Skip to main content

University of Michigan School of Information


Cultural preservation efforts following Florence flood explored in U-M symposium

Mud angels

Thursday, 10/06/2016


A natural disaster in Italy fifty years ago had a dramatic impact on the fields of preservation and conservation. The University of Michigan School of Information, the University of Michigan Library and the University of Michigan Museum of Art are sponsoring a unique two-day symposium marking the fiftieth anniversary of the flooding of the Arno River in Florence, Italy. The University of Michigan is the only university in the world commemorating this historic event with an educational symposium.

“The Flood in Florence, 1966: A Fifty Year Retrospective,” November 3-4 in the Hatcher Graduate Library, will examine the enduring lessons of a half-century of innovative materials research, professional practice, and education and training.

The event includes the screening of two films on the disaster and its wake: Franco Zeffirelli’s Florence: Days of Destruction and Roger Hill's The Restoration of Books, Florence, 1968.

On November 4, 1966 the Arno River in Florence, Italy, flooded its banks, breaching the basements and first floors of museums, libraries, and private residences, and burying centuries of books, manuscripts, and works of art in muck and muddy water. The flood in Florence galvanized a fledgling conservation community into action.

In the intervening decades, successive generations of professionals have advanced the practice of conservation and preservation, imbuing the profession with a global view of the value of cultural heritage and fully embracing the technical details of materials science. The fields of library and archive preservation and conservation are committed to preventing future disasters while focusing on triage decision-making and cost-effective action in the face of continuing natural and human-made disasters.

With theme presentations and panel discussions, the symposium will explore three deeply related aspects of preservation and conservation over the past fifty years: 
•    the development of new knowledge through research and practice; 
•    the cross-generational exchange of practice-based experimentation on care and treatment, ranging from salvage (triage), development of a phased approach to collections care, conservation of rare artifacts (treatment), and mitigation and prevention (security and environment); and 
•    scholarship, synthesis, and knowledge transmission through formal and continuing education.

Papers presented at the symposium will be published by the University of Michigan Publishing Services.

Registration for the symposium is required. While there is no cost to attend, the number of participants that the space can accommodate is limited. The symposium program and a link to the registration form are available on the symposium website:

The symposium is sponsored by the University of Michigan Library, University of Michigan School of Information, and University of Michigan Museum of Art, with generous gifts from the Northeast Document Conservation Center and Preservation Technologies, Inc.

Two documentary films on the Florence flood and its aftermath will be presented on Thursday November 3, 7:30 - 9:30 p.m., at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (Helmut Stern Auditorium). The showings are free and open to the public.

Italian film maker Franco Zeffirelli was finishing up work on Taming of the Shrew in November 1966 when he learned of the devastating flood in Florence. He immediately turned his crew and their talents to the recovery effort by creating, within a month of the flood, his only documentary: Per Firenze (For Florence) and an English version Florence: Days of Destruction. Both Italian and English versions were narrated by actor Richard Burton. The documentary raised millions of dollars in aid for Florence.

Also shown will be Roger Hill's The Restoration of Books, Florence, 1968. A year after the flood, film instructor Roger Hill documented the conservation and restoration efforts at the National Library in Florence, where over a million books had been damaged.

Film screening:

Symposium Website:


- UMSI News Service