Twelve Critical Heritage Conservation Topics for the Humanities Scholar

This course will examine key concepts in material culture that require us to examine objects through the scientist’s lens. Our topics will include patina as a chemically created status signifier, the revolution did not go as planned (the industrial revolution and artists’ materials), the fifteen causes of color, all that glitters is not gold, conservation is controversial, contemporary things fall apart, and forgery begins in antiquity. “Patina: A Chemically Created Status Signifier” will focus on how object surfaces such as bronzes, furniture finishes, and glasses are chemically altered to produce artificial effects that, perhaps surprisingly, depend on the owner’s social status, their geographical location, and their specific point in history. In “All that Glitters is Not Gold” we will examine the many ways that golden-hued surfaces were created without gold to fool the eye, from antiquity to the present day. We will learn that “Conservation is Controversial,” discussing some of the misunderstandings that exist between scientists, conservators, art historians, and archaeologists about how conservators change works of art (and how the objects in question originally appeared). In “Forgery Begins in Antiquity” we will look at the history and technology of art forgery, how it has evolved over time, and the evolution of the meaning of authenticity. “The Revolution Did Not Go as Planned” will study some of the fallout from the Industrial Revolution with respect to the manufacture of unstable pigments, plastics, and paint binding media. These topics and others will give the humanities scholar the tools they need to draw informed conclusions about an object and its history through an understanding of the technologies behind the object’s manufacture, aging phenomena, and history of interventions. Assignments will be in the form of two research papers on topics related to the course lectures. 3 credits.