Poisonous Heritage: Chemical Conservation, Monitored Collections, and the Threshold of Ethnological Museums

Lotte Arndt


Many of the artifacts collected during the peak of colonization are made from organic materials and vulnerable to being eaten by insects or decomposition from mould. As part of the technical developments of the twentieth century, chemical treatments seemed to provide a viable solution to prevent decay of many collections. A broader awareness of the long-term effects of the employed toxic substances arose only decades later. Based on existing research, and explorative interviews in half a dozen museums in Europe, this text draws connections between the history of colonial collections, the use of chemicals in museum conservation, and the questions raised by shifting conceptions of the role of museums in the light of restitution and access-provision.


Toxicity, Colonial Collections, Museum practice, Conservation, Restitution, Pests, Life and non-life boundaries

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.29311/mas.v20i2.4031

Copyright (c) 2022 lotte arndt

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Museum and Society

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