The Balkan Heritage Field School (BHFS) is a program of the Balkan Heritage Foundation (BHF) intended for education in the field of archaeology, historic preservation and art history and is targeted for students and specialists, but also for anyone (18+) interested in cultural heritage study and preservation. The BHF is а Bulgarian public, non-profit, non-governmental organization. It was established in 2008 by Ivan Vassilev, Nayden Prahov and Angela Pencheva with the mission of supporting the study, preservation and promotion of the cultural heritage of Southeastern Europe. In the period 2008 - 2016 the BHF conducted and supported more than 100 projects related to archaeological research and excavations, conservation and recording of cultural monuments and artifacts, training and education in the field of cultural heritage, volunteer workcamps, exhibitions, conferences, public lectures, fundraising campaigns, and design of strategic plans for utilization of cultural heritage by municipalities.
The BHFS first started in 2003 and resumed as the BHF program in 2008. It includes field school programs, taught in English, in four Balkan countries: Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro and the Republic of Macedonia. All the field schools are affiliated with ongoing research and/ or conservation projects: archaeological excavations, art historical expeditions, conservation of artifacts and monuments, thus contributing to the study and preservation of the cultural heritage of the Balkans. Since 2003 the BHFS has implemented 85 field school projects (with durations ranging from 1 to 8 weeks) attended by more than 1500 students from 55 countries and involved a great number of academic and research institutions, museums, and heritage specialists from Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, the USA, Canada, the UK, Germany, Belgium, Greece, France, Montenegro and Japan.
Each BHFS project combines 3 basic educational modules: theoretical (lectures, presentations and field training), practical (participation in excavations, lab work, conservation workshops, field trips) and excursions to attractive archaeological and cultural sites & behind-the-scene visits.
Currently there are three types of field school programs offered by the BHFS:
- The archaeological field schools take place at different excavation sites (including underwater) related to all major cultures and civilizations that once existed in the Balkans, starting with the first Neolithic farmers in Europe and Europe’s first civilization in the Copper Age, the Aegean Bronze Age civilization, followed by the Ancient Greek, Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman civilizations.
- The emphasis in the workshops on historic preservation/heritage conservation is on ancient Greek pottery, Roman pottery and glassware, mosaics and wall-paintings, historic metal, paper and textiles, as well as vernacular Balkan architecture.
- In addition, two expeditions introduce students to Late and Post Medieval (Byzantine) ecclesiastic architecture and wall-paintings and to the monumental art of the Communist period.
Since 2014 the BHFS has offered a thematic combination of certain projects as BHFS project packs providing more comprehensive educational opportunities, broader experience, extra excursions and tempting admission fee discounts.
Three universities award academic credits to students who participate in the BHFS projects: New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria; Queen's University, Canada and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Extension, through Institute for Field Research, USA. Participants who are not interested in academic credits are not expected neither to pay any tuition fee nor to take part in any activities related to academic curriculum (exams, academic reports etc.). Together with the Institute for Field Research, USA, the BHF awards student scholarships for participation in the BHFS on annual basis.
The BHFS is not only a school but also a platform for solidarity in benefit of cultural heritage. Based on this, the BHFS students, heritage specialists, partnering institutions and local communities interact and collaborate with each other benefitting as follows:
- The BHFS students learn from professionals while taking part in real ongoing cultural heritage projects, travel to many historical & archaeological sites in the Balkans, gain intercultural experience and new friends, establish contacts receive academic credits.
- The heritage specialists (archaeologists, conservators, architects, art historians, etc.) and partner institutions (museums, research institutes, municipalities, NGOs, etc.) involved in the BHFS receive additional funding & support for their work.
- Local communities, where the BHFS projects take place obtain new incomes & seasonal jobs & new perspectives before the local heritage & increased promotion of the local tourist potential worldwide.