Academic Profile

Katrin Wilhelm is an interdisciplinary early career researcher with main interests in mixed heritage science. Her research focuses on the intersections of cultural and natural heritage perception and preservation. She investigates rock and stone material responses to the natural and anthropogenic environment, with further links to sustainable urban built heritage and well-being.

Katrin obtained her diploma in restoration, art technology and heritage science from the Technical University Munich (TUM) and her DPhil from the University of Oxford. Before her academic career, she worked as a trained stonemason and as a site manager for heritage site conservation. Her DPhil thesis focussed on improving non-destructive techniques for stone weathering research in situ.

Katrin is currently engaged in supervising undergraduate and graduate research in physical and environmental geography, and in delivering undergraduate teaching. She also has a passion for outreach and engagement and has led several highly successful public-facing projects in physical geography and heritage science. She is part of the Oxford University Heritage Network (OUHN) and a member of the (En)Coding Heritage Network.

Katrin aims to understand how the historic environment can afford more of a 'service' to society in view of present challenges. Her research facilitates a 'service extension' of built heritage as storing irreplaceable knowledge (outdoor archive), long-term monitoring the environment and contributing to well-being (including critical heritage studies and issues of decay, loss, and reclaim); thus, adding value and relevance in the 21st C.

She is pursuing three uniquely interlinked themes: (1) Improving the world's built heritage conservation: understanding physical weathering processes under increased environmental pressures, climate change, and the resilience of materials including protective biota to inform sustainable future conservation approaches; advancing economical methods such as the "Lab in your pocket"; (2) 'Learning from the past to preserve in the future' - From Ancient Knowledge to 21th C Implication and Applications, where ancient building technology (Roman concrete) might inform sustainable future conservation materials, and historic sculptures monitor past air pollution; (3) 'Smart Urban Culture Dose': Combining digital (immersive) technology with the historic built environment to link and contribute to people's well-being.

In recent years, Katrin has carried out field-based research in many places in the UK and Germany, as well as in Italy, Turkey, and Jordan.

Current Research

BHRI - P2 (Built Heritage Research Initiative - Phase 2): Sandstone Conservation

Katrin works in a collaboration between OxRBL (the Oxford Resilient Buildings and Landscapes Lab) at the University of Oxford and the Getty Conservation Institute. The project aims to develop a robust, multi-method approach for evaluating conservation treatments for sandstone.

OPAQ - Oxford's stone-built heritage as a proxy for historical air quality

Katrin works in a collaborative project with Dr Jack Longman funded by a SoGE Inspiration Fund. This study advances air pollution research by telling the time on the 'pollution clock' preserved in black crusts and thus, explores urban stone-built heritage as an economical long-term geochemical archive.

Petra 'SXNCH' - "Synchronising Knowledge on Sites at the Intersection of Natural and Cultural Heritage"

Katrin is co-lead in a collaborative project with the Fraunhofer Centre for International Management and Knowledge Economy, the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, and Dr Martin Michette (OxRBL) funded by the German Foreign Office. The main aim of the project is to develop a concept for an Education and Training Programme in the Field of Cultural Heritage in Petra, Jordan (in response to Covid-19 focussing on digital literacy and virtual networking at the moment).

Arch & Lab Pompeii - Restoration Archive and Exposition Laboratory

Katrin was involved in the project management, coordination and research of this highly interdisciplinary project which contributes to sustainable heritage. The cooperation between the Max-Planck Institute for Art History and Florence and the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, Munich (Holzkirchen) combined expertise in technical-science, art history and perception. The project addressed both Pompeii's tangible and intangible conservation history, perception and preservation, as an inseparable part of its holistic legacy. The contributions informed heritage material science (best long-term outdoor performance) and sustainable understanding of Pompeii as a place of transnational, European history and culture.

Head Hunting: 350 years History and Mysteries of Oxford's Stone Heads

Karin is lead on this interdisciplinary project which contributes to Oxford's local history and Heritage Science. The project features the 13 carved busts (and their preceding two generations retired in Oxford's private and college gardens) that ring the perimeter of the Sheldonian Theatre and the History of Science Museum, which are an iconic feature of Oxford - yet, a great deal of mystery surrounds them. The project unravels the history and mysteries of the Heads as a unique 350-year record of urban architectural decay, conservation, environmental change, and changing attitudes and perceptions. This project inspired the Tomorrow's Oxford Heads project and the OPAQ - Oxford's stone-built heritage as a proxy for historical air quality project. This shows the project's implications for sustainable management of built heritage, collective memory, and identity.

#FindTheHeads

Tomorrow's Oxford Heads (TOH)

Katrin was co-lead on this collaborative project with the History of Science Museum and with the financial support of the University's Diversity Fund. This project worked in conjunction with the History and Mysteries of Oxford's Stone Heads project, which addresses the past and present of the stone Heads, whereas the TOH explores what the future might hold for these Heads. The TOH project was a pioneering project which addressed the question: 'How can we diversify public sculpture to better represent the people in today's University of Oxford?' The project aimed to enhance the visibility of women and underrepresented groups in the University of Oxford in its externally facing public sculpture. It built upon the successful 'Diversifying Portraiture at Oxford Project' which commissioned 21 portraits of diverse current and former, staff and students. The responses to the two TOH's temporary artworks were overwhelmingly positive and demonstrated successfully how temporary, artistic interventions can add value and new meanings to public space and provoke stimulating discussions about diversifying the University's external image.

Syrian Stonemasonry Training Scheme project

Katrin has been involved as an advisor in the collaborative project between the British Council, the World Monument Fund and the Petra National Trust. The project trained female and male Jordanian locals and Syrian refugees in traditional stonemasonry skills to equip them with the ability to work on conflict-affected built heritage.

Funding and awards

  • 2020 German Foreign Office award in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Centre for International Management and Knowledge Economy, the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, and Dr Martin Michette for Concept Development for an Education and Training Programme in the Field of Cultural Heritage in Petra, Jordan
  • 2019 SoGE Inspiration Award in collaboration with Dr Jack Longman and Dr Scott Allan Orr for Oxford's stone-built heritage as a proxy for historical air quality
  • 2018 Oxford University Diversity Fund award for Tomorrow's Oxford Heads project in collaboration with the History of Science Museum Oxford
  • 2017 SoGE Inspiration Award in collaboration with Dr Martin Coombes for The History and Mysteries of Oxford's Stone Heads project
  • 2013 EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) studentship grant
  • 2013 DAAD doctoral research grant
  • 2012-2015 Proceq® research grant

Teaching and Supervision

Dr Wilhelm contributes to the Heritage Science option and Geographical Techniques (Methods in Physical Geography) course and respective field trips. Further, she supervised work experience students, a Nuffield funded student, BA and MA theses and PhD theses. She took part in admission interviews and organised the UNIQ summerschool field day.

Selected Publications

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