“It was a failure of imagination”: Climate change, archives and material culture

This recent news item entitled, “HOW TO PROTECT RARE BOOKS AND MANUSCRIPTS FROM THE RAVAGES OF CLIMATE CHANGE” takes the debate around archives and materiality in another direction by highlighting how archives and manuscripts are at risk from climate change through disasters as well as changing temperatures.

Author Sophie Yeo highlights how informal collections and community archives are at greatest risk since “[t]here’s no such public map of small, local collections, such as those housed by community historical societies. While these local collections may be rich in local history, they tend to be cash-strapped and dependent on enthusiastic volunteers, leaving them largely at the mercy of the elements when a disaster strikes”.

Yeo writes: “history, in the form of manuscripts, codices, printed books, and other material artifacts, is kept in expensive and well-ventilated university collections; it is tucked in crumpling cardboard boxes under the desks of local librarians; it sits crammed into the storage cupboards of city governments…Many are irreplaceable. Almost all are at risk of degradation caused by projected temperature changes, humidity, sea level rise, storm surges, and precipitation”.

She cites Tara Mazurczyk, a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University, who observes climate change researchers have up to now focused on fixed or immovable assets such as buildings and monuments, while “[a]rchives, because they are technically mobile, have received less attention”.

Read the full article here in the Pacific Standard 11 May 2018.


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