Materiality, Authenticity and Value in the historic environment: A study of the effects of material transformation and scientific intervention

Research output: Book / Anthology / Report / Ph.D. thesisReport


It is widely recognised that the historic environment provides a source of cultural enrichment and enhances people’s quality of life and wellbeing. However, it also undergoes cycles of material transformation, of decay and renewal, which inform the meanings and values associated with it and contribute to the experience of authenticity. In this interdisciplinary project, we have used ethnographic methods including interviews and participant observation to examine the kinds of value attached to deterioration and decay in historic buildings. We use these methods firstly to ask how processes of deterioration and decay inform the cultural values attached to historic buildings, and secondly to explore when and why we use science-based interventions to retard or arrest these processes. Through case studies drawn from Scottish buildings in the care of National Trust Scotland and Historic Scotland, the study explores how these interventions impact on perceptions of authenticity and value. The project puts conversations with practitioners at the heart of the field of inquiry. It is oriented toward initiating discussion between research and practice, demonstrating the role of qualitative research and providing analysis that will inform the application of heritage science ot problems of material degradation and decay.

The aim of the project workshop was to engage with stakeholders from conservation groups, practitioners, heritage scientists and academics from humanities and social disciplines to share the project results and to discuss the wider context and impact of this work. The summary that follows condenses the broad ranging discussion into some key points for reflection.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Cite this