Research in conservation and restoration has at its core a real conservation problem originating with an object, group of objects or artistic concept, and would ideally lead to new or improved conservation strategies. The problem-solving character, in a practical sense, of this type of research shows analogies to research in the fields of medicine and dentistry, but also sets it apart from many other academic disciplines that mostly address fundamental theoretical problems. As a discipline, Conservation and Restoration has been most closely associated with the academic disciplines of Conservation Science and Technical Art History. In essence, Conservation Science is the application of analytical methods and theories from the natural sciences aimed towards gaining a better understanding and possibly solving conservation problems, so that it may be labelled as research in conservation and restoration. Conversely, Technical Art History can also make use of scientific and analytical techniques, but its main goal is to answer or improve understanding of an art historical question. Simply put: Conservation Science is science-heavy conservation and restoration research, while Technical Art History is science-heavy art historical research.
Conservation research is interdisciplinary research, incorporating knowledge typical of the Humanities and the Natural Sciences in varying degrees. For his/her research the conservator-restorer can make use of knowledge and research results from other disciplines, or through his/her intimate knowledge of materials and objects make a contribution to research in the domain of Technical Art History. When entering the specific domain of research in conservation and restoration, researchers should be able to apply knowledge from other disciplines that is relevant for the problem at hand. This does not mean that the conservator-restorer has to be an expert in all these fields, just that he/she should be able to tailor the available knowledge to the needs of his/her own research and be able to ask the relevant questions to experts in these other fields.
Research differs from the examination and investigation that is needed to actually treat an object. The latter takes an individual treatment as its starting point, while research tackles more general questions and contributes to more widely applicable knowledge. In essence, research is what takes case-based, subjective questions and knowledge to a more general and objective level. The question how to bridge the gap between the subjective and the objective, as well as how the academic discipline of Conservation and Restoration has been conditioned by the state of knowledge, values, expectations and ethics both in the present and the past, are issues that warrant constant and fundamental reflection. This type of reflection does not yet have a firm place in university curricula in conservation and restoration. With our programme we hope to stimulate conservator-restorers to help lay the foundations of a fundamental theoretical framework for their discipline.