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The Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute’s mission is to become the center for specialized technical collection research and conservation care for all Smithsonian museums and collections. To fulfill this mission MCI staff combine their knowledge of materials and the history of technology with state-of-the-art instrumentation and scientific techniques to provide technical research studies and interpretation of art, as well as anthropological, and historical objects.
MCI conducts these in-depth studies of artistic, anthropological, and historic objects using state-of-the-art analytical techniques to elucidate their provenance, composition, and cultural context of Smithsonian collections, and to improve our conservation and collections storage capabilities.
In addition to aiding in conservation of an object, these studies may provide authentication and help determine its level of technological sophistication. Thus the studies assist art historians and conservators as they place objects within a culture and a time period, look for new cultural influences within societies, and compare cultures and cultural and technological change across different periods and geographic areas. With this information, art historians, historians, and archaeologists document cultural interactions and the spread of ideas.
MCI also provides specialized knowledge to assist our natural history collections in assessing environmental storage conditions and practices, assess possible new storage solutions, in assessing and remediation of pesticide contamination, among other projects.
MCI is the only Smithsonian resource for technical studies and analyses for the majority of Smithsonian collections. Technical studies require the latest instrumentation, analytical expertise, art historical knowledge, and interpretive abilities. MCI has unique capabilities in most of these areas, as is evidenced by requests for consultation not only from within SI, but from outside organizations, including the White House, U.S. House of Representatives, Defense Intelligence Agency, Secret Service, World Monuments Fund, and other federal, museum, and academic organizations.