Art Conservation 120:    

Global Tourism, Climate Change and World Heritage Preservation

Fall 2015 

Eric Doehne

"Though there are some disagreeable things in Venice

 there is nothing so disagreeable as the visitors."

                                                                                 – Henry James, 1882

Course Description and Rationale

This course investigates the interdisciplinary efforts to sustain world heritage in the face of impacts of global tourism and climate change through the development of innovative preservation technologies and the reactivation of ancient systems of sustainability.

International tourism has risen from 25 million visitors in 1950 to over 935 million in 2010, resulting in enormous environmental impacts on popular museums, archaeological sites and world heritage cities. For example, the Italian city of Venice, with a native population of 60,000, receives more than 20 million visitors per year, while the National Mall in Washington, D.C. attracts 25 million visitors per year. Upon completing this course, participants will have a basic understanding of stresses on cultural resources stemming from tourism and climate change; how technology can be used to mitigate damage to art anbd artifacts; understand the interdisciplinary connections between the different members of a conservation team; and possess a knowledge of the processes of technology transfer in the field of art conservation.

The Grand Tour began the tradition of an educational rite of passage, flourishing from 1660 to 1840, as a way to experience the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance. Today, cultural tourism is the fastest-growing segment of the tourism industry, as shown in the increasing number of visitors seeking culture, history, archaeology and a personal experience of different ways of life.

In response to this onslaught, art conservation professionals, scientists, engineers, architects, cultural resource managers, historic preservationists and other stakeholders have worked together to create interdisciplinary solutions to help mitigate some of the impact of tourism at heritage sites. These preservation technologies range from sealed display cases containing argon gas to protect the U.S. Constitution and Egyptian mummies (borrowed from the food industry), to re-establishing the tree canopy in tropical archaeological sites, such as Copan, to minimize the spread of damaging lichen on stone carvings, to the largest public works project in Italian history: the multi-billion dollar MOSE project, designed to protect Venice from flooding and climate change.

In this course questions of philosophy and physics, ethics and earthquakes, aesthetics and authenticity come together in contexts such as the conservation of Queen Nefertari’s tomb in Egypt, where materials science and environmental analysis shows the 3000-year-old wall paintings are at risk from the exhalations of tourists and flash floods related to climate change. Based on the success of the Lascaux II replica in France, an exacting replica of King Tut’s tomb has opened and two more are being built to relieve pressure on the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, Egypt. Another example is the site of Petra in Jordan, where the ancient water management system has been reactivated to help avoid hazardous flash floods. The Getty Museum in Brentwood overlooks one of the busiest freeways in the United States. Special filtration technology was designed to prevent damage to the Getty collections from ozone and particulates. The process of technology transfer and the revitalization of ancient systems often play a joint role in the long-term management of impacts from tourism and climate change.

This course investigates issues of environmental sustainability and the impact of climate change on world heritage, infrastructure and tourism. For example, the effects of hurricanes and tourism on coastal cities such as New Orleans, the impact of ongoing drought, floods and salinization in Australia, and the effects of air pollution on art in India and China. Art conservation is rapidly evolving from its roots as an art and craft to a hybrid field, with interdisciplinary efforts playing a key role in addressing a wide range of challenging problems.

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