Research focus areas

Building a database of materials and methods of African art, antique and contemporary

Artists use materials and these materials are specific to the source and period of the artwork.  With the analytical equipment and knowledge housed in THC programme and the collections of the UP Museums, we are in a unique position to undertake detailed studies of different artists and their media to build a database for Southern African artists. This is a unique project that will develop a greater understanding of the artistic method. An understanding of an artifact’s composition is essential for carrying out best practices in preventative and restorative conservation based on sound scientific principles. Such databases are indispensable for objective, evidence-based assessment of whether the creation of an artifact can be attributed to a particular time period, region, or maker. While connoisseurship and provenance can provide key input on artifacts, they are vulnerable to manipulation, as shown repeatedly by high-profile forgery cases, such as the case of Wolfgang Beltracchi.


Pesticides in collections

Some insecticides have been proven to be hazardous to both human health and the collections they seek to protect from pest attack. Hazardous material in museum collections is a well-known problem and historically many of these materials were incorporated into collections as pest prevention systems. However, the historical documentation of these processes is sparse and incomplete, and in some cases non-existent, particularly so in Africa.  Davison Chiwara proposes carrying out a chemical analysis using X-Ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy, of organic collections in Zimbabwe’s museums to determine the chemical properties of the pesticides and their effect on collections and human health.  He proposes to do this as his Ph.D. project.  As Maggi Loubser is a specialist in XRF, and has done this kind of work before, this is a feasible project and could easily be expanded to other museums in South and Southern Africa.


Curriculum development in the field of conservation

Isabelle McGinn (lecturer, THC) is currently pursuing her Ph.D. research on curriculum development in the field of conservation using the University of Pretoria’s THC as a case study. Through a review of available local training and consultation processes to engage with various stakeholders, the thesis identifies local conservation needs and challenges. A curriculum was developed in response to research findings, guided by a review of curriculum development theory in line with criteria for a transformed curriculum. The research contributes to archival knowledge of conservation as a profession in South Africa, where publications in the sector are scant. Additionally, although there are many programs in heritage conservation internationally, few have been the subject of analysis and self-reflection with regards to their conception, curriculum development or adaptation, and the manner in which they are taught. The thesis addresses this knowledge gap and contributes an original body of knowledge on conservation education in South Africa and abroad.



Professionalizing the field

Both Maggi Loubser and Isabelle McGinn are involved in the South African Museums Association (SAMA) on their National Training Committee, adding their voices and experience to the committee’s drive for standardization, recognition of qualifications, and accreditation for the conservation profession.


Growing an African network for conservation

Part of the vision of the programme during its development phase would be a locally-based and contextually relevant academic offering that could spread out into Africa. To achieve this the THC team are involved with a number of partners to connect practitioners on the continent and raise the awareness for conservation. This includes Yale University and the Global Consortium for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage.

- Author Isabelle McGinn
Published by Isabelle McGinn

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