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  • Senior digitizing a Flemish manuscript in preparation for thesis

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Student Thesis Handbook

Application due May 15th of Junior year​

Undergraduate Research Program

Library Resources 

Digital Alchemy: The Digitization of a 15th Century Alchemical Manuscript

Madeline Cooper

 The digitization of print media and manuscripts allows for increased availability and visibility of the physical volumes. Parchment manuscripts are ideal candidates for digitization because they are one-of-a-kind, and benefit from digital study to enhance examination, especially for off-site access. The availability of resources in e-book creation allows for the use of technology to create a new experience of a manuscript. I chose a parchment manuscript from the Special Collections at the University of Delaware’s Morris Library, Liber de consideratione quintae essentiae ominum rerum, as a case study to create a system of research, conservation, digitization, and e-book formatting that can be applied to other manuscripts to produce interactive e-books. Through research into the provenance, text, and author of the manuscript, I created a frame of reference for the context of the manuscript. I then performed a condition report and treatment proposal to assess the condition of the manuscript. With the help of the Conservation Lab and the Center for Digital Collections (CDC) at Morris Library I completed conservation treatments on the manuscript to stabilize it before digitization. The manuscript was then digitized in full by the CDC. Through the iBooks Author application, I created an iBook that includes a historical survey and digital copy of the manuscript that is layered with widgets that provide notes on construction and condition. Through this process, I was able to create an e-book that gives the reader a virtual experience of the manuscript as a physical object, rather than just a text. The result is a combination of medieval manuscript technology and the modern medium of e-book technology; they serve each other to create a new experience for readers.

The Development of a Mold and Cast Technique for Infilling Losses on Varnished Chinese Export Lacquerware

Julianna Marie Ly

China always captures newspaper headlines during discussions of economic growth and competition with the United States; however, much is forgotten about trade between China and the United States, which began as early as the 18th century. The results of luxury export trade can still be seen through current patterns of consumption, the growth of the United States economy, and revived interest in Chinese designs still evident in European and American homes. During research conducted during the summer of 2014, the conservation treatment of a Chinese export lacquerware shawl box, 1964.0084D, from the Winterthur Museum and Country Estate collection, was performed. The shawl box was studied as a lens to understand the monumental impact Chinese export had on developing trading ports across America, specifically focusing on Salem, Massachusetts. Chemical analyses by means of pyrolysis gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (py-GC/MS), ultra-violet (UV) auto-fluorescence, and chemical staining were conducted, in order to accurately assess the current condition of the object and develop an appropriate conservation treatment plan. However, during treatment, water was used to work with the infilling material as well as, to treat and conserve the object. This thesis aims at developing a mold and cast system in order to completely eliminate the use of water during the conservation of varnished Chinese export lacquerware as well as, reduce the amount of time an object is handled during treatment. For the purposes of this study, a varnished Chinese export lacquerware screen, 2004.0030.002, in the Winterthur Museum and Country Estate collection was used to carry out testing.

Egyptian Mummy Autopsy: An Examination of the Practice and Preservation of the Autopsy Context

 Melissa Miller

“Mummies have always spoken to us on some deep primal level, and we are simply unable to leave them alone. We love them and we fear them, we aspire to be them and we dread that fate. But one thing is certain: we are powerless to resist their potent appeal.”- Heather Pringle The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession, and the Everlasting Dead

As Pringle says, mummies from around the world have fascinated mankind for even thousands of years, and much research has been conducted on them. While the body of research on autopsying mummies has increased drastically in the last century, little research has been done into the history of autopsying mummies, specifically in a museum context. My goal is to examine the motivations, methods and results of the scientific mummy autopsies undertaken in the 20th century, and to study when and how these became acceptable practices in the museum context and the aftermath of mummy care. In addition, I will research how these practices have changed over time and how we should now care for and conserve the mummies and especially the autopsy contexts.

Since the span of research in this area is so great, I will focus my study on artificially mummified Egyptian human remains. Artificial in this context means that there was intentional human action taken to preserve and create the mummy. Natural mummification, in contrast, is the creation of a mummy purely from the body’s interaction with the environment. High-ranking Egyptian mummies have a particularly unique research history partly because of the added complication of wrappings and closely associated artifacts, which obscure the actual body from view. Thus, my research will address the history of 20th century autopsies on artificially mummified Egyptian individuals.

Extending the Alternative Method: Using Xerography and Nonwoven Fabric to Create Accession Number Labels for Museum Textiles

Elizabeth Knight

I will explore the advantages and disadvantages of creating labels for textiles made by photocopying heat-set toner onto non-woven interfacing, which will then be sewn to the textiles. This could be a substantial aid to the museum world because labeling is vital for identifying objects and their associated paperwork, which has legal and historical ramifications. Current labeling methods are often illegible, the numbers abrade, and the materials are difficult to sew. The photocopied labels will hopefully resolve these issues, and have additional benefits, such as being printed quickly and choice of font. I will also explore whether photocopying with heat-set toner can be used to create softer hang tags for textiles that would lessen the threat of snagging fragile textiles. Finally, I will determine whether the photocopied labels can be adhered to objects using standard archival adhesives, therefore expanding the applicability of this research beyond textile collections.

Building Community through Museum Outreach: University of Delaware and New London Road Community

 Katie Bonanno

 This research will ultimately, in the vein of participatory museum theory, develop a community engagement strategy for the University of Delaware’s University Museums, geared specifically toward the University’s undergraduate population and Newark’s historic New London Road community. Building on past efforts by the University to recognize and preserve the heritage of this historic African American community, the project will involve working directly with members of both communities to develop a sustainable outreach program for the University Museums. Throughout the course of the project, I will explore questions of museums’ role in civic engagement, what constitutes effective museum programming, and the value of informal education in society at large. The goal of the project is to design a museum program that will not only continue to develop the partnership between the University and the New London Road community, but will also build a sense of community among participants and encourage greater use of the University Museums’ resources.

Beneath the Surface: A Hidden Picasso?

Alyssa Hull

 I am currently studying a 1901 painting from Picasso’s Blue Period to understand what materials Picasso used and to determine if the painting in question contains a “hidden” painting below the surface as a result of Picasso reusing an already-finished canvas for a new work. My senior thesis project is part of a larger collaboration between Dr. Jennifer Mass, head of the Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory at Winterthur Museum and adjunct professor in the Art Conservation Department, with staff scientists from the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS), including Dr. Arthur Woll. I conducted a preliminary technical analysis on crosssections from the painting in order to conceptualize how Picasso employed different pigments throughout the layers of the painting, using elemental and molecular analytical techniques such as X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Fourier transform-infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR), and Raman spectroscopy. In October 2012, the painting was analyzed at CHESS and the different layers imaged through a technique known as X-ray fluorescence intensity mapping, which creates a map of the elements present in different areas of the painting. Few technical studies have been carried out on Picasso’s early works, so analyzing this painting will add to the artistic and historical knowledge of Picasso’s early career and his body of work as a whole.

The Analysis, Detection, and Uses of Medieval Ivory Caskets as Repositories for Frankincense and Silk

 Elizabeth Diker

 For my Senior Thesis I will be working with Dr. Lawrence Nees on the analysis, detection, and uses of medieval ivory caskets as repositories for frankincense and silk. There are a great number of ivory caskets in museum collections today, and their function and uses are still ambiguous. One hypothesis is that these objects were used to hold scents, such as frankincense, that were protectively wrapped with silk. In order to test this theory, it is necessary to evaluate analytical methods that could detect trace amounts of frankincense on silk and ivory. In order to do so, laboratory experiments will be set up to observe the physical and chemical interactions between these materials, as well as methods of detection. In order to provide appropriate historical context to this investigation the medieval significance and uses of frankincense and silk will be researched in depth.​​

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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489
  • art-conservation@udel.edu