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Theory and History in Conservation Working Group Triennial Programme 2020-2023

Theory and History in Conservation Working Group Triennial Programme 2020-2023

Specific themes for investigation

Sources for the History of Conservation: the Role of Practice

The working group will aim to discuss the history of conservation in the expanded sense of the discipline. In the context of this theme, the Working Group will focus on embodied practice of conservators, oral testimonies, and living practices as sources for conservation research to complement more traditional methods in the research of conservation history like archival research. We will look at alternative ways of understanding the notion of evidence, method, and practice in the field of conservation.

Transcultural perspectives on Conservation Theory

Drawing on the goals of the last Triennium (2017-2020), this theme concerns conservation theories and histories that fall outside a Western-centric perspective. Perspectives on intangible and living heritage theory and its applicability to conservation practice will be explored alongside critical rehearsals on conservation history, and contributions that expand the notion of conservation beyond its materialist tradition will be valued.

Standards of care across cultures of conservation

This theme will focus on the investigation of care practices across different cultures of conservation. Through this research, the Working Group will explore how conservation can be instrumentalised in discussions on restitution, the affordances of different care practices for the ways in which objects are conserved, and the possibilities emerging from intertwining different ways of seeing in conservation ethics. The Working Group is open to dialogues and connections with other ICOM bodies focusing on this issue.

Building Inclusive Conservation Theory and Practice

This theme aims at investigating the ways in which conservation theory, history, and ethics are rooted in the legacies of colonialism, gender-based inequality, and Western ethnocentrism. In what ways are these legacies perpetuated in current frameworks and practices, and how might the Working Group participate in substantively opening our profession to other epistemic traditions?



Triennial Conference

The Working Group is looking forward to working towards the planning and delivery of our session at the ICOM-CC 20th Triennial Conference in 2023.

Interim Meeting

The Working Group is planning to host an Interim Meeting in 2022. We are still deciding on the themes that can be explored in the context of this Interim Meeting, and members will be consulted before committing to a specific theme or venue.

Get-together online

The Working Group will explore opportunities to deliver research, practice, and debates online. Besides hosting events via Zoom and social media, we want to find new spaces to highlight research in the theory, history, and ethics of conservation in various languages, across theoretical strands and geographies. The Working Group will additionally foster collaborations with other ICOM-CC Working Groups aiming to intersect theory, history, and ethics across conservation specialisms.


The Working Group will publish an annual Newsletter. Beyond the usual scope of the newsletter, we are also keen to make the newsletter a space for reflection for all Working Group members to publish pieces pertaining to the theory, history, and ethics of conservation.

Social Media

The Working Group will continue to use our Facebook page. We are keen to explore the potentials of social media in the delivery of research and to explore alternative communication formats for research in these platforms.

Oral History project

The Working Group will support the Foundation American Institute for Conservation (FAIC) Oral History Project. This began in 1975 and now contains nearly 350 transcripts of interviews. We will encourage members to actively participate in this project.


The Working Group will make an explicit commitment to explore possibilities for collaboration with other ICOM-CC Working Groups, ICOM committees, and outside of ICOM. The main focus of these collaborations will be on information sharing, mapping out forms of institutional practice, and fostering collaborations and intersections in the fields of theory, history, and ethics of conservation.

Toolkit for building inclusive practice

The Working Group will assemble a document for facilitating structured conversations between conservators, students, educators and other colleagues in museums and cultural heritage management to identify and address issues of inequity and exclusion in historical and current practices for conservation and the care of cultural materials. This tool is meant to initiate a local, community-based process for articulating causes, manifestations and solutions to structural, systemic inequities and prejudicial legacies.

ICOM-CC Publications Online Platform Project

The Working Group will assist with gathering information for the Publications Online Platform Project related to the Working Groups’ past publications, as well as any further work required to place publications generated in this triennium.


ICOM-CC acknowledges and highly values the contributions and additional efforts required by the Working Group Coordinators towards converting the Beijing 19th Triennial Conference to a fully virtual event. Additional workloads are being carried by Coordinators from both the past and current triennia to ensure a vibrant and exciting conference.