Skip to main content

European PHD in science for conservation

Final Activity Report Summary - EPISCON (European PhD in science for conservation)

The conservation and preservation of cultural heritage is an interdisciplinary field requiring close cooperation between conservator-restorers, archaeologists, (art) historians, collection managers and museum curators on the one hand, and conservation scientists on the other. While the natural sciences play a critical role in the proper selection of conservation materials, methods and strategies, scientific research in conservation is often conducted by scientists who originally come from outside the cultural heritage field. These scientists thus lack the affinity with the cultural heritage and conservation fields necessary to fully understand and communicate the significance, but also the consequences of their work, to non-technical colleagues.

In order to promote the synergy between the cultural heritage field and the natural sciences, the EU Marie Curie programme funded in 2005 the project 'European PhD in science for conservation' (EPISCON). The goal of EPISCON was to develop the first generation of 'true conservation scientists' in Europe. This goal has been attained by providing education, training, and research opportunities in the field of science for the conservation of cultural heritage to young scientists. The programme saw 16 three-year fellowships involving six months of intensive training at the University of Bologna-Ravenna Campus in Italy in all aspects of the conservation of cultural heritage and a 2.5 year research project at one of the 10 host institutions. The research projects cover many areas with a strong interdisciplinary character.

The young scientists benefited from ample networking opportunities with other fellows by participating in yearly internal monitoring meetings where members of the EPISCON commission evaluated their scientific progress and in international conferences where they presented results from their research project in front of the international scientific community.

The involvement of non-EU EST researchers from Colombia, Canada and Japan, hosted respectively at the Iasi University in Romania, the University of Perugia in Italy and the National institute for Conservation in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, broadened the knowledge pool: everyone was able to learn from culturally different approaches to the preservation of cultural heritage. The project also crossed borders, with fellows participating in dissemination actions not only across Europe but in the Far East as well.

The success of the project can also be measured in terms of number of PhDs awarded to the EST research fellows. In fact, among the 16 recruited fellows, 12 have been awarded in October 2009 a PhD in Science for Conservation by the University of Bologna. One will be receiving in January 2010 a PhD in Chemistry by the University of Perugia (Italy), two have been admitted to four-year duration PhDs respectively at the University of Roskilde in Copenhagen and the Delft University of Technology in Delft (the Netherlands). Just one EST fellow decided, for personal reasons, to withdraw from the ICN hosting institution and has been replaced by a newly appointed researcher in the same institution.

The EPISCON project highlights the need for an academic curriculum specifically devoted to the education of conservation scientists. This need is based on the observation that during the last decades, the interest of the scientific community in conservation and restoration has increased due to a growing understanding that the causes of deterioration, the characterisation of the state of conservation, and the development and testing of new conservation-restoration materials and methods are a priority for the correct safeguarding of cultural heritage. The dissemination and communication of the project's results has increased the visibility of science applied to cultural heritage. Indeed, other universities are now embracing the EPISCON model.