Durham University

Degree level: Postgraduate

Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects (PP) (Taught)

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Course summary

The MA in Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects (Professional Practice) combines specialist conservation skills with theoretical knowledge and a year-long placement. You will develop the skills to research, analyse, preserve and care for historic and archaeological objects, and safeguard them for future generations. This practical course is designed for those interested in a career as a conservator of historical objects, or in the fields of artefact research or collections care. While we draw students from a wide range of academic backgrounds, they share a number of essential traits, those of manual dexterity, a knowledge of chemistry and the desire and commitment to work with museum objects. Taught by qualified conservators, you will learn about conservation skills, artefact studies, methods of conservation, and how to care for collections. One day you might be looking into the ethics of conservation, the next you could be learning about chemical compositions used in the preservation of different materials. You will spend the final year on placement. The placement year is normally spent developing your skills in a conservation laboratory at a major museum. Previous industrial partners have included the Museum of London, the National Museum of Wales and the York Archaeological Trust. As a conservation student you will have access to many of the Department’s state-of-the-art facilities, these include a photographic studio, internationally renowned research laboratories in DNA, conservation, isotope analysis, and environmental archaeology, luminescence dating as well as unique collections of artefacts. Course Structure Core modules: Conservation Theory and Method provides the knowledge to professionally plan the conservation of archaeological and museum objects. You will develop an understanding of the evolution of conservation, its organisation, present day aims and methods used. You will also consider how ethical factors influence the approach to work. Conservation Skills is a practical module that gives you the opportunity to work on archaeological objects and carry out a range of laboratory, fieldwork, documentation, cleaning, adhesion and replication activities. You will learn to examine and successfully treat archaeological objects and to document the impacts of their interventions in preparation for later practical coursework. Artefact Studies provides an understanding of the theory, practice and status of artefact studies, with a particular focus on museum collections and archives. You will learn about the physical properties and the traditional production and use of materials and products and also develop skills in handling, analysing, interpreting and recording objects by examining and comparing collections from different periods and cultures. Care of Collections (Conservation) introduces the concept of preventative conservation and the issues involved with caring for collections. It provides a detailed understanding of the environmental factors that cause deterioration and presents ways they can be monitored and tackled. Conservation Practice requires you to conserve three or more complex objects made of a range of materials. You will gain experience in making decisions about the conservation treatment of objects, undertaking research, 'hands on' cleaning, stabilisation and restoration work, and recording details of your work. You will also develop an understanding of prioritising and organising your work, securing materials, facilities and working with curators. The 10-month Professional Practice Placement is a valuable opportunity to develop your skills in a professional conservation environment and to experience firsthand the responsibilities and day-to-day pressures of a working environment. Alongside your conservation skills you will begin to develop the organisation, judgement and management skills required for a career in the sector.

Assessment method

The first year is delivered through a mixture of University-based lectures, seminars and practical classes along with site visits. Contact time typically comprises 4-5 hours a week of lectures, 6 hours of practical work including seminars, 3 hours of structured self-development learning and up to 9 hours of conservation skills working in the conservation laboratory. Lectures provide key information on a particular topic and identify areas for discussion and debate. Seminars and practical sessions then provide opportunities for you to further develop your knowledge and skills, based on the knowledge gained from lectures and your own independent study. The Department also hosts a programme of weekly research seminars linked to topics covered on the MA, which will give you further insight into the subject. You will have plenty of opportunities to spend time in the conservation laboratory, learning about methods of conservation, developing skills in handling and analysing artefacts and learning how to make decisions to help safeguard this material for the future as your ability to work independently grows.The second year is spent on an industrial placement, gaining direct experience of the practical and applied skills you will need to work in conservation. Assessments are rigorous and continuous throughout the course. Assessment methods vary and are designed to demonstrate your skills and understanding of the coursework. They include essays, reports, exams and portfolio write ups based on your practical work. The professional practice placement, which is completed in the second year, is assessed by a portfolio, reflective essay and research paper.

How to apply

International applicants

If you are an international student who does not meet the requirements for direct entry to this degree, you may be eligible to take a pre-Masters pathway programme at the Durham University International Study Centre.

Entry requirements

A good second class honours degree (typically 2:1 Honours) or international equivalent in any subject and a pass in Mathematics Grade 4 (or C) or above at GCSE level, or equivalent. Applicants without a degree will be required to demonstrate sufficient academic capability to satisfactorily complete this degree. Chemistry requirements, one of the following: An 'AS' level in Chemistry or its equivalent, A degree that included a significant science component, e.g. Biology or Material Science, An A, B or C grade for Chemistry in a Scottish 'Higher' or similar high grade in the Irish 'Leaving Certificate' may also be acceptable, Completion of university level course units in Inorganic and Organic chemistry - this is particularly appropriate for students from North America, Completion of the 'Chemistry for Conservators' course. This is a correspondence course, which lasts approximately 6 months. All students need to be able to accurately distinguish between colours and safely handle objects, scalpels, and other conservation tools. Students may be required to undertake tests to ascertain the levels of some of these skills, if they are invited to visit. Evidence of engagement with and interest in archaeological and museum objects, while not formally required, is highly recommended. This may be in the form of employment, internship or volunteer work in a museum, historic house, or a collecting institute, such as an archaeological repository, or through archaeological site work. Please note there are a maximum of ten places available on the course each year, due to the size of the teaching laboratory. We will only consider applications from those where English is not their first language if they have taken a relevant English Language test which meets the minimum requirements. Reference requirements One satisfactory academic reference is required.

English language requirements

Durham University welcomes applications from all students irrespective of background. We encourage the recruitment of academically well-qualified and highly motivated students, who are non-native speakers of English, whose full potential can be realised with a limited amount of English Language training either prior to entry or through pre-sessional and/or in-sessional courses. It is the normal expectation that candidates for admission should be able to demonstrate satisfactory English proficiency before the start of a programme of study, whether via the submission of an appropriate English language qualification or by attendance on an appropriate pre-sessional course. Acceptable evidence and levels required can be viewed by following the link provided.

English language requirements


Fees and funding

Tuition fees

England £15500 Year 1
Northern Ireland £15500 Year 1
Scotland £15500 Year 1
Wales £15500 Year 1
Channel Islands £15500 Year 1
EU £34000 Year 1
International £34000 Year 1

Additional fee information

No additional fees or cost information has been supplied for this course, please contact the provider directly.

Sponsorship information

For further information see the course listing.

Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects (PP) at Durham University - UCAS