Conservation Practice and the Future of Doctrinal Texts


2021 marks the 90th anniversary of the adoption of the Athens Charter. This, the first international conservation charter, now forms part of the rapidly expanding collection of ‘doctrinal texts’ which undergirds modern conservation. Whatever its strengths and weaknesses, this collection provides a marker of collective identity and is crucial to the self-definition of our discipline.

While they are rightly held in great affection, this paper argues that to approach this collection of texts uncritically risks producing unintended consequences, potentially including the destruction of important heritage. Precisely because of their enduring influence, it is essential that as a discipline conservation engages in knowledgeable criticism of its doctrinal texts, through an appropriate and hermeneutically literate reading. 

This paper first considers the nature of doctrinal texts, before using the notion of ‘doctrine’ to explore some of the parallels and differences between doctrinal texts of a religious nature and those of conservation, and so to introduce the question of hermeneutics. This then leads to a discussion of the relation between theory and practice, and the notion, from Aristotle, of phronesis or practical wisdom. The paper then concludes with consideration of some of the implications conservation of adopting this approach.


doctrinal text; hermeneutics; historic buildings; phronesis; Prudentia; Hans-Georg Gadamer

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Published : 2021-12-29

Walter, N. (2021). Conservation Practice and the Future of Doctrinal Texts. Protection of Cultural Heritage, (12), 97-112.

Nigel Walter
Department of Archaeology, University of York, The King's Manor, York YO1 7EP   United Kingdom