UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A multi-component study of the administration and preservation of nitrate negatives Reid, William S.


Cellulose nitrate negatives pose serious problems of preservation and accessibility to archival institutions, and create pressure on an archives physical and administrative resources. Archivists must take precautionary actions designed to prolong the life of the images in their care until they can be copied, and to safeguard against damage to other archival material that shares space with them. This thesis presents and discusses the issues surrounding the management of nitrate negatives in archival institutions of all sizes. The physical and chemical characteristics of cellulose nitrate, and its role in the historical development of photography introduces the specific archival concerns of preservation and access. A diplomatic analysis of the photographic negative, which shows that it does not need to be retained for evidentiary purposes, prompts the recommendation that cellulose nitrate negatives can be copied onto stable base film and then destroyed. The need for proper long term storage facilities is however recognised, and types of facilities are presented. Finally, this thesis provides guidelines for the preservation of cellulose nitrate negatives, and discusses the types of procedures presently in Canadian archival repositories. This thesis proposes that archivists concentrate their efforts towards the preservation of the information contained in the images themselves, rather than in their physical form, and thereby minimise the danger posed by the nitrate negatives by investing in a systematic copying program and in the construction of separate storage vaults.

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