IIC 2012 Student Theses Meeting

Chelsea College of Art, 4–5 April 2012

Aim

The aim of the meeting was to investigate the number and type of student conservation theses (at MA and PhD level) available for consultation, in what form, how they were held and how they could be accessed. This literature is not well-known and IIC could perform a useful service to the conservation community by providing information on or links to theses and dissertations through its website. Representatives from a range of international conservation training institutions and thesis repositories took part in a two-day meeting and the present report consists of abbreviated notes of the proceedings taken during the sessions.

Support

IIC would like to express its gratitude to the Getty Foundation for most generously funding the event, to the University of the Arts London for hosting the event at its Chelsea College of Arts site and to all those taking part for contributing to an interesting and worthwhile event which provides the foundation for IIC to take the project forward.

Participants

  • David Garcia, Dean of Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon Colleges of Art, UK (welcome)
  • Tatiana Ausema, Coremans Fellow, Preservation Studies Doctoral Program, Department of Art Conservation, University of Delaware, USA (on line)
  • Karen te Brake Baldock, INCCA, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • Jocelyn Cuming, MA Conservation Pathway Leader, University of the Arts, London, UK
  • Sarah Gould, EThOS, British Library, London, UK (on line)
  • Maria Gruber, University of Applied Arts, Vienna, Austria
  • Anna Hoffmann, University of the Arts, London, UK
  • Dr Panagiota Manti, Department of Archaeology and Conservation, School of History, Archaeology and Religion (SHARE), Cardiff University, Wales, UK
  • Dr Jennifer Mass, Senior Scientist and Director, Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, Delaware, USA (on line)
  • Stephanie Meece, University of the Arts Repository, London, UK
  • Gustavo Grandal Montero, Librarian, Conservation collection, University of the Arts, London (UAL), UK
  • Dr Caitlin O’Grady, Department of Art Conservation, University of Delaware, USA (on line)
  • Katalin Orosz, Hungarian National Museum, Budapest, Hungary
  • Renata Peters, Lecturer in Conservation, Institute of Archaeology, University College London, UK (on line)
  • Edward Pinsent, Digital Archivist and Project Manager, Digital Archives and Repositories, University of London Computer Centre (ULCC), UK
  • Heather Ravenberg, Postgraduate Student, University of the Arts, London, UK
  • Mark Sandy, MA Conservation Pathway Leader, University of the Arts, London, UK
  • Meagen Smith, Postgraduate Student, University of the Arts, London, UK
  • Dr Athanasios Velios, Research Fellow, Ligatus Research Centre, University of the Arts, London, UK
  • Dr Angela Weyer, Hornemann Institut, Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaft und Kunst (HAWK), Hildesheim, Germany
  • Alberto Campagnolo, Postgraduate Student, University of the Arts, London, UK (moderating on-line participants)
  • Jo Kirby Atkinson, IIC
  • Graham Voce, IIC (Chair)

[Together with additional attendees over the two days, in person and on line.]

On-line survey

Before the meeting was held, invitations were sent out to a large number of training institutions and conservation departments world-wide. They were also invited to take part in an on-line survey asking some very basic questions, essentially to get a preliminary idea of what this project might involve: how much material was held in electronic form; how much on paper; how easily this material could be located through suitable index terms (metadata); and, most important, how the institutions dealt with intellectual property rights.
The results revealed a very mixed picture: for example, the Hornemann Institut of the HAWK University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Hildesheim, holds over 1400 theses in electronic form on its website, searchable worldwide through metadata provided by the students. On the other hand, many institutions hold much of their material on paper, ranging in number from a few tens of reports (the Hamilton Kerr Institute, University of Cambridge, UK; Department of Archaeology, Durham University, UK) to two or three thousand (Escuela Nacional de Conservación, Restauración y Museografía, México), these numbers in part reflecting the size and age of the department or institution and its specialisation. The theses might be unbound typescripts or were bound in book form. In addition, many had theses on CDs or floppy discs. Theses might be catalogued through a conventional library system, so were searchable within that system; some were simply listed with a very limited searching facility. In some cases, the system could be searched through the worldwide web; more frequently searching was possible within the institution itself, but only to a limited extent outside, or not at all. Copyright was usually held by the student, or by the institution, or jointly. The results of the survey were made available during the meeting as a basis for discussion.

Presentations of repositories

The repositories and collections described included:
• the conservation collection, University of the Arts London (UAL), UK (Gustavo Grandal Montero, Librarian), and
• the University of the Arts London Repository and Research Online (Stephanie Meece)
• Hornemann Institut, Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaft und Kunst / HAWK, Hildesheim, Germany (Angela Weyer)
• INCCA (International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art), The Netherlands, hosted at the RCE (Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed) Amsterdam (Karen te Brake-Baldock, Coordinator)
• Hungarian National Museum, Budapest, Hungary (Katalin Orosz)
• ORCA (Online Research @Cardiff) a self-archiving and open access repository (Panagiota Manti, Department of Archaeology and Conservation, School of History, Archaeology and Religion (SHARE), Cardiff University, UK)
• Digital Archives and Repositories, University of London Computer Centre (ULCC), UK (Edward Pinsent, Digital Archivist and Project Manager)
• EThOS – E Theses online Service, British Library, London, UK (Sarah Gould)

(Note that these repositories hold theses of all disciplines, not just conservation.)

Discussion

The main points discussed were:
• The sheer volume of material, even restricting coverage to PhD level material and many good conservation theses are MA level.
• The minimum standard for uploaded material, quality and quality control. The reports are not necessarily refereed, as a published paper would be, although they are usually assessed externally. The standard is variable from country to country, even to the extent that an MA-level thesis in one country would not pass muster for an undergraduate project in another. This is far less of a problem at PhD level, but there are far fewer PhD conservation theses.
• The problem of copyright and who is responsible for it. Some institutions would say they act solely as a platform and do not see themselves as being responsible for the moderation of copyright. Technical protection measures for copyright, given that it is possible to break commonly used measures such as watermarking.
• The describing language and hence keyword/search terms. In many cases searching in English is possible, even though English is not the original language of the host country. This is by no means universal, however. Metadata exported as xml are structured. Google queries in a dull way; xml has tags identifying the field so the repository can interrogate it more effectively.
• The permanence of different file formats; preservation and the conversion of content from obsolete formats into something stronger, such as PDF (which is not only open source but also published so can be mended if something goes wrong) and TIF rather than JPG. But not everything may survive the migration and it is imperative not to lose the original document.
• The necessity of a thesaurus and its construction. Standardisation of conservation terms and the risk of losing more obscure, regional terms. A thesaurus is needed for a more specific search than would be possible by, for example, Google; also to find the selected term used for filing/searching, ruling out other terms.
• Several postgraduate students present commented that they did not know the repositories existed, let alone the unpublished literature. They thought targeted searches were more useful than general search terms. It was also useful to know if something similar to the student’s current project had been ‘published’ elsewhere: it gave an idea of what had been written: not only content, but also how to compile and write a thesis as this was frequently not taught.

IIC’s role and the next steps

It was clear from the discussion that an enormous amount of material is held in repositories internationally, searchable in a broad sense through conventional search engines such as Google; the sheer volume of material results, however, in a very inefficient search process. A searcher may end up with five or six hundred results from a query, none of which may be what is precisely required.

A useful starting point is for IIC to supply a portal to the repositories and this will be set up in the near future. In the longer term, IIC sees its role as providing expertise in searching: to supply the conservation terms to use to access the databases in an efficient and direct way, rather than by using rather blunt, broad search terms. This must be based on the construction of a thesaurus.

Using the information gained during the meeting, IIC is to repeat the on-line survey, this time asking more specific questions and also asking students directly for their opinion.

No recording of the full two-day meeting is available, but a summary is available as a PDF, downloadable from this page.