July 1999 Issue 32
The RCA/V&A Conservation Course: Changes Over Time
The RCA/V&A Conservation Course has seen a number of important changes over recent years. Whilst remaining at the forefront of conservation teaching, it has expanded in the number of students and the diversity of subjects. One of the important aims is to increase the research output of the course and this year we expect to see the award of the first PhD.
The course numbers are presently split equally between research students (MPhil and PhD) and taught students (MA). As part of the taught programme, all MA students are required to pursue a research project in their final year, and whilst these are chosen in consultation with their tutors and course staff, they are selected by the students. Here, a tremendous amount of innovation is displayed, with subjects as varied as 'analysing the dynamics of mannequin display' to 'applying microscopic examination of cross-sections to leather dressings'. Some of this research is to be found within this Journal from time to time.
The importance of research as part of a postgraduate course in conservation is increasingly clear. Practising conservators must be able to critically appraise the information available and use it to make informed decisions. While conservators may not have the time or resources to investigate for themselves, they should be able to examine research presented by others, to assess the validity of that research and whether they agree with the conclusions.
The converse is also true. The conservator engaged in research should be able to present their work to other conservators, and be confident in defending their research (as they would their 'practical' conservation methods). As part of this process, we encourage all our students to publish their research in appropriate journals, and to present their work at conferences. Without this communication, research can remain locked away, either in institutions, studios, or peoples' memories.
Of course, even if published, other conservators may not read the research. Studies in Conservation and The Conservator are widely read, but how many conservators have ready access to scientific journals, such as the Journal of Materials Science? For this reason, we encourage our students to pursue interactions outside the studio to increase their exposure to different institutions and facilities. Some of the current collaborations are on the methods of stone cleaning, the processes of patination and the computer-assisted reconstruction of fragmented objects.
We also encourage interactions in reverse, and this year we ran, for the first time, a course for students from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College, so that in addition to their chemistry studies, they could gain experience of Conservation. These students will progress next year to complete an extended research project which will contribute to their own development in chemistry and also to the needs of conservators.