Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories

Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories

Archives & Museum Informatics

info @ archimuse.com

www.archimuse.comArchives and Museum Informatics Home Page

published April 1998
updated Nov. 2010


The Potential of Museum Web Sites for Art Conservation and Historic Preservation

Charles S. Rhyne, Reed College



This is a paper about the interplay of web technology with discipline-specific content. On the one hand, this paper explores how the Internet may further the purposes of one field of internet activity. On the other hand, the paper examines how the discipline-specific needs of a single field may stimulate internet development and perhaps even influence its direction.

This will happen only if there is more day-by-day interplay between specialists in technology and content creators. My participation in this conference and its predecessor last year spring from the conviction that more subject matter specialists who are also reasonably conversant with computer technology need to participate in the conscious development of the Internet; whether their fields be biology, economics, or, in the case of this paper, the field of art conservation and historic preservation. As with papers I have published on digital images [1], this paper is intentionally written from the user's point of view.

The museum world is so vast and so diverse that every major discipline has a significant place. Employed in full-time curatorial and scientific laboratory positions in museums around the world are specialists in Asian population growth, Dutch windmills, infra-red reflectography, and most other specialties we could name. Yet, judging by the participants in last year's Museums and the Web conference, few of these content creators are sent by their institutions to conferences focusing on the Internet. I met lots of new computer specialists at last year's conference and look forward to renewing these friendships, but, I confess, I saw only two professional colleagues. When I work in museums, the people with whom I normally talk and sometimes collaborate are curators and conservators. I realize, in writing this paper, that I shall have to seek publication in one of the conservation or world heritage journals if I am to reach them with the proposals in this paper. Certainly no one group alone is responsible for this situation, but this does not alleviate the seriousness of such a divorce of technology and information specialists from the content creators.

I am convinced that the Internet offers immense potential, in many ways, for the preservation of our cultural heritage. A few museums and university departments (often connected), the major conservation institutes, and several international organizations are already making significant use of the Internet for conservation and preservation (sorry, but one has to use both words to cover the field), with a remarkable increase in the amount of information readily available and in the speed with which questions and answers can be shared internationally. In this paper, I wish to call attention to the nature of these already impressive current uses; to examine a few of the new types of internet use that have recently been implemented, and especially to project types of uses not yet available, which could be of immense value in preserving the art, architecture, and other material culture of the world.

As far as I have been able to discover, nothing has been published that is at all comprehensive in examining internet uses in this field, and I am under no illusion that this paper can be more than an initial sketch. Therefore, I think of this as a work in progress which I intend to submit to my colleagues in all areas of conservation and preservation, for their corrections, new information, and especially for new ideas, for types of internet uses which they would find of special value, even if these now seem remote, even unattainable.

Let us be clear about our subject, the Internet. In order to focus on this subject, we must recognize that the many important uses of computers in conservation laboratories, on university servers, and museum kiosks, are relevant here only if they are available on the Internet. Most of the advanced uses of technology in this field are not. That, I am convinced, will change. In fact, it is the existence of the Internet that justifies many of the innovations that are now taking place.

But the Internet itself has a rather single and easily described function. It makes possible the conveyance of information. It is a network along which any kind of digitized information can flow. To emphasize that it is simply a tube through which information may flow, Jack Kessler, one of my most valued informants, would say, "it is a pipe, just a pipe." This network of pipes, or tubes, has certain well-known characteristics, which thus do not need to detain us here: it reaches directly vast numbers of people around the world, and it allows whatever information is transmitted to go at lightning speed.

What does concern us here is the uses that these characteristics facilitate in any specific field of human activity, especially any highly desirable uses that they might facilitate, but at present do not. To explore these in at least a semi-systematic fashion, let us consider first the types of information it is desirable to convey, second their degrees of permanence, and third the means by which this information is exchanged.

The exemplary sites mentioned in this paper do not constitute a review of internet sites in conservation and historic preservation. There are other equally deserving sites not mentioned, and even where a site is discussed to exemplify one type or another of internet use, other features of the site go unmentioned. The aim of this paper is to describe the various types of internet uses that exist and should exist in the field, illustrated with a few examples.


Because the Internet is itself content neutral, it might be thought that the type of information conveyed on the Internet is irrelevant to this paper, but internet technology and internet content are interdependent. To make what I hope is an obvious point, much of the important content already available on the Internet would not even have been created had there been no opportunity for making it available on the Internet. It would have been too expensive to publish in print form, and the needs of the local community alone would not have justified the time and expense in creating it. The Internet is stimulating many institutions to organize their records, to record their artifacts properly, to undertake research projects that would previously have been considered unnecessarily specialized, and to make available to the public previously behind-the-scenes activities, conservation perhaps most notably.

I hasten to reaffirm that the least adventurous uses of technologically may, in many disciplines, be the most valuable. The fact that such uses may consist in simply making information in a few specialized locations available internationally does not diminish the importance of this use. It may be less fascinating technologically, but it is often of immense value.

2. A. Text

2.A.1. Lists

Lists of web sites with hotlinks

Possibly the most used sites in each discipline are the lists of organizations in each subject area, with urls and hotlinks. In conservation and historic preservation, there are a number of exemplary, well-known lists, and these lead quickly to other sites with their own lists and hotlinks. One might begin with:
CHIN - RCIP (Canadian Heritage Information Network - RÈseau canadien d'information sur le patrimoine): http://www.chin.gc.ca/

City University, London; Arts Policy and Management Department http://www.city.ac.uk/artspol/

CoOL (Conservation OnLine) http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/byorg/orgs.html

GCI (Getty Conservation Institute) http://www.getty.edu/gci/knowledge/index.html

ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of Preservation & Restoration of Cultural Property, Rome; Web Resources) in English or French http://www.iccrom.org/eng/SITES/web.htm

WWW (World Wide Web) VLmp (Virtual Library museum pages), supported by ICOM (International Council of Museums) http://www.icom.org/vlmp/

IRG (Internet Resoucres of Heritage Conservation, Historic Preservation, and Archaeology), NCPTT (National Center for Preservation Technology and Training), NPS (National Park Service) http://www.cr.nps.gov/ncptt/irg/

ArchNet (World Wide Web Virtual Library for Archaeology) http://spirit.lib.uconn.edu/ArchNet/ArchNet.html

These lists overlap in endless ways and may seem unnecessarily repetitive, but the different organization of each site is instructive and each has different types of peripheral links, demonstrating once again the immense value of internet diversity, often mistakenly described as chaos.

2.A.2. Straight text
As reaffirmed above, simply making previously local information available internationally can be among the most important uses of the Internet. The web is filled with such information, sites often without a single image or hotlink, yet these pages are sometimes written with the highest standards. This makes possible the distribution of conservation information on an impressive range of specialized topics. There is a site detailing "How to Collect Archaeological Wood and Charcoal for Dendrochronological Analysis" http://www.arts.cornell.edu/dendro/howto.html, put on-line by the Malcolm and Carolyn Wiener Laboratory for Aegean and Near Eastern Dendrochronology at Cornell University http://www.arts.cornell.edu/dendro/index.html.

The Scientific Photography Lab http://www.foto.unibas.ch/ at the university of Basel has created a web site featuring their research on the digital restoration of color photographs and movies at
http://www.foto.unibas.ch/research/research.html .

The site includes a few excellent before-and-after examples of digital restoration of faded photographs, faded 16mm color movie frames, and broken glass pieces http://www.foto.unibas.ch/research/examples.html, but these few illustrations are quite secondary to the extensive text, providing a clearly organized, detailed introduction to the subject, plus three lengthy papers, two previously published in scholarly journals, one given at a scholarly conferences.

This calls to our attention the fact that it is now feasible to publish on the web out of print books and articles previously published in journals with limited circulation. Perhaps more importantly, one can publish on the web important but specialized texts that would not otherwise be published at all. This is especially valuable in fields, such as conservation, where there is a large body of highly specialized material, but where there is relatively little funding.

2.A.3. Charts and forms

It would be of immense value if templates could be developed for a variety of museum and conservation purposes, discussed, improved, and agreed upon by professionals in the field, then made available on the Web. This would make sharing of information more efficient and reliable (we do not all take measurements or record data in the same way, but this is not clear from a simple catalogue entry) and would encourage conservators and historical preservationists to study and record aspects of artifacts that they might otherwise overlook.

Alpha Tec Ltd. http://www.alphatecltd.com, in Thessaloniki, Greece, has made available on their Web site a demonstration version of portions of their software package, 'EIKONA', including various forms for data entry http://aias.csd.auth.gr/eikona/forms/en/forms.htm.

2.B. Text and images combined

Most web sites take advantage of the ease with which text and images can be interchanged. The Preservation Services Department of Dartmouth College Library has made available their "Simple Book Repair Manual" http://www.dartmouth.edu/~preserve/tofc.html, funded by the National Park Service through their National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Such sites are of immense value for those who otherwise might not have access to professional instruction.

An increasing number of museums and conservation centers include on their web sites clear descriptions with detail images explaining a few of the conservation projects conducted on their collections. The Krannert Art Museum http://www.art.uiuc.edu/kam/ of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with other departments at the university, has created a web site, "Science in the Art Museum http://www.art.uiuc.edu/kam/Explorer/ATAM/, with an account of, among others, the conservation of a Peruvian ceremonial Nasca ceramic drum. This includes separate pages on the "conservator's overview," "procedures," "structural analysis," "x-ray radiography and CAT scanning," and "compositional analysis," all with small but clear photographs.

One of the most impressive sites of this sort is the recent effort of Ron Spronk, Henry Lie, and Robin Marlowe at the Straus Center for Conservation, Harvard University Art Museums. "Investigating the Renaissance" http://www.artmuseums.harvard.edu/renaissance/, is an adaptation of a dazzling interactive computer kiosk focusing on the technical examination and conservation of three Early Netherlandish paintings in an exhibition at the Fogg. The site includes clear explanations for methods of examination and progressive images of a painting shown first uncleaned, then with the varnish half removed, the overpainting removed, and finally after inpainting. There are also sequential images of a painting seen under visible light, ultraviolet, infrared, and x-ray, with a final image verso. See also the Fall 1996 issue of the Harvard University Art Museums Bulletin [2], in which, among others, these three paintings are discussed and illustrated, providing an instructive comparison between relatively high quality print reproduction and either low quality digital images, somewhat compensated for by helpful details (on the web pages) or outstanding quality digital images (at the kiosk).

It is worth noting that even the best of these web sites do not provide the option of opening a large, high-resolution image. Yet it is quite easy and inexpensive to do this, and where would such images be more useful that in explanations of technical examination and conservation?

2.C. Images

Of all the uses of the Internet in the field of art conservation and historic preservation, the sharing of images offers the greatest potential benefits. Conservation and historic preservation concern themselves not only with scientific data but also with historical change and broad social issues, but all of these are focused on physical objects, objects which for one reason or another are highly valued by society. In nearly all cases, the visual appearance of these artifacts and buildings is a major concern. We are especially concerned with the visual changes these objects have undergone over time and with how we wish them to appear today.

In order to consider these issues with care, it is essential that we study the objects first hand. Nothing can substitute for the in-depth study of the original objects, buildings and archaeological sites. Especially for those who have not studied paintings in conservation lab with conservators and conservation scientists or climbed around cathedral vaults with engineers and stone technology experts, the primacy of direct study of the original cannot be stressed too often. Without study of the original, it is even difficult to understand the other evidence.

But some aspects of their visual appearance are not available to us. We cannot recapture the appearance of objects from times past, nor can we see with our naked eyes the appearance of objects activated by thermal neutrons. For these we are dependent on various types of documents, especially images: 16th century drawings of famous buildings, the working drawings of sculptors, nineteenth century photographs, and autoradiographs of paintings. Moreover, it is not possible to return to the Louvre or Kyoto every time we wish to reconsider some aspect of the artifact or building. We are heavily dependent on images.

The sites referred to below include some text, but for these sites the focus is clearly on the images.

2.C.1. Still images

The press concerns itself primarily with multimedia developments, understandably because these are the most innovative. For conservation and historic preservation, however, the tremendous increase in the availability of still images, especially high quality images, offers the greatest immediate promise.

Basic compilations

In some cases, these are simply large compilations of images on a defined subject, usually drawing on the research photographs taken by a scholar over the years, now made widely available on the Web. Axel Bolvig, research professor at the Institute of History, University of Copenhagen, has created a web site, "Kalkmalerier i danske kirker" http://www.kalkmalerier.dk/, containing 5230 images of medieval wallpaintings in Danish churches, based on photographs by Bolvig and five other photographers. Although mixed in quality, the images are thoroughly documented and constitute a previously unavailable and impressively comprehensive basis for study of this surprisingly large body of material (and a lovely Danish plainsong plays when one clicks on the angel).


Some web sites demonstrate not the procedures for actual conservation and restoration but the procedures for virtual restoration, for computer manipulation of the images to show how works would look if restored a certain way. At the Center for Computer-Aided Egyptological Research at the University of Utrecht http://www.ccer.ggl.ruu.nl/ccer/default.html, Han van den Berg has created a site describing his virtual restoration of ancient Egyptian artifacts by computer http://www.ccer.ggl.ruu.nl/ccer/restore.html. He provides here six excellent before-and-after examples of his computer restorations, with details. Strangely, he writes that "by means of manipulation of the photographic copy the object is restored to its original and most perfect state, the way it used to be in Ancient Egyptian days." But this is not at all what he has done. In fact these are quite restrained and sensitive computer restorations, in which the attempt is clearly to recapture the visual coherency of the image. None of the examples reveal any attempt to bring the image back to the object's original appearance.

 Constructed images (virtual reconstructions)

Learning Sites Inc., http://www.learningsites.com/index.htm, a Williamstown, Mass. company marketing software of "digitally reconstructed ancient worlds for interactive education and research," has parts of several demonstration projects available on their web site. The most extensive is for the Tsoungiza archeological site, from ancient Nemea, in the northeast Peloponnesos of Greece. This includes three constructed views of a house (from above, the front, and the inside), drawn by Danial J. Pullen, Department of Classics, Florida State University, Tallahassee, includes large, high resolution images of the Tsoungiza site, with aerial photographs of site features superimposed on drawn plans of a succession of eight periods uncovered during the excavation. It is unfortunate that the case for virtual recreations is so overstated in the company's accompanying text ("Computer technology can reunite elements from disparate locations into a single model, creating a near first-hand experience of an ancient world in its original complexity."), but the educational value of digitally constructed, three-dimensional images of no-longer existent buildings and archaeological sites, based on the most reliable evidence is clear.

 Laboratory quality images

A distinctive need for advanced work in art conservation and for certain aspects of historic preservation is the availability of high quality images. For modern laboratory purposes images must be of extremely high quality and the exact methods by which the images were made recorded. For this reason, standards for various types of architectural rendering and photographic recording are gradually being developed in this field. Moreover, if we are to confer with experts in different parts of the world, reproductions of these images must also be of very high quality. In the past this has required use of the mails, physical transfer of photographs, x-radiographs, etc. from one conservation center or technical lab or to another, with the result that only the most important images have been shared and of course without the immediacy of common discovery. No form of telefax or other electronic transmission has been adequate for the high quality, reliable images needed.

 High quality digital images offer, for the first time, the potential (already realized in a few high tech labs, though perhaps not yet with the comprehensive controls needed for the most reliable joint experiments) for experts in various parts of the world to look at and discuss in real-time the same images, confident that they are seeing exactly the same image under similar conditions.
2.D. Additional needs

 The success of these types of internet sites should encourage us to pursue databases that have been discussed from time to time but have never been taken on by any individual or, more desirably, any institution. One project that at least got underway was begun in 1980 by Joyce Hill Stoner at the Winterthur Art Conservation Program, Delaware, and lasted until 1994. Titled "The Artists' Techniques Data Base", it eventually included more than a hundred entries about artist's intent concerning varnish, etc., compiled from various sources including discussions with artists [3].

Dr. Stoner tells me that, in 1994, three sets of 430 pages of entries were sent off to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the Tate Gallery, London, and the Getty Conservation Institute, now in Los Angeles.

I have suggested two comparable databases, both of which seem worthy of institutional sponsorship now that the Internet provides for efficient, long-term development and prompt, wide-spread availability of the information. In a 1984 document for a colloquium at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., I recommended the creation of comprehensive archives of information on the working procedure of individual artists and on the visual appearance and physical character of their art [4].

If such an archive of information (which we would now call a "database") were readily available for an artist, standard procedure would call for the information to be consulted by curators and conservators, even in provincial museums, before deciding how any work of art should be treated or displayed; and art historians could be expected, more than is now the case, to consult such information in interpreting works by the artist.

In order that such information could be stored and retrieved in a convenient, common-sense manner, I suggested that the data be organized according to the various types of sources from which information had been obtained, following an outline such as this:


A. Normal Viewing
1. Records of direct observation under normal conditions
2. Photographs and slides taken under normal conditions

B. Laboratory Examination

1. Written reports of examination under laboratory conditions, with binocular microscopes, ultraviolet light, analyzing paint samples, etc.

2. X-radiographs, infra-red reflectograms, neutron activated autoradiographs, photographs under raking light, etc.


A. Equipment Used by the Artist
B. Representations of the Artist at Work


A. Correspondence, Inscriptions, etc. in the Artist's Hand.
B. Eyewitness Accounts, Reviews
C. Other Contemporary Reports

Parallel to this archive or database, I have recommended the establishment of a directory of prime objects, listing, for each artist, those works of art which could serve as touchstones for the study and conservation of other works by the same artist. For the identification of these prime objects, we would have to depend on those art historians and conservators who have specialized in the work of individual artists, those who have seen most of the artist's extant work, have examined a significant number out of their frames in conservation labs, have studied the available laboratory reports, have conferred regularly with other experts in the field, have observed works by the artist being treated in a variety of ways in conservation studios or, in the case of conservators, have themselves treated a significant number of objects by the artist. It would be especially important to record those works that have survived with relatively little natural deterioration or human intervention, that is paintings that have not been relined, especially where the imposto has not been compressed.

The need for these two databases gains in urgency as painting after painting, sculpture after sculpture, and building after building is cleaned and restored. Fortunately, the job of creating such databases and of making them available at least to other experts is now a vastly more practical enterprise, because of the Internet. These databases could be formulated, built gradually over the years, and made available immediately to those in charge of the conservation and preservation of our cultural heritage. Also, aspects of these databases would be invaluable in formulating exhibitions focusing on "Art in the Making" and in meeting the increasing public interest in conservation .

Undoubtedly, there are other types of additional needs which should be discussed among conservation and historic preservation professionals in order to recommend the types of internet uses that would best provide for the preservation of the world's cultural heritage.


3.A. Web sites with relatively permanent information

 The permanence of information on the Internet is one of the central concerns of those involved in setting internet policies, of librarians, archivists and - too often forgotten - end users. Especially where major databanks are concerned, it is essential that the institutions and persons responsible commit themselves to maintaining a permanent record, which of course requires a commitment to transpose data into new formats as they replace those currently in use, and to document this evolution so that it can be confirmed by later researchers.

 Individual databases

The individual databases within the conservation and preservation field are large and comprehensive in some cases, small and narrowly focused others. SOS (Save Outdoor Sculpture) http://www.nic.org/sos/sos.html, is "a private/public initiative to document all monuments and outdoor sculpture in the United States." As reported on the SOS web site, "In Phase I, 6,000 volunteers reported 30,000 publicly accessible outdoor sculptures to the Smithsonian Institution's Art Inventories datebase. Of that total, 45 percent were determined to be in critical need of attention, nine percent requiring urgent treatment to survive the coming century. In Phase II, SOS!2000, those volunteers and other citizens . . . are working to preserve 10,000 sculptures and monuments as a gift for the next century... Education about the necessity of maintainance is a common message throughout Phase II."
The SOS records are searchable as part of the Smithsonian Institution's Art Inventories Catalog.

Much more narrowly focused, but equally thorough within its area, is the International Tree-Ring Data Bank (ITRDB), http://tree.ltrr.arizona.edu/~grissino/itrdb.htm providing "the only central repository for all types of dendrochronological data from around the world." "Currently, the ITRDB contains over 6,000 data sets, including 2,804 raw measurement files, 3,275 tree-ring chronologies, and numerous climate reconstructions derived from these tree-ring data. These data were collected from over 1,500 sites around the world representing over 100 tree and shrub species." It is reassuring to read that "the primary purpose for the ITRDB is to provide a permanent location for the storage of well-dated, high-quality dendrochronological data from around the world", and "to assimilate tree-ring measurement and chronology data into a central location for permanent archiving." Now housed at World Data Center-A for Paleoclimatology at the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) in Boulder, Colorado, USA, ITRDB records are freely available to anyone with access to the Internet.

 3.B. Relatively-permanent and temporary data combined

 Individual institutions

Nearly every institution seems now to have its own web site, providing both relatively-permanent information regarding such its location, hours, collections, etc. and temporary information about current programs. For example, the Conservation Department of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography http://www.peabody.harvard.edu/ at Harvard has recently upgraded its web site to include not only an introduction to the department, description of programs and services, lists of available grants and awards, facilities and staff, but also examples of their recent conservation treatment and research projects, some elaborated as examples.

 An exemplary conservation institution site, combining in-depth, semi-permanent information and stimulating reports on current programs is the web site of the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) http://www.getty.edu/gci/, part of the Getty Trust in Los Angeles http://www.getty.edu/ or http://www.getty.edu/index2.htm. In addition to a list of GCI publications, the site includes "Research WebStracts" http://www.getty.edu/gci/webstracts/index.html, "a comprehensive list with abstracts of the writings of the Scientific staff of the Institute", and access to IRIS http://opac.pub.getty.edu/screens/mainmenu.html, the Research Library's online catalog. The GCI site includes also complete versions of their extensive quarterly Newsletter, in English and Spanish http://www.getty.edu/gci/newslettere.html, featuring reports on collaborative activities around the world and on current activities. All of this is presented with exemplary clarity.

 3.C. Web sites with largely temporary information

Interim project reports

We can follow the progress of the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project through field reports from this region in the northeast Peloponnesus of Greece, with some of the finest 3-d photo-realistic reconstructioned images on the web. The temporary nature of such information is emphasized by the warning that "These pages have been developed for research purposes only; the information contained herein is in no way to be construed as an interim or final publication of the material." Intended as a warning, this statement also demonstrates the value of the Internet in encouraging interim reports, well before standard scholarly publication.

 Notices of buildings and other cultural heritage threatened with destruction

The ease with which information can be made available via the Internet to large numbers of people gives temporary announcements a new status as international education, not just for those directly concerned. Thus we may all discover how situations are handled in Scotland where historically important buildings are threatened, through the various pages of the Architecture Survey http://www.rcahms.gov.uk/about/arch-survey.html on the web site of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland http://www.rcahms.gov.uk/.

 Announcements of educational programs

Students may keep abreast of summer archaeological field school opportunities, even the Urals and Western Siberia field school offered by Ural State University http://www.usu.ru/eng/new/, on a web site including photographs of students preparing their meals and sitting around their tent camp.


 A series of observations emerge from an exploration of the interplay between web technology and discipline-specific content in the field of art conservation and historic preservation. First, it is important to reemphasize that there is no correlation between degrees of technological complexity and content value. Simply having an important new idea and making it available in a report on the Internet may have more value for the preservation of our cultural heritage than the most complex technological innovation. At the same time, the immense technological advantages of the Internet are having a profound effect on this field and it behooves us to consider in what ways we might take advantage of these technological wonders and in what ways the development of the Internet might itself be stimulated by the potential for new uses in conservation and historic preservation.

Most internet uses that we have reviewed are common to all disciplines. Indeed we have argued that the relatively simple development of immense databases which can be accessed as needed for information of all types, a use common to all disciplines, is possibly the single most valuable feature of the Internet as it now exists or as we may conceive it in the future. The repository of human knowledge is growing at an astonishing rate, especially in fields such as conservation which depend on detailed and often specialized materials science.

However, some uses of the Internet, although not unique to conservation and historic preservation, are especially valuable because of the character of the field. In this, we have found striking parallels with some of the sciences, especially medicine.

Most notably, conservation is dependent on photographic images, especially large, high resolution images. Moreover, these need to be taken not only by natural light but also under various laboratory lighting conditions, such as x-rays and infra-red light, not to mention neutron activated autoradiography. We need the conditions under which these photographs are taken to be carefully recorded, the process by which the images are digitized to be known and recorded, and we need any alteration in the digital images to be carefully tracked. We must know exactly what we are looking at, what we can depend on and what not.

In order to share these images over the Internet with other experts, we need to have a system which allows us to be certain that experts in different locations are looking at exactly the same image under as nearly similar conditions as can be achieved.

Because we are dealing with one-of-a-kind objects, some of which cannot be moved (buildings and cultural landscapes), and others of which are too fragile to move, it is especially important that experts in other parts of the world be able to study these images and to share their observations in as collegial and confidential a manner as possible. This requires real-time collaboration and absolute confidentiality. For these reasons and others, the development of next generation internets is crucial to research in conservation just as it is in medicine and military research. We need to be able to carry out joint experiments, using expensive, specialized equipment perhaps located in only one or two laboratories.

At the same time, we need to take advantage of the Internet as it now exists and is evolving for most of the needs in the field. Public education, so essential in the drive to save what remains of the world's cultural heritage, requires use of the modes of communication available to the largest numbers of people. We must also be able to reach people in distant locals, quickly, especially when emergencies require immediate advice. In this also, we can follow the lead of the medical profession, which is already making emergency medical advice available to people in the outbacks.

To return finally to images, the recognized need for the ability to search images by visual characteristics is one of the challenges that the field of art conservation and historic preservation poses for the field of computer technology.



Charles S. Rhyne, "Student Evaluation of the Usefulness of Computer Images in Art History and Related Disciplines," Visual Resources, Vol.XIII (1997), pp. 67-81.

_ _ _ "Images as Evidence in Art History and Related Disciplines," Museums and the Web 97: Selected Papers, ed. David Bearman and Jennifer Trant (Pittsburgh: Archives & Museum Informatics, 1997), pp. 347-361.

_ _ _ "Rethinking Research: The Immense Potential of Museum Web Sites for Research." Museums and the Web: An International Conference (Los Angeles, 16-19 March 1997), posted on www site <http://www.archimuse.com/mw97>.

_ _ _ "Computer Images for Research, Teaching, and Publication in Art History and Related Disciplines," Visual Resources, Vol. XII (1996), pp. 19-51. Republished under the same title as a separate report by the Commission on Preservation & Access (Washington, DC: January 1996), 12 pages. Back


Ron Spronk. "More than Meets the Eye: An Introduction to Technical Examination of Early Netherlandish Paintings at the Fogg Art Museum" Harvard University Art Museums Bulletin, V, 1 (Fall 1996), 64 pages. Back


Joyce Hill Stoner, "Ascertaining the Artist's Intent Through Discussion, Documentation and Careful Observation," The International Journal ofMuseum Management and Curatorship, 4 (1985), pp. 87-92. Back


Charles S. Rhyne. A Proposal for the Creation of Comprehensive Archives of Information on the Working Procedure of Individual Artists and on the Visual Appearance and Physical Character of their Art. Published by the author as "The History of Technique: John Constable, A Trial Study," Washington, D.C., 1984. Slightly revised under the present title, Portland, Oregon, 1990. Back



Over the past three years, my research on high quality digital images and the potential of the Internet for research and teaching has been funded by the Mellon and Culpepper Foundations, through grants to Reed College. As in the past, my primary debt is to my associates in Computer and Information Services at Reed, especially Martin Ringle, Director, Marianne Colgrove, Associate Director, Jo Meyertons, Instructional Technology Specialist, and Christopher Lasell, Macintosh Support Coordinator.

In carrying out research for this paper, I have had the benefit of advice from colleagues too numerous to mention, but the following must be mentioned.

Professor William Allen
Art History
Arkansas State University
Jonesboro, Arkansas

Professor Axel Bolvig
Institute of History
University of Copenhagen

Patrick J. Boylan
Professor of Arts Policy and Management
City University
London, UK

John Cupitt
Scientific Department
National Gallery
Trafalgar Square
London, UK

Jim Druzik
Conservation Scientist
The Getty Conservation Institute
Los Angeles, California

Jack Kessler
FYI France (sm)(tm) Online Service
Internet Training and Consulting
San Francisco, California

Walter Henry
Assistant Conservator
Preservation Department
Meyer Library
CoOL (Conservation Online)
Stanford University

Willard McCarty
Senior Lecturer in Humanities Computing
Centre for Computing in the Humanities
King's College London

James D. Myers
Collaboratory Group Leader
Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory
Pacific Northwest Laboratory
Richland, Washington

Mark R. Schurr
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
University of Notre Dame

Ron Spronk
Research Associate for Technical Studies
Straus Center for Conservation
Harvard University Art Museums

Joyce Hill Stoner,
Director, Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation
University of Delaware

Dr. John Unsworth
Department of English
Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities
University of Virginia

Last modified: April 9, 1998. This file can be found below http://www.archimuse.com/mw98/
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