Keeping it Safe: The Fragile Nature of Art, Culture and Knowledge Winter 2022

Class Details

From the beginning, humans have had an obsession with collecting, cataloging and saving an endless variety of objects and information. The result of that effort is a vast physical database of history, culture and knowledge that we have often haphazardly and clumsily preserved, in spite of the importance of doing so. Working continuously against these efforts are deep and recurring losses caused by politics, war, climate change, disasters, and economic collapse. Now, as we move further into the 21st century, we are facing fresh threats to this database of humanity from the exponential growth of information and the increased volume of physical material that needs to be safely kept and accessed, to the rise of digitization as the library of the future. This discussion course will examine a history of how and why we assemble, catalog and preserve things, how we have a very mixed history of success and failure in those efforts, how the goals of preservation often differ by country, specialty and material, and how, in spite of the importance of preservation to art, culture and knowledge, a potential dark age may be just around the corner. Due to the broad nature of this subject, a range of contributions and concerns will be considered. It is expected that individual students will bring their own personal experiences, opinions and insights to these issues. Discussions may include such diverse areas as climate change, politics, misinformation, the future of food, suppressed cultures, educational silos, etc. Class will meet for lectures and discussion twice per week for two hours and a third day will be devoted to a local field trip of approximately three hours. Additional work for this class will include reading assignments, short research papers, videos, and targeted research.
The Class: Format: lecture
Limit: 11
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: Three short (one page or less) research papers and final paper
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: lottery
Unit Notes: Alex Carlisle has been a practicing art conservator for over twenty-five years and has been considering various forms of collections and preservation issues for at least that long. He currently serves on the Collections Committees of the Shaker Museum Mount Lebanon and Hancock Shaker Village.
Materials/Lab Fee: none

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