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Material Memories:

Cloth, Clothing and Conservation  


A long standing strand of my research focuses on the impact of conservation, on how society engages with 'material things' and how these are, or have been, collected, interpreted and represented in museums. I am interested in exploring how conservation approaches operate as means for engaging with object-based research and the wider interpretation and presentation of cultural heritage. What can be learnt from a particular approach to assessing the evidence of change and decay and from decisions as to how these are approached? How do different approaches to display influence understanding of a particular garment and its various associations? I am particularly interested in how textiles have ‘disappeared’ from collective memory as well as the physical problems these materials present in terms of degradation and preservation, especially in relation to seventeenth-century embroideries and regenerated protein fibres.

Key publications    

  • Brooks, M. M., Blackburn, R. S. & Quye, A. 2020. Forgotten histories and possible futures: Learning from twentieth-century fibres and films made from waste regenerated protein sources. In: Callapez, M. E., ed. The Plastics Heritage Congress 2019 Proceedings. [Lisbon]: Ludus, 131-148
  • Brooks, M. M. 2019. Conservation (Textile History 50th Anniversary Essays). Textile History, 50 (1), 62-72.
  • Brooks, M. M. and Eastop, D. D.  2017. Worn dress: display as meaning-makingICOM Costume Committee Annual Meeting, Toronto 2015 Proceedings.
  • Brooks, M. M. and Eastop, D. D. eds. 2016. Refashioning and Redress: Conserving and Displaying Dress. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute.
  • Brooks, M. M. 2016. Reflecting absence and presence: displaying dress of known individuals. In: Brooks, M. M. and Eastop, D. D. eds. Refashioning and Redress: Conserving and Displaying Dress. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 19-32.
  • Brooks, M. M. 2016. ‘Mouldering chairs and faded tapestry... unworthy of the observation of a common person’: considering textiles in historic interiors. Textile History, 47(1), 63-85. (Outcome of ARHC Network Ways of Seeing the English Domestic Interior, 1500-1700).
  • Brooks, M. M. 2014. Decay, preservation and the making of meaning. In: Smith, P., ed. Ways of Making and Knowing: The Material Culture of Empirical Knowledge. Ann Arbor, MI.: University of Michigan Press, 377-404.
  • Brooks, M. M. 2014. ‘Indisputable authenticity’: engaging with the real in the museum. In: Gordon, R., Hermens, E. & Lennard, F., eds. ‘The Real Thing?’ The Value of Authenticity and Replication for Investigation and Conservation. London: Archetype Publications, 3-10. 

Associated activity

  • 2018 Durham University Programme at the Palace Museum, Beijing, China: Lecture programme & seminar; Lecture: Mary Brooks Principles & Practice of Museum Display; Seminar presentation: Mary Brooks Meaning-making  in the Display of Dress
  • 2017 International Institute for Conservation (IIC), Palace Museum & Hong Kong Leisure & Cultural Services Department Symposium, Hong Kong: Unroll & Unfold: Preserving Textiles & Thangkas to Last;  Keynote lecture:  Mary Brooks Material Memories: Cloth, Clothing and Conservation
  • 2017 International Council of Museums (ICOM) Costume Committee Conference, London College of Fashion: The Narrative Power of Clothes Clothes; Lecture: Mary Brooks and Donah Eastop: Conservation and the Narrative Power of Exhibited Garments
  • 2015 84th Anglo-American Conference of Historians/Institute of Historical Research, University of London & Victoria & Albert Museum: Fashion. With Dr. Dinah Eastop proposed and co-chaired panel and presented paper: Playing a Role: Noble Representations
  • 2015 International Council of Museums (ICOM) Costume Committee Conference , Toronto: Exhibitions and Interpretation; Lecture: Mary Brooks and Dinah Eastop: Worn Dress: Display as Meaning-making