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Preserving the Declaration of Independence and other historical documents

Date:
November 12, 2014
Source:
AVS: Science & Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing
Summary:
Conservation science is helping make big decisions about preservation methods to protect and save unique and historic U.S. government records —- including the iconic and priceless Declaration of Independence —- for future generations.
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Conservation science is helping make big decisions about preservation methods to protect and save unique and historic U.S. government records -- including the iconic and priceless Declaration of Independence -- for future generations.

During the AVS 61st International Symposium & Exhibition, being held Nov. 9-14, 2014, in Baltimore, Md., Jennifer Herrmann, a research chemist and conservation scientist for the National Archives and Records Administration, will describe the role science plays in the preservation of the nation's documents.

The National Archives and Records Administration serves as the nation's record keeper and is tasked with preserving the federal government's priceless and most important records.

"Our records include parchment, paper, film and a wide variety of other types of objects," explained Herrmann. "Beyond the types of materials, we're concerned with preserving the information contained within documents, books, maps, photographs, movies and even 3-D objects -- both in terms of the information and as a historical piece so that the information and object can be accessed by future generations."

Herrmann's work involves working closely with archivists and conservators to examine the records with analytical tools, as well as by applying basic scientific concepts. "In some cases, we use high-tech instruments such as X-ray fluorescence to identify and characterize an unknown. We also frequently run quick chemical tests to confirm the presence or absence of a particular compound," she said.

To test materials used to "house" their records, it's necessary to ensure lignin -- an organic substance that can cause damage to paper -- isn't present within any boxes or folders. "We can do a phloroglucinol test to quickly identify lignin. If it's present, a drop of chemical turns a raspberry pink color on the housing material, whereas it may turn a slight yellow in color and show no other reaction if it isn't present," Herrmann said. "This is a test we use only on housing materials, not records."

When analyzing records, Herrmann and colleagues use only nondestructive techniques. An X-ray fluorescence experiment might be used, for example, to determine whether a photograph is platinum or silver, or even a silver photograph toned with platinum.

"To do this, we'd use X-ray fluorescence to identify the elements present in the photograph, and then based upon the chemical identification and the known historic processes, we could confirm the type of photograph so conservators can determine its correct conservation and preservation requirements," Herrmann noted.

One example of the type of conservation work being done by the Archives is its effort to protect the Declaration of Independence. About a decade ago, this priceless document, along with the other Charters of Freedom, needed "to be re-encased within a humidified argon environment to limit degradation being caused by oxygen. Special glass and light filters were integrated into its display case to minimize further fading," said Herrmann.

By creating environments built specifically to preserve, protect and exhibit these documents, "we're helping to ensure that future generations will have the opportunity to see and experience the Charters of Freedom," she said. "Even when the documents aren't protected with high technology, we strive to ensure that all of our records are in a safe environment -- whether during storage or exhibit, or when accessible within our research rooms."


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Materials provided by AVS: Science & Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


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AVS: Science & Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing. "Preserving the Declaration of Independence and other historical documents." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 November 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141112083835.htm>.
AVS: Science & Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing. (2014, November 12). Preserving the Declaration of Independence and other historical documents. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2024 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141112083835.htm
AVS: Science & Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing. "Preserving the Declaration of Independence and other historical documents." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141112083835.htm (accessed April 20, 2024).

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