Research and Development

Research Priorities

Research Proposal Survey 2010
To ensure that its research to improve the understanding and preservation of Canadian collections is properly focussed, CCI works with the heritage community and partners to determine their research priorities. One means of consultation is to survey members of the Canadian Association for Conservation (CAC). The fifth and latest such consultation was carried out during the June 2010 annual meeting of the CAC in Ottawa.

Results of Research Proposal Feedback Session

Research and development is the foundation of CCI's service and knowledge dissemination activities. Our research is driven by the needs of the heritage community in Canada. This community is extremely heterogeneous, ranging from large federal heritage institutions to provincial archives to small volunteer-run community museums and art galleries, and from Aboriginal cultural centres to provincial museum associations to artists.

When determining our research priorities, our emphasis has always been, and will continue to be, problems facing Canadian institutions and Canadian collections. We take into account three major criteria:

  • The first criterion for research is that it has a positive impact on the preservation of heritage collections in Canada. Studies on the deterioration of heritage materials or investigations of ways to improve the care and management of collections exemplify this type of research. Our work in this area includes studies on the treatment of waterlogged basketry from archaeological sites in British Columbia; investigations of modern materials, especially those associated with electronic media — the deterioration of which could lead to the total loss of some components of heritage collections; studies into materials or artifacts with unique Canadian aspects such as birch bark and leather; and the ongoing development of risk-based decision-making tools that could lead to more effective collections preservation or preservation management for all museum or archival collections in Canada.

  • The second criterion — equally important — is the impact on the accessibility and understanding of Canadian collections. While improved conservation treatments make objects more accessible to Canadians in a physical sense, research into artifacts or collections leads to increased knowledge and understanding for researchers — which can be construed as accessibility in an intellectual sense. Research in this genre includes studies into the materials and techniques of Canadian creators or artists that allow us to understand better how they constructed their works, as well as investigations into materials and object types of importance to Canadian collections. Work we have carried out includes investigations into the materials and techniques of Canadian artists A.Y. Jackson, Jean-Paul Riopelle, and Norval Morriseau; analyses of pigments found on First Nations artifacts; and explorations of treatments for flags and banners, which often have an iconic significance to a community.

  • The third criterion we take into account is corporate considerations. The directions and priorities established by the Department of Canadian Heritage are major factors but there are also practical concerns, such as whether we have the appropriate expertise and equipment to carry out the research. In addition, we do not want to duplicate research being carried out elsewhere, although we are happy to collaborate with partners when this is beneficial.

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Types of Research

CCI conservation scientists and conservators conduct applied research and development activities that focus on the preservation and conservation of heritage collections in Canada. Within this range of research we have three categories defined by the nature of the work, the results, and the users of the results:

  • Foundation research results in new knowledge and/or techniques that are required as building blocks for other types of research within CCI, but which may not, on their own, answer a conservation question. Foundation research at CCI normally involves either the study of materials (in order to understand the chemical and physical properties of heritage materials) or the development or refinement of scientific methods that are required for other research. Examples of our foundation research include a study of iron corrosion mechanisms, and the development of a technique to measure the degree of polymerization of cellulose in paper.

  • Applied research is undertaken to answer conservation questions and results in new knowledge for treatments or for collections, based on an accumulation and interpretation of experimental data. It uses scientific techniques or observation of samples to reach conclusions. The majority of CCI's science laboratory research is in this category. Examples of CCI's applied research include the development of an ultrasonic mister tool to permit consolidation of powdery surfaces and investigation of techniques and materials used by Canadian artists.

  • Collections preservation research results in frameworks, tools or guidelines to enhance the preservation of heritage collections through managing collections. This research is frequently referred to as preventive conservation, and results in improved decision-making and cost effective management of heritage collections to minimize deterioration. Examples of collections preservation research include research into the packaging and transportation of artworks, and the development of guidelines and standards related to the preservation of collections.