First ‘In the Company of Scholars’ lecture to explore the preservation of cultural heritage

Stefan Simon, conservation scientist and inaugural director of the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, will present a lecture titled “Are We Losing Our Past or Our Future? — Sustainable Preservation of Cultural Heritage.”

The lecture, which is free and open to the Yale community, is the first “In the Company of Scholars” lecture of the academic year. It will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 1 in Rm. 119A&B of the Hall of Graduate Studies, 320 York St. The series, designed to bring students and professors together across the disciplines to hear talks by distinguished faculty members, takes its name from the opening words of “Yale: A Short History,” by historian George W. Pierson: “Yale is at once a tradition, a company of scholars, a society of friends.” A reception follows in the McDougal Center Common Room next door in HGS.

Simon has broad experience in scientific research, specializing in material deterioration diagnostics, microanalytics, climatology, and non-destructive mechanical testing. Since 2005, he has served as director of the Rathgen Research Laboratory at the National Museums in Berlin, the oldest museum laboratory in the world.

“Tangible documents, paintings, sculptures, and historic buildings and sites are just like intangible assets like folk traditions or languages — essential elements of our cultural heritage and identity,” said Simon. “Such treasures are not only a manifestation of the achievements of our civilization, but also have considerable economic value, for example, for tourism and sustainable development. Cultural heritage is, however, ephemeral and cannot be regarded as a renewable commodity. Preserving it requires a sustainable approach as well as a commitment made by society as a whole.”

Simon added that challenges facing cultural preservation are “global in character and need to be also addressed on a global level.” Beyond the physical and chemical decay, the changing social and economic conditions are also threatening cultural and natural heritage, he explained.

“Cultural heritage is about identity, knowledge, and the future, as well as the past,” he said. “As a global university, and with its new Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Yale is lending its voice to this conversation and collaboration efforts to rescue and preserve cultural heritage. The lecture will discuss threats affecting cultural heritage on various levels and ways to address and mitigate them.”

The “In the Company of Scholars” lecture series is sponsored by Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley, with support from the Gerber fund.

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