41st Annual Meeting, Discussion Session, June 1st, 2013: Engaging with Allied Fields: Teaching Conservation in Allied Academic Departments and Degree Programs

If you missed this engaging session, you probably have no idea that it included 11 different talks, presented “lightning-round” style, and 2 lively discussion sessions (in fact, the session was so engaging that I neglected to take photos, which I had very good intentions of doing!).
Organized by Suzanne Davis and Emily Williams, the idea for this session came through their discussions with colleagues and their realization that those engaged in teaching conservation to non-conservation students in academic settings are not currently sharing resources, goals and feelings about this work. Their goal was to begin a dialogue about these topics between those involved with and interested in this topic. To provide a foundation for their session, they recently conducted an online survey entitled “Teaching Conservation in Allied Degree Programs”. To read more about this and to access the initial survey report, follow this link to Suzanne’s blogpost.
The first round of speakers included Gregory Dale Smith, Renee Stein, Cathleen Baker, Heather Galloway, and Emily Williams. I’m including a brief summary of each of their talks, with links as possible, below. Each of the talks was 5 minutes, and both the speakers and the organizers did a terrific job keeping their talks within this brief time frame!
Gregory Dale Smith is the Otto N. Frenzel III Senior Conservation Scientist at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. He unfortunately could not attend the session, so Suzanne presented his slides on his behalf. His presentation focused on a project for a course for graduate students in Indiana University-Purdue University (IUPUI)’s Chemistry and Biological Chemistry Department and the Forensic and Investigative Sciences program entitled “CSI: Conservation Science Indianapolis.” In this course, he had students carry out a technical examination of a purported 1874 Alfred Sisley painting. The museum had suspicions about its authenticity, so the project benefitted not only the students but also the museum. The project included provenance research, analysis, imaging, and a final report, and there are blogposts on the topic on the IMA website. Through this course, Greg hoped to transmit to students the interplay of connoisseurship, conservation and science. While they did not come to a definite conclusion in the end, the students were particularly engaged due to the fact that it was a real object and a real issue for the museum.
Renee Stein is the Chief Conservator at the Michael C. Carlos Museum and is also Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Art History at Emory University. Conservators at the Carlos have always been involved in teaching, and the course that Renee is teaching is now an issue-based and topical seminar. The course attracts mostly art history majors, and the goal of the course is to introduce them to issues in conservation-to the why, not the how. Renee also mentioned that the Carlos Museum is also exploring how the museum can help to teach science, and they are now doing this through a course focusing on the analysis of ancient art course, which is very forensic and analytical, and geared toward undergrad chemistry majors. Two other courses that are being taught on conservation include an imaging course and a freshman seminar on art and nature. A list of these courses and other conservation opportunities for students at Emory are listed here. Also of note are the podcasts that have been developed by the Carlos and are available on their website by following this link.
Cathleen Baker is a Conservation Librarian and Exhibits Conservator at the University of Michigan Library and Adjunct Lecturer in the School of Information. Cathleen discussed one course that she taught with the goal of to introducing students to the concepts of conservation. She achieves this through lectures and supplements them with hands-on activities with books, and instructs students on the uses of adhesives, cleaning and repairs. She expressed that she has been surprised and encouraged that her students are fascinated by materials and objects in today’s very digital/virtual world.
Heather Galloway is a Conservator at the Intermuseum Conservation Association (ICA). She is currently preparing to teach a course in the joint PhD program between Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Museum of Art. She has taught several other courses, and she described one which was geared toward upper level students and taught completely based in the museum galleries. This was not a practical course, and all of the written work required of the students was based on observations and research. She wanted them to focus on what they might learn if they had the opportunity to examine an object firsthand. In this course Heather also removed paintings from the gallery walls and had students examine them out of their frames and under different light sources. The ultimate goal of this course was to introduce students to the complexity of judgments and collaboration necessary for conservators to make decisions, and to build a more sympathetic audience among our future allied professionals.
Emily Williams is the Conservator of Archaeological Materials at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and she discussed a course she has been teaching at the University of Mary Washington, entitled “Introduction to Conservation.” Because of Emily’s specialty, she imparts a heavy emphasis on archaeological materials but also tries to incorporate information about other materials as possible. Her goal in this course is to lay the foundation for future collaborations rather than train conservators. Due to Emily’s experience that many archaeologists in the Mid-Atlantic region think of conservation as all hands-on and something that they can do with just a little bit of training, she discussed the challenge that she sees in teaching this course, between balancing hands-on, practical work with other activities. She explained that her students always want to do more practical work, and this may be because she teaches this course as a 3-hour class. In addition to including hands-on activities, Emily incorporates debates and discussions into her classes. At the end of her presentation, she posed the question that she is pondering herself-through this course, is she achieving her goal of creating well-informed future collaborators or is she reinforcing the notion that the best and most important parts of conservation are hands-on?
Following this round of talks, Suzanne and Emily posed 2 sets of 2 questions or ideas each to the audience. Some of these were created from comments pulled directly from the survey recently conducted. We were seated in groups at round tables, each assigned with a letter A or B-the letters designated which questions we were to discuss.  I’ll write more about this, and the second discussion session, after summarizing the second round of speakers.
The second round of speakers included Richard McCoy, Erich Uffelman, Ian McClure, Sanchita Balachandran, Karen Pavelka, and Suzanne Davis.
Richard McCoy is former Conservator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and he has taught at IUPUI and recently was asked to create a course for Johns Hopkins online. Richard’s first course at IUPUI was project-based, focused on collections care and on documenting all of the public artworks on the university campus. To do this, he co-founded the WikiProject Public Art for his students to document the sculptures, and used Flickr for the photo management. He found that using Wikipedia and Flickr also worked as an advocacy tool for the artwork. In a second course, Richard had his students document all of the public art in the  Indiana State House. In his last course, he focused on survey and research, and had his students research the historic Madame Walker Theater, create an excel database of their survey, and reorganized the theater’s museum. Richard is now creating a course for Johns Hopkins online in museum studies. This course will be entitled “Core aspects of conservation- a 21st century approach” and will have a goal of teaching students how to look at art, and also have students gather more resources for sharing with others on this topic.
Erich Uffelman is faculty at Washington and Lee University in the Department of Chemistry. Erich presented a record number of slides in 5 minutes, illustrating his course “Science In Art:  Technical Analysis of 17th Century Dutch Paintings.” This is a 2-part course that is conducted over a year, ending with a trip to the Netherlands. This course covers both the art historical aspects as well as the scientific and analytical work that is involved in conservation. Erich has been publishing about this course since 2007, and his publications include resources as well as the strengths and limitations of the approaches used in teaching this course. Erich ended his presentation by mentioning the Chemistry in Art workshops offered through the National Science Foundation, taught by Dr. Pat Hill. These workshops are geared toward university faculty and other educators and focus on how to integrate chemistry and art into a curriculum.
Ian McClure is the Director of the Center for Conservation and Preservation, Yale West Campus and Susan Morse Hilles Chief Conservator at the Yale University Art Gallery. He discussed several ways in which his department is involved in teaching, including an undergraduate course focused on the technical examination of art. The goal of this course is to teach students about various methods of investigation and to help them understand how to interpret their observations. In addition to this course, they also work with postdoctoral students in computer science. One of their recent initiatives is teaching teachers in the Summer Teachers Institute in Technical Art History (STITAH). This project is supported by the Kress Foundation.
Sanchita Balachandran is a Conservator and Curator at the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum and is a Lecturer in Near Eastern Studies at the university. Sanchita explained that the museum is used frequently for teaching, and a majority of her time is devoted this work, as she teaches one course per semester. She is teaching a seminar “Examining Archaeological Objects”more regularly, and she also teaches in other departments. Sanchita shared some of her main goals in her courses, which include: sharing excitement about objects with students, teaching students how to look at objects and make original observations, and instilling a sense of wonder in her students. Sanchita mentioned that one of the challenges that she has faced in teaching in this capacity is that not having a PhD is difficult in an academic environment, and makes it more difficult to apply for research funding. She ended her presentation with the idea of the “conservator identity crisis”. She explained that now that only 10% of her time is dedicated to treatment, she thinks a lot about what defines a conservator–someone who does treatment regularly and thus practices what he/she teaches, or someone who is able to teach about these issues but in some ways is far removed from the hands on aspect?
Karen Pavelka is a Conservator and Lecturer in the School of Information at UT Austin. As a full-time faculty member, she teaches 2 courses per semester. Courses that she teaches integrate conservation into the I-school curriculum, and include a paper lab course and classes that focus on disaster salvage, risk management, and preservation management. Karen pointed out that her classes are popular (they fill up within the first minute of being offered!) and often have waiting lists. Her courses are mainly geared to grad students focusing on library and museum studies. Karen stated that her goal in these courses is to integrate conservation into these students’ worlds, and impart the idea that everyone is responsible for preservation, but also to help them understand when to call a conservator-essentially, to help educate these students so that they become valuable and well-informed colleagues. Karen described one project that she has created for her students called the “annoying object exercise”. She created fragile, oddly shaped objects and then asks students to design and build a support for these objects which can be produced quickly, cheaply, and easily.
Suzanne Davis is Head Conservator at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan. Suzanne gave an abbreviated version of her presentation so that the rest of the session could be used for discussion. Just briefly, Suzanne discussed that she teaches a conservation unit in a theory-based, graduate-level museum studies course at the university. She posed the question, WTH (what the heck) should she be doing with these students? Should she be teaching them to think about conservation in a critical way, which is what she has been doing, or should she be giving them practical advice/tips so that they can make more informed decisions about using conservation services and resources in their future careers?
On that note, Suzanne and Emily moved everyone into the second period of discussion, again with 2 sets of questions for the audience to ponder.
Discussions topics included (but were not limited to):
–       What are the costs and benefits of adjunct teaching?
–       How do you see the role of conservation and conservation science in education for allied professionals? Do you see it as providing enrichment and/or as an aid in developing critical thinking skills? Do you want to produce more educated consumers of conservation resources and services? What are your personal end-result goals for the classes you teach?
–       Salvador Munos-Vinas and other scholars have argued the need for more theory in conservation and conservation education. What is your opinion? Does a lack of theory in conservation affect conservators’ ability to engage with education in theory-rich fields such as archaeology, art history, and museum studies?
After discussions amongst our groups, Emily and Suzanne opened the session up for some quick discussion at the end.
Some of the points that came out of this discussion included:
–       there is a need for conservation specific teaching resources
–       those who are teaching would find it helpful to look at other syllabi
–       in general the audience was interested in more teaching instruction and strategies in the form of a webinar or workshop – the workshop idea was more popular
–       there are a lot of guest lecturers not full time teaching – people would like more information about how to convey a single talk or 2 in a larger course
–       resources that do exist include:

  • an email listserv for conservation educators, which has been fairly dormant but you can contact Rachael Arenstein or Emily Williams if you’d like to join – the pre-requisite for joining is that you must be teaching in an academic setting
  • AIC’s YouTube channel-this is also a place for those making videos to share them
  • AIC’s Facebook page and AIC wiki
  • Coursera, Khan academy, Stanford Teaching Commons 

Suzanne and Emily promised that they will eventually publish the discussion from this session, so stay tuned for that!