Reflection on the NHSF/Icon Heritage Science group student and ECR workshop of March 2021

James E. Churchill is a Funaro scholar of the M.S. Historic Preservation program at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation of  Columbia University and an architectural conservator for Kreilick Conservation, LLC. A founding member of the archaeometallurgical committee at ASM International, he is passionate about widening the body of knowledge for conservation treatments in historic metalwork with interests straddling design, history and materials science.

In this blog post, James reflects on the event we held in March to understand the needs of heritage science students and Early Career Researchers, and how the Forum and Icon HSG might meet those needs.

I am an architectural conservator, currently practicing in and around Philadelphia and the northeast of the United States. Graduating from Columbia University in Historic Preservation, an equivalent to built heritage in the U.K., I had a particular focus on historic metalwork and have recently authored numerous articles on early modern nickel alloys for leading material science journals stateside. As a result, I was encouraged to consider a PhD with a British institution. After countless interactions with potential supervisors in the U.K., however, I became increasingly frustrated with little response and a lack of clarity for those caught between the science and art of heritage PhDs. Pushed between departments that included archaeology, environmental sciences, architecture and materials, I subsequently missed funding deadlines for 2021.

I heard about the NHSF through weeks of research on funding opportunities for British citizens and was interested in attending the workshop that was offered in March. The talks consisted of general information on the organization and more intimate sessions that split attendees up to discuss current issues and ideas for the future of heritage science in the U.K. Given the SEAHA funding is due to end in 2022, I was particularly interested in the funding initiatives, but also a more effective leadership that could liaise with universities to encourage such research to remain or return to the U.K. 

We live in incredibly important times. As government continue to jostle over climate policy, the world struggles with accelerating change that is collapsing animal populations, raising flood plains and desertifying swathes of land each year. Both intangible and tangible heritage is at grave risk. Protection of historic fabric is strongest when both science and art intersect to support vulnerable stakeholders. Only through this, will we reduce demolition and waste, lower our carbon footprint and protect life for all species on this planet. I believe the U.K. could offer a distinct advantage in a nimble post-Brexit world but requires a more robust system of support that centralises opportunities for emerging professionals. The NHSF is best positioned to offer this, and it is my hope that they work on those initiatives I and my fellow cohort suggested.

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