The proposal was formed by a group of twelve faculty and administrators from nine different departments, programs, and the dean’s office. The task force members included: the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Assoc. Dean for Arts and Humanities, the Director of MC Studies, the Chair and former Chair from Art Conservation, the former Director of the Conservation Ph.D., the Director of Museum Studies, the Director for the Center for Historic Architecture and Design, the Director of the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture, the Preservation Department Head in the UD Library, the Associate Director of the Center for Historic Architecture and Design, and an Associate Professor from Anthropology. They met regularly over a year and a half to create an outline for a new doctoral program. In winter of 2004, the Center for Material Culture Studies voted unanimously to administer the program. Draft copies of the proposal were circulated, and five lunch-time meetings were held with thirty faculty members and administrators from possible cooperating departments and museums in March and April 2004. Comments and suggestions were gathered and incorporated into the proposal. The first students began their studies in PSP in 2006. In 2010 the program was moved to the Art Conservation Department, and in 2013 the program was awarded permanent status.
The Art Conservation Research Ph.D. (1990-2003) served as a pilot project for the proposed PSP. Six students graduated from the program (including the 2003 winner of the Wilbur Owen Sypherd Prize for dissertations in the Humanities).
In the first six years the PSP received more than 100 inquiries and 28 formal applications. Maximum enrollment will initially be limited to approximately eight matriculated students, one to three accepted a year, dependent upon the amount of additional funding available to support students in this program, and by the availability of faculty members to serve as advisors within the demands of their individual workloads. All students must be full time for the first two semesters and may be part time after completing six three-credit courses. Many applicants are actively employed professionals who conduct their work during sabbaticals or other leaves. The dissertation provides them the experience necessary to continue conducting high quality research throughout their careers and to advance the field in their specific disciplines. At the same time, the opportunity to interact with students and faculty from a broad spectrum of preservation specialties helps the student to gain a wider view of the larger context of his or her area of concentration. Such a larger view is an asset to those wishing to move into administrative/managerial roles.
In the preservation disciplines such as historic preservation, art and architectural conservation, and museum studies, there are few opportunities to earn a doctoral degree. Most programs provide practical training at the master's degree level for practitioners. This program provides training in the conduct of research, allows students to pursue in-depth research on a topic of significance to their area of concentration, and at the same time gives them a greater theoretical grounding and helps them place their specialization into context within the broader field of preservation studies. Strong interest in the program was quickly expressed from those holding master's degrees in relevant disciplines. Students earning this degree have often been already employed in non-profit institutions such as museums, libraries, universities, and federal, state, and local historical organizations.
The establishment of a program of doctoral study in preservation reflected both a coming of age for the profession and recognition within the wider world of humanities studies of the central role that preservation has in supporting scholarly activity in humanities disciplines such as history, art history, material culture studies, and anthropology.
The Preservation Studies Program is the only program in North America that offers an interdisciplinary doctoral degree designed to combine technical art history and science. There are related doctoral programs in Historic Preservation at Tulane University and at the University of Texas, Austin; a Ph.D. Program in Historic Preservation Planning at Cornell University, and a doctoral program at Columbia University for “fields devoted to the built environment.” Doctoral study is available at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden in three areas: Built Environment, Conservation Science, and Craft. Several related though more narrowly defined Ph.D. programs are currently active, such as a Ph.D. program in conservation science at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London; or the University of Arizona/Arizona State Museum Heritage Conservation Science Doctoral Program. The Ph.D. program in art conservation at the Royal College of Art/Victoria and Albert Museum and the Ph.D. program in textile science and conservation created by a partnership between the Textile Conservation Center (TCC) and at the University of Southampton and the Universities of Bradford and Manchester, UK both closed in 2009. The TCC program has recently been resurrected at the University of Glasgow accompanied by a technical art history program. Individualized doctoral study tracks in preservation topics are available by special arrangement and government funding at several universities in the U.K. An earlier doctoral program in Cultural Heritage Conservation in Australia has also closed. In France there are doctoral programs at the Sorbonne that involve research and writing only, no coursework.
The degree awarded is a Ph.D. in Preservation Studies.