E. H. Gombrich Lecture Series

Organised by the Warburg Institute and sponsored by Princeton University Press, this series features prominent humanities scholars who address pressing concerns in art, literature, and ideas, across historical periods.

On Conservation as a Human Science, by Professor Peter N. Miller (Dean, Bard Graduate Center)

13-15 June, 5:30 - 7pm

“Conservation,” “Preservation,” “Care” — these words are frequently used today, but by different people, speaking to different audiences. On Conservation as a Human Science makes the case for treating conservation as a single human activity with an intellectual history of its own. Then, focusing more particularly on the kind of conservation done to man-made things it explores the entwined relationship between conservation and history. Like archaeology, to which it bears a close resemblance, conservation explores the depth of time stratigraphically to answer questions about what was in the past from what survives into our present. But, turned around, history, too, can function as a form of conservation—indeed, this was an initial self-definition that persisted into the age of modern, academic history. The ambition of this project is to shift how we understand conservation for a twenty-first century in which climate change will make the task of conservation, and the challenge to conservation, a more urgent part of public and private life. Moreover, rethinking conservation as a human science also opens up a new perspective on the organization of knowledge at a time when inherited distinctions between disciplines and fields and “pure” and “applied” learning, like those between the “head” and the “hand,” are being reconsidered.

Register now for each lecture via the links below. 

Peter N. Miller is Dean and Professor of Cultural History at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City, and incoming President of the American Academy in Rome. He is the author of a series of books on the early seventeenth-century antiquarian, Nicolas Fabri de Peiresc, on the history of antiquarianism, and on the modern study of objects as evidence. He co-curated Dutch New York Between East and West: The World of Margarieta van Varick (BGC, 2009), What Is the Object? (BGC, 2022) and Conserving Active Matter (BGC, 2022), the exhibition and website that concluded the ten-year long project he directed, “Cultures of Conservation,” funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. His main current interest is in the how and why of research, whether done by professional historians or by curators, conservators or artists.  He has been at Bard since 2001.  He previously taught at the University of Cambridge, University of Chicago and University of Maryland, College Park. He was a research fellow at the Warburg Institute, the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and visiting professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Marseille and École Normale Supérieure in Paris. He has been the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.