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Master in Science Forensic Conservation (Heritage Science)

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  • Objectives
    The MSc Forensic Conservation (Heritage Science) course aims to provide students with the skills necessary to perform as professional scientists in the field of heritage science. Through studying this course, students will develop skills in applying modern forensic methods and evidential-based investigation to various aspects of cultural heritage, including heritage conservation, and authentication of works of art, documents and antiquities.
  • Entry requirements
    At least a 2 (i) honours degree in forensic science or related subject. Other related fields and qualifications may be considered
  • Academic Title
    MSc Forensic Conservation (Heritage Science)
  • Course description

    The application of science and technology, and forensic investigative techniques, are essential for the identification and understanding of the materials from which artefacts are made, and the causes and prevention of deterioration. The power of modern scientific methods for forensic examination in the study, conservation and authentication of works of art, documents and antiquities is increasingly being recognised, with a growing global trend in art and museum conservation, archaeology and forensic evidence related to heritage materials.

    There are three main areas that will be developed and investigated during the course, using a case-study approach, with field study and practitioner input:

    1. Historic buildings and monuments
    2. Museum collections
    3. Archaeology

    Awareness will be developed of the significance of cultural property and the role the scientist plays within an interdisciplinary team. The course will also cultivate those attitudes of enquiry and logic that are necessary to undertake research or evidential-based investigation in the context of the study and preservation of cultural property.

    The main aims of the programme are to identify and understand the materials that make up objects within our cultural heritage:

        * Historic buildings and their contents
        * Wall paintings
        * Statuary and monuments
        * Museums and their collections
        * Archaeological artefacts

    The questions to be answered are:

        * Are they authentic?
        * Why do they deteriorate?
        * How can we preserve them?

    Course Content

    Heritage science in context (30 credits)

    An introduction to heritage science, developing an understanding and appreciation of the field, and highlighting the relationship between the scientist and the practitioner. The legal and ethical frameworks will be considered for the three main areas:

    1. Historic buildings and monuments
    2. Museum collections
    3. Archaeology
    11th Century wall painting     16th Century Field Guide from botanist Leonhard Fuch
    11th Century wall painting at St Mary’s Church, Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk.

    Environmental impact on materials (30 credits)

    A study of mechanical, physical and chemical properties of important materials of construction in historic monuments, collections and works of art.
    The main chemical, physical and biological causes of deterioration will be studied, and subsequent detrimental effects to cultural property.

    Forensic investigation of cultural property (30 credits)

    Through case-studies, the student will become familiar with the types of questions being asked in the heritage field, the tools that can be applied, and the interpretation of experimental data to provide answers in the context of heritage science. Examples of topics covered:

    1. Building pathology
    2. Authentication
    3. Ancient documents
    4. Human remains

    Student working on stone pillar

    Interventive and preventive conservation (15 credits)

    A consideration of practical conservation treatments and preventive strategies commonly used in museums, galleries and historic buildings.

    Deterioration processes will be viewed in context, and the possible measures to overcome, or minimise, such deterioration discussed. The role of the conservator in collections management will be better understood, as well as how science and technology can be applied to benefit the heritage sector.

    Historic pesticide treatments

    Historic pesticide treatments applied to biological museum collections often contained mercury and arsenic.

    Investigation and communication in heritage science (15 credits)

    Designed to ensure that all students develop the skills necessary to communicate effectively in the interdisciplinary field of heritage science, and introduce the student to the concept of research and the principles involved in designing research projects.

    Research project (60 credits)

    The opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills gained during the course, and develop expertise in a specialist area of interest.

    The syllabus has been developed through consultation with an advisory committee with members from English Heritage, The National Trust, The British Library, Tate Britain, and practitioners in private practice.

    Teaching methods

        * Lectures
        * Seminars
        * Workshops
        * Laboratory work
        * Research project
        * Field trips
        * Practitioner input (see external links below)

    Assessment Methods

        * Coursework
        * Exams
        * Dissertation

    Study Hours

    The course is full-time, but is being delivered on an intensive 2-day-a-week basis.

    External Links

    The teaching programme involves field trips to historic houses, conservation labs, on-site visits to on-going projects and visiting practitioner input.

    The Department has many links with practicing conservators, conservation scientists, museums and heritage organisations (such as English Heritage, The National Trust, Tate Britain and The British Library).

    Why choose this course?

    Science, technology and forensic investigative techniques are extremely important to the understanding and ultimate protection of our cultural heritage. Our department has been working in the areas of forensic science and heritage science for many years and, as such, is uniquely placed to offer a wealth of experience in this rapidly growing area. There are many and varied opportunities for employment across the heritage sector, as well as within forensic and analytical science.

    Research in Heritage Science

    The Department has an active research group in Forensic Conservation and Heritage Science. Opportunities to be involved with this research, and continuing postgraduate study to PhD level, will arise during the programme, through case-studies, site visits and research projects.

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