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Dr Emily Williams

Associate Professor (Teaching)

Associate Professor (Teaching) in the Department of Archaeology
Member of the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies


My first exposure to archaeological conservation was an undergraduate field school lecture in Carthage, Tunisia, which focused on how the conservation of lead curse tablets from the circus we were excavating had not only improved the legibility of the tablets but also led to new avenues of research into the social undercurrents in the Roman Empire and the horse-racing world. The marriage of practical methods, knowledge production and people-centered approaches to the study of material culture appealed to me and I was instantly hooked. I completed a Masters in the Conservation of Historic Objects at Durham University and had internships at the British Museum, Museum of London, Institute of Nautical Archaeology in Bodrum, and the Chrysler Museum of Art before being hired by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF) as their archaeological conservator. During my tenure at CWF, I had opportunities to take short sabbaticals and work at the Western Australian Maritime Museum, the Bermuda National Trust, as well as the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and to work on sites in Syria, Belgium and Iraqi Kurdistan. I also taught Introduction to Conservation at the University of Mary Washington (2010-2017) and Approaches to Art Conservation at William and Mary (Spring 2018). In 2018, I completed my PhD through the University of Leicester. It focused on African American tombstones, US Civil War Monuments and the ways that identity, memory and preservation all impact historical narratives.

Public Outreach

The decision to preserve objects (or not to preserve them) is a social act that speaks to collective values. As such, it is my belief that, conservation is strongest when it engages with all its stakeholders, both academic and public, and this belief has been a key component of my professional practice. While at Colonial Williamsburg, I organized several conferences designed to bring conservators, archaeologists, collections managers and scientists together to discuss shared approached to aspects of archaeological conservation. These included “Human Remains: Conservation, Retrieval and Analysis” (1999) and “The Conservation of Archaeological Materials: current trends and future directions”(2005). I also had the opportunity to curate an exhibit on conservation entitled “Conservation: Where Art and Science Meet” that offered me new ways to engage with the public through co-designing interactives, offering gallery talks, and developing educational programming for children that aimed to show how fun and absorbing conservation can be. The exhibit also led to a conference on the “Public face of Conservation,” which led to several collaborative symposia at the American Institute for Conservation’s annual conferences. My PhD research sprang from a collaboration with a descendant community and the desire to help them voice stories that had been prematurely silenced. 

Research Interests

At the broadest levels, I am interested in archaeological narrative and in biographical approaches to material culture and in the ways in which preservation and decay influence both these narratives and the political and historiographic use of objects as well as in developing new and dynamic opportunities for connecting the lives of people and objects.

At a more granular level, I have been involved in research projects dealing with the following topics and I continue to be interested in them and to actively engage with them:

  • The conservation of waterlogged organics
  • The impacts of portable fire extinguishers on cultural heritage
  • African American tombstones and cemeteries
  • Tombstone carving and production
  • Deterioration processes in archaeological materials
  • Disaster response and preparedness
  • Collections management
Indicators of Esteem

2017, Fellow, International Institute for Conservation

2015, Fellow, American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works

Professional Service

ICOM-CC—International Committee of Museums - Conservation Committee

  • Coordinator of Waterlogged Organic Archaeological Materials Working Group (WOAM), two terms, 2014-2020
  • Assistant coordinator, WOAM 2011-2014
  • Local organizer for WOAM 2010 conference


AIC—American Institute for Conservation

  • Member, National Heritage Responders taskforce (formerly AIC-CERT) 2007-present
  • Chair, Education and Training Committee 2011-2015
  • Member Education and Training Committee 2010-2016
  • Co-chair, Objects Group Outreach Committee 2006-2009
  • Chair, Archaeological Discussion Group 1999-2009


SHA—Society for Historical Archaeology

  • Editor for SHA’s Technical Briefs publication 2017-present
  • Associate Editor for SHA’s Technical Briefs publication 2005-2017
  • Member, Curation and Conservation Committee 2008-2017


MAAC—Mid Atlantic Archaeological Conference

  • Judge, Student Paper Competition 2014-2018


VCA—Virginia Conservation Association

  • Programs chair 1998-1999


IMLS-Institute of Museum and Library Services

  • Panel reviewer 2016
  • Field reviewer 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013

Edited Volumes:

Williams, E. and E. Hocker, eds. 2018. Proceedings of the 13th ICOM-CC Group on Wet Organic Archaeological Materials Conference, Florence 2016. Florence: ICOM-CC WOAM.


Williams, E., ed. 2013. The Public Face of Conservation. London:Archetype publications


Straetkvern, K., and E. Williams, eds. 2012. Proceedings of the 11th ICOM-CC Group on Wet Organic Archaeological Materials Conference, Greenville 2010. Greenville: ICOM-CC WOAM.


Williams, E. and C. Peachey, eds. 2010. The Conservation of Archaeological Materials: current trends and future directions. BAR international Series2116. Oxford: Archaeopress.


Williams, E., ed. 2001. Human Remains: Conservation, Retrieval and Analysis. Proceedings of a conference held in Williamsburg, VA, Nov 7-11th 1999. BAR International Series 934. Oxford: Archeopress.


Peer-Reviewed Articles and Invited Chapters:

Williams, E. (in press). “Storage at a glance: wood.” In Preventive Conservation: Collection Storage, Elkin, L. and C. Norris (eds). Washington: American Institute for Conservation.

Williams, E. and K. Ridgway. (in press). “Balancing access, research and preservation: conservation concerns for old collections. In New Life for Old Collections, Ford, B. and R. Allen (eds). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Williams, E. (in press) “Framing the questions that matter: the relationship between archaeology and conservation.” In Discovering What Counts in Archaeology and Restoration Lessons from Colonial Williamsburg, Edwards-Ingram, Y and A. Edwards (eds). Gainesville: University of Florida Press

Benfer, M. and E. Williams. 2018. “Assessing the impact of fire extinguisher agents on cultural resource materials.” Fire Technology 54 (1): 289-311.

Williams, E. 2018. “The conservation of waterlogged materials.” The SAS Encyclopedia of Archaeological Sciences.

Williams, E. 2014 “Field stabilization of moveable heritage.” In Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, Smith, C. (ed.) pp. 2772-2775. New York: Springer.

Articles in Conference Proceedings and Non-Peer Reviewed Journals

Williams, E. 2013. “Presenting conservation: where art and science meet.” In The Public Face of Conservation, Williams, E. (ed) pp. 170-177. London: Archetype Publications.

Balderson, P. and E. Williams. 2013. “Where art and science meet: education programming for Colonial Williamsburg’s conservation exhibit.” In The Public Face of Conservation, Williams, E. (ed) pp 107-113. London: Archetype Publications.

Williams, E. 2011. “Deep Storage: reburial as a conservation tool.” Objects Specialty Group Postprints 18: 25-31

Williams, E. and A. Edwards. 2010. “Collaboration and education: the excavation and conservation of two 19th-century tombstones in Williamsburg, Virginia.” In The Conservation of Archaeological Materials: current trends and future directions. BAR international Series2116. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Williams, E. and M. Lavin. 2007. “The recovery and display of a halberd from a 400-year-old well at Jamestown.” Proceedings of the 10th ICOM-CC Working Group on Wet Organic Archaeological Materials Conference, Amsterdam 2007. Amsterdam: Rijksdienst voor Archaeologie, Cultuurlandschap en Monumenten.

Gleeson, M., E. Williams, and P. Young. 2005. “The preservation of archival materials in archaeological collections.” Journal of Mid-Atlantic Archaeology, vol. 21: 23-31.

De Solms, J. and E. Williams. 2005.A preliminary examination of the re-treatment options for leather treated with Turkey Red Oil.” Proceedings of the 9th ICOM-CC Working Group on Wet Organic Archaeological Materials Conference, Copenhagen 2004.

Williams, E. 2004. “Disaster planning for archaeological collections.” Journal of Mid-Atlantic Archaeology, vol. 20: 119-125.

Williams, E. 2004. “Assessing the past: Colonial Williamsburg’s archaeological collection.” AIC Objects Specialty Group Post prints (10): 72-80.

Ghisalberti, E., I. Godfrey, K. Kilminster, V. Richards, and E. Williams. 2002. “The analysis of acid affected Batavia timbers.” Proceedings of the 8th ICOM-CC Working Group on Wet Organic Archaeological Materials Conference, Stockholm 2001. pp. 281-305.

Godfrey, I., K. Kasi, S. Schneider, and E. Williams. 2002. “Iron removal from ivory and bone recovered from historic shipwreck sites.” In Proceedings of the 8th ICOM-CC Working Group on Wet Organic Archaeological Materials Conference, Stockholm 2001. pp.527-552.

Williams, E. and J. Eklund. 2002. “The treatment of waterlogged tortoiseshell from Independence National Park, Philadelphia.” In Proceedings of the 8th ICOM-CC Working Group on Wet Organic Archaeological Materials Conference, Stockholm 2001. pp. 555-566.

Williams, E. 2001. “Documenting an early cooking disaster: the conservation of the Meaux site porringer” Cultural Resource Management, vol. 24 (6): 26-27.

Supervision students