By David Scott and Kathleen Dardes

The conservation of archaeological and ethnographic material is an important part of our efforts to preserve the cultural remains of the past and to ensure that future generations can know and learn about the past directly from those artifacts that have survived. In conserving archaeological and ethnographic artifacts, conservators deal not only with the materiality of the object but with the array of values and meanings that are attached to it. Present and past use—as functional objects, historical documents, spiritual and cultural symbols—adds fascinating layers to artifacts, which require conservators of these materials to take an approach that respects both tangible and intangible attributes.

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In 1984, the Washington, D.C.-based National Institute for Conservation (now known as Heritage Preservation) identified the development of educational opportunities for conservators of archaeological and ethnographic materials as a priority. Since then, a number of efforts have helped address this need, including the inclusion of archaeological and ethnographic conservation into the framework of existing academic conservation programs in the United States. These programs, along with those offered in other countries, have produced many of the current leaders in ethnographic and archaeological conservation. However, there remains a need for more conservators equipped to address the particular requirements of ethnographic and archaeological materials.

During the 1990s, the Getty Conservation Institute began a search for an appropriate university with which to develop a graduate-level program in archaeological and ethnographic conservation that could complement existing programs and expand educational opportunities. After a series of meetings and exploratory discussions with several institutions of higher education, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), was identified as the most suitable partner for the GCI to develop this needed component of conservation education. In 1999, Getty Trust President and CEO Barry Munitz and UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale formally announced their intention to work together in creating a new academic program in conservation. It was agreed that the program would be administratively housed within the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, an organized research unit at UCLA.

Program Objectives

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The aim of the UCLA/Getty Program in Archaeological and Ethnographic Conservation will be to provide students with a solid educational base and practical training in both archaeological and ethnographic materials, as well as an appreciation of the often complex tangle of issues relating to significance, access, and use of these materials, which—in many cases—sets them apart from fine art or historical materials. In the case of ethnographic materials especially, the program will facilitate an understanding of the multiple values and meanings these materials may still have for indigenous populations, and it will foster a sense of partnership with stakeholder communities in relevant aspects of conservation decision making.

The positioning of the program at UCLA—a major research university with outstanding faculties in the social and physical sciences—will help students develop a sense of kinship with colleagues in archaeology, anthropology, and the sciences. For the conservators who emerge from the program, this sense of kinship will lead to an interdisciplinarity that will be an important attribute of their working lives.

The new program will equip students with a range of skills and knowledge that will help them respond flexibly and proactively to changing needs and conditions in the field of ethnographic and archaeological conservation. It will stress the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and decision making and prepare students to operate in a number of potential contexts—in the field or the lab, in the private or the public sector, under contract or in conventional employment. Topics to be covered in the program include:

  • the technology and deterioration of materials,
  • the nature and history of conservation,
  • preventive conservation and environmental management,
  • conservation in situ and aspects of field and site conservation management,
  • the conservation treatment of ethnographic and archaeological materials,
  • museum practice,
  • scientific methods in conservation, and
  • ethics and issues in conservation.

One of the strengths of this collaborative new program will be the opportunity to draw upon the expertise and resources that both the Getty and UCLA have to offer. UCLA has a strong research and academic reputation, while the Getty, for its part, has curatorial, conservation, and science staff that are engaged in research and the development of new methodologies for the management and conservation of cultural heritage. Within the Getty, the GCI has a particularly strong record in archaeological conservation and in scientific research. Working in tandem, the Getty and UCLA will offer exceptional opportunities for learning in the classroom and in museum and field environments.

The three-year program—which will lead to a master's of art degree—will include two years of classroom-based teaching and laboratory work at UCLA and the Getty, followed by a one-year supervised internship at other museums or conservation facilities. This course of study will provide students with a combination of theory and practical work during the first two years, followed by a final year of concentrated practical experience.

The program's teaching will look to many of the new and exciting pedagogical developments within higher education. Teaching will combine traditional lectures with case studies, seminars, and other active-learning exercises. Internet-based resources will be employed as the quality and quantity of Web-based information for conservation continues to grow. The course will integrate interactive Web-based learning tools as they become available. As part of their summer or internship work, students may be able to participate in field projects undertaken by the GCI and UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. These projects will allow them to learn directly from experienced practitioners in actual working contexts. In addition to their didactic resources, the Getty and UCLA both offer extensive library collections and teaching resources.

Elements of the Partnership

The Education section of the GCI is working with the UCLA program director of the master's program on the preliminary stage of the program's development. This stage includes creating a profile of the graduates of the program and defining the curriculum in general terms. Over the next two years, as the program prepares to accept its first class of students, the curriculum will be refined by the program director and the program's other faculty.

As a component of its contribution to the program, UCLA will provide faculty positions and office space for the program at the Cotsen Institute. The Getty, for its part, will provide new teaching and lab facilities at the refurbished Getty Villa in Malibu, which will house the Getty Museum's antiquities collection, as well as be a center for the study of archaeology that includes lectures, special exhibitions, and facilities for scholarly research.

The program will begin to admit students in fall 2005. It will be the only graduate-level academic conservation program on the West Coast of the United States and the only U.S. program with its sole focus on archaeological and ethnographic materials. The program will admit both U.S. and international students, and admission to the program will be offered every two years, with an incoming class size of 10 to 12 students.

The UCLA/Getty Program in Archaeological and Ethnographic Conservation hopes to contribute to an increased interdisciplinarity between the practice of conservation and the fields of archaeology and anthropology. There is a greater need for the integration of conservation into ethnological and archaeological practice as the stewardship of our heritage resources becomes increasingly important. As described in a recent issue of this newsletter, conservation is increasingly seen not only as desirable in the wider archaeological context but also even as a necessity (see Conservation, vol. 18, no. 1).

The conservation graduate program at UCLA aims to create conservators who can exercise a central role in decision-making processes regarding cultural heritage and the treatment and use of archaeological and ethnographic materials. The partnership between the Getty and UCLA—each institution engaged in its own way with the study and conservation of archaeological and ethnographic materials—should provide a comprehensive educational structure for this new and necessary program in conservation education.

David Scott is the program director of the UCLA/Getty Program in Archaeological and Ethnographic Conservation. Kathleen Dardes is a senior project specialist with the GCI's Education section.

For more information about the program, please contact:

UCLA/Getty Program in Archaeological and Ethnographic Conservation
Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA
A210 Fowler Building/Box 951510
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1510 U.S.A.
Tel 310 206-8934
Fax 310 206-4723
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