Conserving Project Undaunted: The Beginnings

By Nicole Monjeau

I am Nicole Monjeau, the paper conservator for Project Undaunted. As a recent addition to the team, I thought I would discuss my first impressions as I begin working with the Ship Plan and Survey Report Collection of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation. The first phase of Project Undaunted involves cataloguing and conserving 10% of the collection, which contains an estimated 1.25 million documents. For more information, see our blog post announcing the start of Project Undaunted.

My first task is to survey the collection, which allows me to become more familiar with the documents and to also begin thinking about my workflow. The collection contains survey reports, ship plans, and correspondence, mainly from the 19th century. Surveying the material involves taking note of the condition of the objects. For example, this can include documenting surface dirt and tears on a survey report. The more documents I go through, the more I get a sense of what treatments need to be carried out. This allows me to create a treatment plan based on conservation needs and the length of time it will take to complete a particular treatment.  This plan will help me to begin conservation work and to organise my workflow.

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Figures 1a and 1b: My views from the archive where I've been surveying the collection.

Time Management

As I’ve surveyed more and more of the collection, one thing that has really stood out is the need for conservation treatments to be efficient. With so many documents to get through in a short timeframe, managing my time and working resourcefully will be incredibly important.

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Figure 2: A stock of survey reports from the Glasgow port. A large number of documents are found inside each box, making efficient treatment necessary.

One way of treating objects quickly is to carry out batch treatment. That is, to perform the same treatment on multiple objects at the same time. Of course, a conservator must assess each object to ensure it is stable enough to undergo this type of treatment, but if so, it is an excellent way of treating numerous objects in a timely manner. For example, the ship plans have been stored folded, and they will need to be flattened in order to be safely digitised. Rather than flattening one plan at time, it is far more efficient to create a “flattening stack”, where numerous plans can be flattened at once.

Challenges

In addition to the challenge of managing my time, one type of object which is likely to prove challenging during treatments are the ship plans, which are larger sized objects than the survey reports. The plans’ sizes will create challenges simply because more space and time will be required to treat them. In these situations, an effective workflow is still key! I will need to be organised to ensure I am making the best use of my work space and time while treating the plans.

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Figure 3 : Unfolding a ship plan showing the midsection of the ship, The Calsiph. The plan measures 74.8 x 46.8 cm.

The plans will also pose challenges because of their substrates (the base to which another material is applied, i.e. paper, parchment, canvas) and media (the material applied to a substrate). The plans are on varying substrates including thick wove paper, tracing paper, draft cloth, blueprints, and other photoreproductive material. Their media includes inks, graphite, and watercolour—and many of these media are sensitive to water. In order to carry out a batch treatment of the plans, I will need to be sure all substrates and all media can handle that particular treatment. If an object is too sensitive or fragile, a more singular treatment approach will need to be taken for the safety of that object.

The other big challenge is going to be treating the plans on tracing paper. Many of these are fragile and brittle, making them hard to safely unfold. Some are in particularly poor condition, and are crumbling into small pieces. Repairing these will be a bit like completing a big, complicated, fragile jigsaw puzzle. It will be a labour-intensive process to put the fragments into their proper places, but it will be very rewarding. Objects like these are what drew me to conservation in the first place. I love the problem-solving nature of being a conservator, and the satisfaction of seeing an object in a much more stable condition after treatment.

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Figure 4: An example of a ship plans on tracing paper from the Glasgow port. Many of the tracings have these have become brittle and severely torn, and they will need more thorough conservation treatment.

Lab Setup

One final, exciting note about the start of Project Undaunted is that, as the sole conservator at an institution without an existing conservation department, I am building my conservation lab space from scratch. I am working closely with other members of the Project Undaunted team during this process, of course, but I have been able to make connections with conservation suppliers and select the conservation materials I would like to work with. I will be responsible for organising my lab space and keeping a supply inventory. This is a unique opportunity to gain experience in this process, and I am enjoying the chance to have control over my workspace.

Whilst there is a lot of work to do, I am excited to be starting conservation of Project Undaunted. The conservation and preservation of these documents will no doubt keep me busy, and I look forward to an active and rewarding year ahead.