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Conservation Practice (MSc)

Course Aims

To offer knowledge and expertise to operate as professional conservators in the heritage sector. Alternatively, it can prepare graduates for further research and offers transferable skills in project and resource management, problem-solving and communication for a wide range of careers.

Course Description

This programme aims to provide a conservation qualification that encompasses theoretical and practical skills. It provides a comprehensive intellectual framework with which to interpret, synthesise and critically evaluate objects and collections, evidence from research and from written sources. Students develop a detailed understanding of conservation theory and practice via project management and conservation of objects.

The course is a two-year Masters programme. The first year of the programme is taught alongside existing undergraduate teaching and covers the underpinning skills and knowledge of conservation. The second year is taught at Masters level and shares its structure with other Masters programmes. The Masters year incorporates a taught element which lasts for the first two semesters of study and is assessed at the end of this period; this is followed by a dissertation. In the summer between the two years there will be an eight-week placement working in conservation.

 First Year

All students take four compulsory training modules:

  • Museum Collections Management
  • Practical Projects 2
  • Essentials of Conservation

Plus: For those students commencing the programme in even years:

  • Metals Corrosion and Conservation
  • Technology and Materials
  • Inorganic objects: Decay and Conservation

Or: For those students commencing program in odd years:

  • Conservation of Wet Archaeological Wood
  • Analysis of Artefacts
  • Organic Objects: Decay and Conservation

Second Year

All students take two core skills modules:

  • Skills and Methods for Postgraduate Study
  • Postgraduate skills in Archaeology and Conservation

Plus two 40-credit modules to develop advanced conservation knowledge and skills:

  • Advanced Practical Projects
  • Method in Conservation

Dissertation (summer): Upon successful completion of their coursework, all students write a dissertation (maximum length 20,000 words) on a conservation-related topic. This may be theory, practice or research-based and students are encouraged to focus their work on a real-life problem.

Available Modules

Year 1

HS 2331 Practical Projects 2

A module designed to develop student’s ability to translate conservation theory into practice through the medium of practical projects, which involves the conservation of a wide range of cultural material.

HS2339  Essentials of Conservation

This module introduces students to the essentials of conservation required to underpin their practical work. Lectures, seminars and practical exercises deliver ethical, scientific and practical elements of conservation, which includes use of materials and equipment in conservation practice. The module is comprised of three components which run in parallel through both semesters:

HS 2421Museums collections management

This module will consider the way that museums and other heritage organisations manage and care for the collections that they hold. The module will consider a range of agents of deterioration which contribute to the decay and loss of collections. Students will examine a range of strategies, from technical to managerial to understand and modify conditions to create acceptable levels of care for collections.

  • Plus (for those students commencing the programme in even years):

HS 2371Metals Corrosion and Conservation

This module centred on understanding processes and theory rather than reiteration of knowledge. The structure of metals is reviewed and corrosion is defined and quantified. The various agencies of corrosion are examined by studying the corrosion mechanisms of selected metals used in antiquity. From understanding corrosion processes, students are able to assess the current condition of a metal and predict its stability.

HS 2400 Technology and Materials

Lectures explore the technology of selected materials. The vast range of materials used by humans in the past mean that a comprehensive and broad ranging chronological overview of ancient technology is not appropriate for a single module course. Therefore selected technologies are identified and examined in some detail, with emphasis on a particular time frame, in order to illustrate thematic aspects of technology.

HS 2372 Inorganic objects: Decay and Conservation

This module defines the structure of a range of inorganic materials and examines their decay in various conservation contexts (e.g. wall paintings, mosaics, statuary and ancient glass). The decay environment is defined and its influence on the decay process is studied. This underpinning theory is then used to examine and discuss how inorganic cultural objects are preserved, with emphasis on inorganic archaeological objects. Choice, assessment and selection of materials used in the conservation processes are discussed. Ethics and practical aspects of conservation occupy an important part in this module.

  • Or (for those students commencing program in odd years):

HS 2392 Conservation of Wet Archaeological Wood

Via critical study of published conservation literature, students learn how to evaluate the condition of waterlogged wood and develop conservation strategies for it. The importance of research and evaluation is emphasised as being central to improving conservation techniques. Practical aspects of treatments are addressed and post treatment storage and display is considered. A trip to the Mary Rose provides linkage to large-scale practical conservation on and storage and display of untreated and treated wood.

HS 2320 Analysis of Artefacts

Scientific analysis fors an integral part of modern investigative conservation and laboratory based archaeology. Conservators should therefore have a basic knowledge of analytical techniques and their application to archaeological finds and works of art. This module outlines the principle methods applied to the analysis of artefacts and how they are applied to address different types f problems.

HS 2335 Organic Objects: Decay and Conservation

A review of structure, refining techniques and deterioration of organic materials used to form cultural objects and artefacts, including wood, paper, leather, parchment, skin, bone, horn, antler, ivory, textiles and organic residues. Most of these materials are either protein- or carbohydrate-based. Mechanisms and effects of agencies of decay such as water, light, pollution and biological action are investigated.  Deterioration of organic materials in different environments (burial, waterlogged or dry, anaerobic or aerated, acidic or alkaline, atmospheric) is discussed.

 Year 2

HST 460 Advanced practical projects

A module designed to develop student’s ability to translate conservation theory into practice through the medium of practical projects, which involves the conservation of a wide range of cultural material.

HST 461 Method in conservation

The aim of this module is to teach how scientific method underpins conservation practice. This will encompass understanding the decay of materials, the analysis of artefacts to inform treatment, devising options for treatment and specifying the future care of conserved materials

HST592   MSc Conservation Dissertation

In this module students research and write dissertations of no more than 20,000 words. Dissertations may be theory-, practice- or research-based. The dissertation topic is usually closely linked to students’ conservation specialism or special areas of geographical or scientific interest

Special Features

  • The programme allows students with existing degrees to convert their qualification into a conservation degree which leaves them ready to enter the workforce.
  • The opportunity to work on archaeological, historical, and cultural materials in a laboratory and to consider their value, use, legal and ethical context.
  • The opportunity to gain a range of transferable skills.
  • It offers students a chance to develop an exciting mix of practical and research skills encompassing: aesthetics; ethics; science; project management.
  • This programme integrates theory and practice throughput the degree and uses object based learning in a series of practical seminar classes to teach the principles and practice of conservation. Learning outcomes for the module are correlated to the novice to expert scale utilised by Icon, The Institute for Conservation for competence assessment.
  • Assessment of the programme comes through a diverse range of assessment methods including reflective learning logs, essays, exams, oral presentations, portfolio, reports and viva. This range of assessment ensures that students have developed a broad range of skills, knowledge and communication methods by the completion of the course.

Skills Acquired

Students develop communication, time management, decision making, presentation and good record keeping skills. Students are taught core skills in laboratory management including health & safety, equipment care and maintenance and the ordering of supplies.

Career Prospects

Graduates from this programme can expect to move into internships, contracts and jobs in conservation, conservation science and collections care. Transferable skills prepare graduates for further research or for challenging careers outside of the heritage sector.

Entry Requirements

1st or upper 2nd class UK Honours degree in an appropriate subject.

Suitable for graduates in archaeology, history, ancient history, conservation, science and chemistry, and other related and relevant disciplines.

International students can find equivalent entry requirements via our website:

Students whose first language is not English will be required to pass an IELTS test (minimum 6.5) or equivalent.

Note: International students pursuing part-time programmes of study are not eligible for Tier 4 (General Student) visas and must have alternative leave to remain in the UK if they intend to study at the University in person.

Contact Information

Ms Jane Henderson

Position:Senior Lecturer (organiser)
Ms Jane Henderson
Telephone: +44 (0)29 208 75629Extension: 75629

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