AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper Session, May 9 “Exploring New Frontiers: Outreach and collaboration across institutional boundaries with the treatment of De Brys’ Collection of Voyages”

Exploring New Frontiers: Outreach and Collaboration across Institutional Boundaries with the Treatment of de Brys’ Collection of Voyages. Erin Hammeke, Conservator for Special Collections, Duke University Libraries.

This presentation addressed the challenge often faced by book conservators: do we treat the item for maximum use by scholars even if that means some of the components of the current binding might be lost; or, do we retain everything that’s “original” even if some of these components might be harming the text? The conservation staff and their curatorial partners at Duke chose the first option in the treatment of 3 volumes of de Brys’ Voyages. These volumes were pulled, washed, resewn on tapes for maximum opening, and rebound in full calf bindings. The half leather bindings on 2 of the volumes were removed and stored in the new clamshell boxes constructed for each volume.

This treatment provided an opportunity to not only maximize the durability of these bindings for use by scholars, but to also make digital copies of the text, thereby making these materials even more accessible.
I have to question the decision made by the conservation and curatorial team involving an incomplete map in one of the volumes. Although a complete copy of the map was obtained from UNC and used for the placement of a fragment found tucked into the volume, the missing area was left blank. Since the goal was to make the volumes useful to scholars, why not take this opportunity to make the volume complete? This question was posed during the question and answer portion of the presentation, and the answer seemed to relate to the size or “newness” of the replacement portion. It seems to me that there were several options here. Since the book was resewn, the copy of the map could have been inserted after the original, incomplete map. Or, it could have been included with the other material in the clamshell box. The digital copy could have at least been made complete, with a note to that effect somewhere in the restored volume (perhaps it was).
The conservation of the de Brys’ Voyages coincided with a symposium of de Brys scholars that was held at Duke. The conservator (Ms. Hammeke) made the most of this opportunity by meeting with the scholars and discussing her treatment with them. She also enhanced her treatment documentation with short videos.

Generally, the information contained deep in the binding that is discovered by conservators remains hidden from scholars and curators, but this project is an excellent model of how collaboration between conservators, curators, and scholars can allow that knowledge to be shared.