Science and Heritage Conference, Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster

Phillip.Lindley | November 2, 2013


Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre

The conference on 29-30 October 2013 was everything one could have hoped for, with an excellent and rather lovely guide edited by Prof May Cassar and Debbie Williams as a permanent record of the event.  After opening speeches in plenary session by Baroness Sharp, Prof Nigel Llewellyn, the Rt Hon David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science and others, the conference then divided into parallel sessions. This entailed difficult decisions, because there was so much one would have wished to hear.  It was gratifying that so many attended the Culture session in which I spoke on our project, doubtless enthused by our exhibition guide, which had been included in every conference attendee’s pack, and by Nishad Karim’s poster, which won the poster prize.  Clearly this is where Nishad’s talent lies:  it’s her second win!

Europac provided demonstrations of scanning, and there was a great deal of networking taking place.  It’s probably invidious to single out the most interesting projects discussed, when there were 48 projects and 200 researchers to choose from, but I thought the plenary lectures, particularly those by Marika Spring on the National Gallery’s CHARISMA infrastructure project and Gail Lambourne’s and Alberto de Tagle’s analyses of the strategic research agenda for conservation science were particularly fascinating.  May Cassar’s valedictory address shows that a very great deal has been accomplished since the Lords’ Report which Baroness Sharp oversaw, but May also offered plans for the future.

There is a great deal still to be accomplished if we are to build on the Programme’s many great successes and to involve the whole community and ‘citizen scientist’ in conservation of our Cultural Heritage.  Such networked projects as CHARISMA and ICCROM provide carefully linked international groups, which will make maximum use of over-stretched resources and pool expertise and equipment. CYARK’s great 3D scanning initiatives, not discussed at the conference, also seem to me to be extremely important for the future.

English Heritage’s Science Strategy was launched at the conference, with three chief foci:

Understanding materials and environments.
Raising awareness, improving methods, access to information and advice.
Capacity, capability and public benefit.

I am sure that English Heritage’s new strategy will help solve many of the problems identified in the Lords Report, so long as EH’s funding remains in place.  It is obvious that their resources need to be expanded, not contracted, if we are to remain world-leading in conservation science. One of the very good S&H researchers, who’d now completed his doctorate, had found a post in EH, but whether the others will all find employment remains unclear.

For me, great narratives of discovery are what is needed to enthuse the future and to ensure that the divide between the ‘Two Cultures’ of Arts and Sciences is fully effaced.  I haven’t yet finished my work for this project:  I want to see if advances in software and hardware technology can, four years after our  project was planned, mean that Europac can themselves deliver what researchers require in terms of positioning of 3D scanned objects. Do we need to employ anyone to master the software or is it now simple to do? I still want some empirical materials analyses; and there is clearly time to think now about some new projects.  Two edited books and a stream of articles by team members are appearing to sit beside our Exhibition, App, guide and papers which have already been produced.  We are by no means finished yet.

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