Does picking a major stress you out because you want to study everything? Are you losing sleep deciding between degrees in art history, archeology, and chemistry? Surprisingly, there’s a perfect option for these seemingly disparate interests. A degree in conservation and preservation seamlessly combines art, history, and science, and this fascinating topic can be studied in nearly every corner of the world. Whether you’re interested in restoring ancient paintings, preserving crumbling sculptures, or reviving important texts, conservation degrees is your first step toward an exciting career.
Why Earn a Conservation Degree Abroad
Where would the Mona Lisa be without the care taken by conservators to keep the painting’s canvas from disintegrating? How would we know about daily life in Native American communities centuries ago without the work undertaken to preserve ancient weavings and adobe dwellings? These are just two examples of the important work done by those with conservation degrees, who endeavor to study and save countless artifacts from around the globe.
While there are likely programs for the subject in your home country, studying the subject abroad can have many benefits. By immersing yourself in a new country, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the culture that produced these artifacts. If you have a specific interest within the field, such as 18th century French paintings or Maori wood carvings, you’ll learn the most by going straight to the source.
Living abroad also has many benefits that transcend career choice, like learning a new language, developing problem solving skills, and managing unfamiliar situations. Completing international conservation degree programs will definitely boost your resume, as employers recognize the effort it takes to earn a diploma abroad.
Every country in the world has a heritage and culture worth remembering, which means there are conservation jobs everywhere. From museums and galleries to archeological digs and ancient architecture, studying conservation and preservation can be a thrilling dive into a region’s history. Some countries have a higher concentration of conservation programs than others, but once you have the skills, you can work just about anywhere.
The United Kingdom has a rich history of working to preserve cultural artifacts, and the options for degree programs here are vast. Not just limited to London, you could go as far afield as Wales or Scotland, with countless other universities in between. When you’re not in class, opportunities to explore the local culture and exercise your art conservation degree are plentiful. Check out the world’s largest art festival in Edinburgh at the Fringe Festival or visit the well-known British Museum to see how the pros have restored antique objects.
The United States offers dozens of programs in conservation, and you’ll have your pick of school, region, and climate. Head to the southwest for a desert experience, where you can spend the weekends hiking among cacti or exploring remnants of native peoples’ communities. If you stick to the east coast, extensive public transportation provides access to numerous cities, as you hop from D.C.’s museums to Boston’s lobstah rolls to Savannah’s verdant squares— perfect for exploring the contents of historic preservation degrees.
Europe is also brimming with opportunities to study conservation and preservation, and Italy is a prime example. As a leader of the European Renaissance, the country is full of cultural history and works diligently to preserve its past. When you’re done wandering through the Forum in Rome, hop a train to explore the ruins of Pompeii or spend the weekend relaxing on the island of Capri.
Conservation Degree Programs
While the act of preserving cultural heritage has been around for a long time, academic programs were created fairly recently to teach students the relevant skills. In the past, knowledge was passed down through apprenticeships; today, formal conservation degree programs prepare students for work in the field.
Most conservation and preservation programs award students with a Master’s degree, though there are a few bachelor’s and certificate programs. These programs generally take two years to complete and are accompanied by a hands-on work period or internship. Time in the classroom is spent learning conservation techniques, considering ethical issues, and practicing how to care for artifacts. Coursework will vary if you seek wildlife conservation degrees versus someone who is working towards historic preservation degrees. Students also spend time in the laboratory working on specimens and choosing conservation treatments with the help of spectrometers and x-rays.
International conservation degrees cover many different topics and can lead to work in a variety of fields. In addition to hands-on conservation, students with this degree may work on museum exhibitions, assist in transporting art or artifacts, or do advocacy work for specific sites or relics. These varying skills require a wide breadth of knowledge, and it’s useful for students to have a background in the fine arts, science (including chemistry and materials science), and other related fields like history and anthropology.
While many schools teach a broad overview of conservation for all cultural artifacts, there are some programs that specialize in one discipline. If you’re all about textiles, you may be interested in earning a degree in Glasgow, where there’s a specific program for textile conservation. If you’re dying to learn everything there is to know about sculpture restoration, France is the place to be. The more specific your knowledge base, the easier it will be to find a job that fits your interests.
Benefits & Challenges
Choosing to pursue conservation degrees opens up a wide variety of career options, with numerous specializations and a multitude of work environments. Whether you’re interested in preserving paintings at a museum, restoring architecture at a famous tourist site, or studying photographs at a university, a conservation degree is a great place to get your feet wet and learn the basics of the industry.
Preservation is as much about the country’s history and culture as it is the physical object, and going overseas to study can offer additional insight into the meaning of objects. Studying Lebanese antiquities in your home country will likely not yield the same depth of knowledge as doing so in Lebanon. While the hands-on aspect of the field can’t be overlooked, the wider social and cultural aspects of conservation contribute to our understanding of human history.
However, studying abroad isn’t a piece of cake, and there will certainly be challenges along the way. Many programs are taught in the country’s native language, which can be challenging for those not already fluent. Intensive language programs or undergraduate study abroad can help, but if it’s not enough, many programs around the world are taught in English.
Dedicating your studies to preserving history and culture is a noble decision, and one you should be proud to make. Conservators not only contribute knowledge by restoring and sharing artifacts with the world, but they also provide a deeper understanding of humankind and its capacity for tradition, resilience, and beauty. Who knows? Maybe in ten years you’ll be carefully brushing dirt off of a discovery as important as the Rosetta Stone.