In June the Managing Collection Environments Initiative convened researchers, conservation scientists, and conservators to explore ways epidemiological approaches could help in the investigation of the causal relationships between the environment of objects and mechanical damage to them. The meeting was held at Windmill Hill Archive at Waddesdon Estate in the United Kingdom.

The question for those in attendance was whether epidemiology (a branch of medical science that deals with the incidence, distribution, and control of disease in a population) can be adapted for improving understanding of climate-induced damage in objects. The experts gathered to discuss this question are studying materials’ behavior in fluctuating climatic conditions in a variety of projects; this was an opportunity to share experiences and explore ways to collaborate in this research.

During the meeting, participants worked toward an outline of a research methodology. The consensus was that prospective study designs (studies in which material response to fluctuating climatic conditions is monitored in real time) would provide the most reliable data, whereas retrospective studies (interpreting current objects’ conditions by examining a variety of historic and present data such as images, reports, and climate documentation) could be useful for vetting hypotheses.

Participants also discussed sample size (the number of objects examined to generate representative data). They agreed that choosing specific and more sensitive monitoring techniques allows sample size to be reduced significantly, to manageable proportions. This specificity increases the importance of adapting the mechanical testing techniques of the laboratory and deploying them in the field.

At the meeting’s end, participants organized themselves into several working groups that will explore specific topics in more detail: the sharing of large amounts of data, mechanical lab studies and their application in the field, and communication (including terminology, standards, and web tools). They also expressed the desire to collaborate by sharing project data and the hope of working together in future studies.