a body commissioned by the Ministry of Ecology to analyse air pollution related to road traffic and industries within the Haute-Normandie region.
In line with their own areas of expertise and objectives, each partner has an undeniable interest in this project and brings to it their expertise and significant technical resources: research and training of engineering students from INSA, research in the preservation and restoration of specific collections from the C2RMF, and studies and analyses of the impact of these little-studied pollutants on the environment from Air Normand.
Towards a sustainable and responsible inventory
This sustainable and responsible project provides a better understanding of the practices inherited from the past, improving both working conditions and the consideration of the health of officials.
By integrating these results into inventories and documentation, as a sort of “19th virtual column”, we create the traceability of the pollutants that are detected and analysed in terms of specimens as well as display cases and buildings.
The written transmission through inventory and documentation of information and the actions undertaken has become an important area of investment for the Museum, a long way from the primarily oral system of days gone by. This is the philosophy of a sustainable and responsible Museum. As society evolves, so does the museum.