Tangible Heritage Conservation is a new programme at the University of Pretoria, and the first such programme offered at a University in sub-Saharan Africa. The programme inaugurated in 2019 is a two-year full time lectured masters based in the School of Arts, in the Faculty of Humanities.
Tangible Heritage is concrete and can be touched, however, it is inextricably linked to intangible heritage, what is felt, experienced or heard. Heritage Conservation is dedicated to ensuring the continued presence of cultural material, whether this is art, language, oral histories and literature embodied in archival manuscripts, works of art, ancient artefacts, but also the built environment, the land and the marine environment. All of this has something to tell us about the diversity of our entangled heritage, and it is this diversity that makes us human.
Now more than ever there is an urgency to preserve South Africa’s rich and diverse cultural heritage as sites and works of enormous significance are continuously threatened by exposure to a variety of detrimental factors through urbanisation, vandalism, poor handling practices, accidental damage, neglect, climatic influences and natural ageing processes. The survival of this heritage depends on the availability of educated and trained conservation professionals. The programme builds the requisite skills and expertise to protect, restore, repair, conserve and preserve this heritage, to build conservation capacity in our museums, libraries, archives, and other cultural entities, and to contribute to building and protecting our heritage, no matter how contested it might be. The degree programme equips prospective students with specialised knowledge and skills in the arts, sciences and cognate fields including analytical skills such as materials analysis, understanding degradation processes of heritage 'objects' and materials, and understanding how to mitigate these risks through preventive conservation. In addition, students learn basic concepts in interventive treatment to stabilise the structure, reintegrate the appearance of deteriorated cultural material and adapt environmental conditions to prolong their life. The overall aim of the programme is to equip students with sufficient knowledge and understanding to take up leading roles and advocate for the importance of heritage preservation.