Category Archives: Art and Graphics

Hold My Mead: A Bibliography For Historians Hitting Back At White Supremacy

On September 6, 2017, medieval historian David Perry published an article in the Pacific Standard remarking on how medievalists can counter the use of medieval history by White Supremacists. As Prof. Perry noted in his post, “…mostly we’re just a collection of predominantly white scholars who are surprised and disturbed to discover our classes and books might be well-received by white supremacists.” The piece hit home for many classicists as well; a field which has also grappled with the appropriation of antiquity by white supremacists. What follows is a bit of an outline of the articles written in the past year which explain the state of the problem and provide some steps towards countering this abuse of the historical record. I have never seen the medieval and ancient worlds as two different realms. Thus this short bibliography melds the two together in hopes that we can see each field’s efforts to combat this problem.

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Bishop Petros with Saint Peter (974– 997 CE) by Unknown and from Faras. Now at The National Museum in Warsaw.

Ancient History: 

Beard, Mary, “Roman Britain in Black and White,” A Don’s Life: Times Literary Supplement (August 3, 2017).

Bond, Sarah E, “A Short History Of Torches And Intimidation,” Forbes (August 15, 2017).
_____”Why We Need to Start Seeing the Classical World in Color,” Hyperallergic (June 7, 2017).

Futo Kennedy, Rebecca, “We Condone It by Our Silence: Confronting Classics’ Complicity in White Supremacy,” Eidolon (May 11, 2017).
_____”The Ancient Mediterranean Was Diverse. Why Do Some People Get So Upset When We Talk About It?” Classics at the Intersections (August 8, 2017).
_____”How is the Ancient Mediterranean Diverse If Everyone There Is “White”?” Classics at the Intersections (August 17, 2017).
_____”Blood and Soil from Antiquity to Charlottesville: A Short Primer,Classics at the Intersections (August 17, 2017).
_____”Using Genetics to Prove Ancient Greeks Were “White”?”Classics at the Intersections (August 26, 2017).

McCoskey, Denise Eileen, “What Would James Baldwin Do? Classics and the Dream of White Europe,” Eidolon (August 24, 2017). Please note that this is essential reading by a leading scholar in the field of race in antiquity.

Morley, Neville, “Diversitas et Multiculturalismus,” The Sphinx Blog (August 2, 2017).

Robey, Tracy E. “The Long History of Damnatio Memoriae and the Destruction of Monuments,” Jezebel (August 16, 2017).

Umachandran, Mathura, “Fragile, Handle With Care: On White Classicists,” Eidolon (June 5, 2017).

Withun, David, “African Americans and the Classics: An Introduction,” Black Perspectives (AAIHS) (September 7, 2017).

Wenger, Ayelet, “‘Our’ ‘Classics’: Problems of Difference in Western Civilization,” Eidolon (August, 28, 2017): A great question to begin with: “The Greeks and Romans of yore are dead. The Europeans of now speak tongues only distantly related to theirs. So, the question: whose Classics are they, anyway?”

Zuckerberg, Donna, [Just Read Everything]. Dr. Zuckerberg is the editor of Eidolon. She frequently writes on this topic, and thus I would suggest just reading everything she has to say on the topic. Particularly her piece on “How to be a Good Classicist Under a Bad Emperor” November 21, 2016.

Medieval History: 

Gabriele, Matthew, “Islamophobes want to recreate the Crusades. But they don’t understand them at all,” Washington Post (June 6, 2017).

Dark Age, Dr. @drdarkage [Added by Prof. Dorothy Kim]

Harland, James M.,”‘Race’ in the Trenches: Anglo-Saxons, Ethnicity, and the Misuse of the Medieval Past,The Public Medievalist (February 17, 2017).

Kim, Dorothy, “Teaching Medieval Studies in a Time of White Supremacy,” In the Middle: Peace, Love & the Middle Ages (August 28, 2017).

Livingstone, Josephine, “Racism, Medievalism, and the White Supremacists of Charlottesville,” New Republic (August 15, 2017).

The Public Medievalist,Race, Racism, and the Middle Ages,” (Blog Sub-Heading).

Washington Post Staff, “Deconstructing the symbols and slogans spotted in Charlottesville,” Washington Post (August 18, 2017).

Vikings: 

Hartsuyker, Linnea, “We shouldn’t let the racists own the Vikings,” RawStory.com (August 24, 2017).

Khazan, Olga, “How White Supremacists Use Victimhood to Recruit,” The Atlantic (August 15, 2017).

Perry, David, “White supremacists love Vikings. But they’ve got history all wrong,” Washington Post (May 31, 2017).

Truitt, E.R., “Fantasy North: The top of the globe has always meant fantasy, myth, adventure. What explains the icy northern grip on our imagination?” Aeon (February 15, 2016). [Article submitted by Prof. E.R. Truitt]

Varghese, Sanjana, “White supremacists are embracing genetic testing – but they aren’t always that keen on the results,” New Statesman (August 18, 2017).

Official Statements from Academic Societies:

Medieval Academy: On August 18, 2017, the Medieval Academy condemned “the appropriation of any item or idea or material in the service of white supremacy. In addition, we condemn the abuse of colleagues, particularly colleagues of color, who have spoken publicly against this misuse of history.”

Society for Classical Studies: In a statement from the SCS Board of Directors, the organization noted: “…the Society strongly supports efforts to include all groups among those who study and teach the ancient world, and to encourage understanding of antiquity by all. It vigorously and unequivocally opposes any attempt to distort the diverse realities of the Greek and Roman world by enlisting the Classics in the service of ideologies of exclusion, whether based on race, color, national origin, gender, or any other criterion. As scholars and teachers, we condemn the use of the texts, ideals, and images of the Greek and Roman world to promote racism or a view of the Classical world as the unique inheritance of a falsely-imagined and narrowly-conceived western civilization.”

#Syllabi: 

Classics and Social Justice: The mission of this group is stated thusly: “Outreach that brings classics out of the academy and returns it to the least privileged in our society.” A section heading of their blog brings together a number of syllabi addressing social justice topics in the study of antiquity. 

Futo Kennedy, Rebecca, “Bibliography for Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World,Classics at the Intersections (August 14, 2017).

Eidolon: A new feature area for the online Classics journal is #syllabi, which reacts to the use of various classical authors and issues within the zeitgeist with sets of reading on the issue. The first one is on Thucydides and is written by ancient historian Neville Morley.

  1. Morley, Neville, “Thucydides and Contemporary Politics: A Syllabus,” Eidolon (September 1, 2017).
    a.  Mendelsohn, Daniel, “Theatres of War: Why the battles over ancient Athens still rage,” The New Yorker (January 12, 2004).

Hsy, Jonathan and Julie Orlemanski, “Race and Medieval Studies: A Partial Bibliography” [Crowd-Sourced and by far the very best resource for the issues dealt with this summer in respect to diversity, race, and inclusion in medieval studies.]

Medieval People of Color Tumblr: My suggestion is to include a number of posts in your next Western Civilization or history course. This is also a fantastic image resource.

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August 2017 archive screenshot from the “People of Color in European Art History” Tumblr. 

As per usual with all of my previous bibliography, if you have something to add, please do so in the comments section. You will be credited for your contribution.

Digital Palmyra: Resources for Researching the Ancient City

Yesterday on the Forbes blog, I discussed recent attempts to reconstruct the ancient busts of Palmyra damaged by ISIS and repatriate them back to Syria. As I suggested in the post, such efforts highlight the import of digital methodologies such as 3D printing and photogrammetry, but also underscore art as an umbilical cord that allows us to create an emotional connection. Much like Delphi, art is often an ὀμφαλός (Greek for ‘navel’).

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Limestone relief of a woman and two children from Pamyra, dated to c.150 CE. Now at the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, MA. The inscription at the top reads: ‘Ba’altega, daughter of Hairan. Alas! Sim’on here son; Hairan, her son.’  (1908.3)

Palmyrene funerary busts in particular are an evocative medium that forces the viewer to make direct eye contact with the Syrians of antiquity. When I was at the Vatican Museums recently, I was amazed to see both children and their parents actually pausing on their way to the Sistine Chapel in order to gaze at the Vatican’s small collection of Palmyrene busts (a selection of which are below).

Here are a few projects and resources for investigating ancient Palmyra (and a few other sites) online, although this is by no means a comprehensive list.

Memory Matrix (MIT): An aesthetic project using digital technologies to recreate lost structures from the Middle East. As they note: “The Memory Matrix is a monument that explores the possibilities for future heritage creation, employing new fabrication techniques and transcultural workshops. The Matrix is made of border fences carrying over 20,000 small fluorescent Plexiglas elements. These elements are laser cut with holes outlining vanished heritage from Syria, Iraq, Yemen and beyond.” This video is amazing.

Memory Matrix at MIT from Azra Aksamija on Vimeo.

The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra (Getty Research Institute): As per usual, the Getty Research Institute has used its massive digital archives and powers of good curation for good. Check out the Palmyra site map, the large collection of travel photos, and the resources for research on Palmyra. In the “modern” section, there is a helpful (if rather upsetting) explanation for why those portrait busts became collected by museums in Europe and the U.S. following the expansion of travel tourism in the 19th century: “As tourist photographs of the site began to circulate more widely, so did Palmyra’s artifacts, especially the famous funerary portrait busts (some of which are featured in this exhibition). Today, one can see thousands of Palmyrene antiquities outside the region: in American, Western European, Russian, and Turkish museums that had been secured during the late Ottoman rule (1876–1922) and subsequently during the French Mandate (1923–46).

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Temple of Bel, cella entrance , Jean-Baptiste Réville and Pierre Gabriel Berthault after Louis-François Cassas. Etching. Platemark: 18 x 11.4 in. (46 x 29 cm). From Picturesque travels of Syria, Phenicia, Palestine, and Lower Egypt (Paris, ca. 1799), vol. 1, pl. 46. ​​Image via The Getty Research Institute’s ‘The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra.’ 

Monuments of Syria (Dr. Ross Burns): A list of the historical sites in Syria. There is an area of the website just for Palmyra. There are lots of historical images and primary sources that can easily be put into a syllabus for educators. It also explores the destruction of monuments that has thus far occurred during the Syrian Civil War and the encroachment by ISIS.

On the Polychromy of Ancient Palmyra” (Alex Nagel, Smithsonian Institution): A post on the polychromy added to Palmyrene portrait busts. The Smithsonian has indeed been engaging in analysis of the polychrome remnants left on at least one bust in their collection. As Nagel remarks about a particular limestone relief with remnants of red on the jewelry: “Microscope images would make painted details much more visible and a red colorant on the statue has recently been identified by scientific analysis. Qualitative elemental analysis of a small sample taken shows the presence of Al, Si, Ca and Fe with a strong presence of iron.”

On a side note: You can often see the red left on inscriptions from antiquity. Red paint was applied to make them stand out to readers; a common use of color for textual emphasis. In the middle ages, manuscript assistants called rubricators added red to certain letters to make them stand out. There is even a famous monk known for his ability to apply red, who was given the nickname Rubricius.

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Funerary relief bust; Syria, 231 CE; Limestone; Freer Gallery of Art; F1908.236 (Freer Gallery).

Sketchfab and Palmyra: As I pointed out in the Forbes article, there are a number of 3D models popping up online which are either made on-site from a museum bust or from a composite of photos that produce photogrammetric data that can be used to create a 3D model. As I have written about before, there are indeed ethics that must be applied to 3D printing cultural heritage and there is indeed the danger of “digital colonialism”–particularly if the object is not contextualized or you are making a profit from its display. Right now my favorite model is a 2nd-3rd c. bust from the Louvre.

 

These are just a few of the interesting digital projects focused on Palmyra right now. My hope is that the creation of both digital and museum-based relationships to the Syrian past will not only make us reflect on current cultural heritage issues, but also serve to create a connection to the present. Syria’s civil war continues to take the lives of thousands of civilians and the death toll now stands at close to 500,000. Consequently, these digital projects are fantastic, but we must keep in mind that accepting the art of Syria but rejecting its people is not an option. 

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A Palmyrene bust of a woman with polychrome jewelry now at the Musée de Grenoble (Photo taken by David Meadows and used with permission).

To The Black Sea And Back: The Late Antique Dura-Europos ‘Shield’ Map

 

Dura-Europos as visualized on the Pelagios Project’s Peripleo map.

Dura-Europos is an ancient site on the Euphrates river in modern-day Syria. The objects excavated at the site by Yale University (later famously led by Mikhail Rostovtzeff), and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters during the 1920s and 1930s provide some of the most vivid wall paintings, mosaics, and material culture from the ancient world that we have today. One of the most stunning finds is a parchment shield cover that dates to around 260 CE, which has a map of the Black Sea on it. There is debate over whether it was on the inside of a shield used by a soldier or was a dedicatory object; however, the map provides a rare glimpse into how geography was visualized.

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Surviving parchment fragment of the Black Sea ‘Shield Map’ from Dura Europos dated to before 260 CE. It depicts staging posts along the Black Sea (Bibliotheque Nationale Gr. Suppl. 1354, no. 5). Images via Cumont (see citation below) with added scale and color enhancement. 

Hand drawing of the map via Wikimedia (D. Herdemerten Hannibal21, CC BY-SA 3.0).

The parchment contains a number of place names in Greek, but is interestingly mixed with the distances in Roman miles. Here is the transcription as provided by Papyri.info:

[Π]αν[υσὸς ποτ(αμὸς) μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Ὀδεσ[σὸς μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Βυβόνα [μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Κάλ[λ]ατις μί(λια)   ̣  ̣
5Τομέα μί(λια) λγ
Ἴ[σ]τρος ποτ(αμὸς) μί(λια) μ
Δάνουβις ποτ(αμὸς) [μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Τύρα μί(λια) πδ
Βορ[υ]σ[θέν]ης [μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
10Χερ[σ]όν[ησος -ca.?- ]
Τραπε[ζοῦς -ca.?- ]
Ἀρτα[ξάτα μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]

The map is oriented west-southwest and thus is a reminder that most maps did not consistently orient north until the early modern period. The stations on the shield maps are listed in Greek with vivid white, while the ships are manned by small sailors. It is a two-dimensional visualization of a Euxine route that shows the mix of languages and peoples in the late antique Eastern Mediterranean. In particular, it visualizes the Roman relationship with places in modern Armenia. An interesting mention of Ἀρτα[ξάτα] (Artaxata=Artashat) hints at the Roman connection to this busy commercial center. 

Although the map was likely on a round shield, the only surviving scutum from antiquity is from Dura-Europos. It too dates to the 3rd c. CE. It is now at the Yale Art Gallery. Image is in the Public Domain.

As historian Dragoş Hălmagi puts it, “The surviving sequence runs clockwise along the shores of Black Sea, from Odessos in Thrace to the Cimmerian Bosporus, and indicates a symmetric original design, consisting of a circular coast surrounding the Black Sea and perhaps parts of the Mediterranean, as well.” About a century earlier, the historian and governor Arrian had written a work in the form of a letter to the emperor Hadrian (131/2 CE) called Περίπλους τοῦ Εὐξείνου Πόντου (The Periplus of the Euxine Sea) while in Cappadocia. Arrian demonstrates the beginnings of the late antique fascination with the geography of this area that would continue into the third and fourth centuries CE when the rise of the Sassanids would be a point of major contention.   

The circumnavigation of the Black Sea as recounted by Arrian, Periplus Maris Euxini, in a firsthand report (1–11) and a secondhand description (12–25). Adapted by Erenow from A. Liddle, ed. and trans., Arrian, Periplus Ponti Euxini (London: Bristol Classical Press, 2003), 136–39, maps 1–2.

As we know from the Antonine Itinerary and many other itinerary inscriptions, the listing of locations and the miles between was quite common for itineraria, but this is our earliest surviving example of a route map from antiquity. Today this rather small piece of parchment lives in Paris, in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (ms. Suppl. gr. 1354 V, nr. 5), but seeing as I had never viewed a color version of it before, I thought it might be nice to get a glimpse at that technicolor world of the Romans I am always talking so much about. 

Attempted restoration of the entirety of the shield as drawn in Figure 1 in Arnaud (1989).

Bibliography:

Monsieur Pascal Arnaud, ‘Une deuxième lecture du “bouclier” de Doura-Europos,’ Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 133e année, N. 2, (1989): 373- 389.

Franz Cumont, ‘Fragment de bouclier portant une liste d’étapes,’ Année 6.1 (1925 ): 1-15. 

Leif Isaksen, “The application of network analysis to ancient transport geography: A case study of Roman Baetica,” Digital Medievalist. 4. DOI:http://doi.org/10.16995/dm.20.

Dragoş Hălmagi, “Notes on the Dura Europos map,”  CICSA Journal, New Series 1 (2015): 41-51.

 

The Argument Made By The Absence: On Whiteness, Polychromy, And Diversity In Classics

It has been a few days since I published a piece on my Forbes blog regarding the perception of whiteness and statues in antiquity. I knew when I started taking notes on the subject of polychromy many months ago that this column would likely cause a stir within the field, among colleagues, and online. I had thought that I was prepared for the internet trolls. After all, I have crossed many proverbial bridges on Twitter––where they usually lurk. However, the hatred and invective I received from this post was more than anything I have ever received to date. As a result, I wanted to write a post on my personal blog in order to:

1) to provide a context for my argument through a broader bibliography on the subject of polychromy 2) to encourage the incorporation of the subject of race and art history into course syllabi and to provide an open discussion of racism in the 19th and 20th centuries to our students 3) to use these materials to recognize and then address the severe lack of diversity in the field of Classics.

My main thesis is that despite our knowledge of the prevalence of polychromy on ancient statuary, there is a predominantly neon white display of skin tone in respect to classical statues and sarcophagi. This assemblage of neon whiteness thus creates a false sense of homogeneity across the Mediterranean world. Moreover the idea that white marble is beauty is not an inherent truth of the universe; it was in part developed by influential art historians during the early modern period in Europe. This visual argument continues to be asserted and to shape what we in the West consider to be pulchritudinous.

As I pointed out in the column, a number of fantastic museum shows throughout Europe and the U.S. in recent years have addressed the issue of polychromy. Digital humanists and archaeologists played a large part in making these shows possible. Archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann in particular has applied technologies such as ultraviolet light in order to analyze the minute vestiges of paint on ancient statues and then recreate polychromy versions of them.

If you have a moment, check out the 2003 “Gods of Color” exhibit that travelled the world after its initial display both at the Glyptothek in Munich and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. Many of the photos in this post come from that exhibit––including the famed Caligula bust (Forbes column) and the Alexander Sarcophagus (above). One of my favorites is the archer from the Temple of Aphaia in Aigina (490-480 BCE). Also make sure to check out the open content and images on the Getty Portal from a show called “The Color of Life“, which was on display at the Getty Villa in 2008.

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Blank marble and polychromy version of the archer from the west pediment of the Temple of Aphaia in Aigina (490-480 BCE). Reconstruction by Vinzenz Brinkmann.

Now that we have some background, the next question is: How can we address the problem of the lily white antiquity that exists in the public imagination? To be clear, I am not suggesting that we go back with a bucket in hand and repaint every marble statue across the country. However, I believe that better museum signage, the presentation of side-by-side 3D reconstructions, and the use of light (e.g. projections similar to the ones used on the Ara Pacis) can supplement and produce a contextual frame for understanding pieces. What a number of commenters have pointed out is that even when these statues are given color, they remain “white” and that, regardless of their color in antiquity, the restored color is simply too gauche. First, what do you even mean by “white”? I do not have the time to get into the cultural construction of whiteness and how it has changed to include Greeks and Italians in the 20th century, but please refer to historian Nell Irvin Painter‘s work on the subject and particularly to her piece in the New York Times, “What Is Whiteness?” White is not a category of analysis or identity used by those in antiquity.

 

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The 2008 light show at the Ara Pacis museum, which sought to use color mapping to restore the polychromy to the Ara Pacis of Augustus. The image is via La Repubblica.

In doing the research for this piece and then reading Painter’s book on the subject of whiteness, I had to confront the incredible amount of racism that has shaped the ideas of scholars we continue to cite today in the field of ancient history. Art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (d. 1768) is just one example. A more current racist that is often cited by Roman economic historians is Tenney Frank. Recently, I came across Frank’s disturbing article, “Race Mixture in the Roman Empire” (The American Historical Review, 21.4 [Jul., 1916]: 689-708) while looking through an edited volume. The article was then reprinted without comment in Greek historian Donald Kagan’s collection of articles on the “fall of Rome” (published in 1962) called Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Why Did It Collapse? I am not suggesting that Prof. Kagan is or is not a racist, but I am arguing here that the essay deserved to be contextualized in his introduction to the volume and highlighted as an example of the virulent racism in Classics in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As Denise Eileen McCoskey points out in her excellent book, Race: Antiquity and Its Legacy, Frank’s attempt to count inscriptions in order to gauge whether “race mixing” contributed to the decline of Rome is not only untrue, it is dangerous. It also provides ammunition for white supremacists today. I am not telling you to avoid citing Frank altogether, but just like those museum placards, we must annotate, contextualize, and question the theories of these individuals closely before we use them.

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Tenney Frank, “Race Mixture in the Roman Empire” The American Historical Review, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Jul., 1916): 689-708. This article was then reprinted without comment in Donald Kagan’s collection of essays on the “fall of Rome” (1962) called Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Why Did It Collapse.

The last thing I wish to argue for in this post is a moment of reflection that endures. When we ask ourselves, as classicists, why we are such a non-diverse field we must consider whether we make it easy for people of color to want to study the ancient world. Do they see themselves in the ancient landscape that we present to them? Because they should. Moreover, discussing the shifting idea of what whiteness is remains important. Notably, I am a pretty white-looking lady, though I became less so in the eyes of internet trolls who this week found a blog post I wrote earlier in my life, wherein I discussed the fact that my maternal grandmother was indeed Jewish. Thanks for the parentheses treatment, guys, but I am quite okay with my heritage.

The dearth of people of color in media depicting the ancient world is a pivotal issue. Until I played Ryse: Son of Rome with my friend and colleague Hannah Scates Kettler, I didn’t realize how extreme this was. Hannah is a digital librarian and an ancient art historian, but she is also a woman of color. As she remarked to me, she does not see herself when watching movies or playing video games set in antiquity. I am not suggesting that we can change this fact over night, but I am telling you that 70% of my students tell me that these very video games and the watching of movies like Gladiator (which has a man from New Zealand playing the Spaniard Maximus) and the 300 (which has xenophobic depictions of Persians and predominantly northern European people playing Spartans) led them to take my course. If we want to see more diversity in Classics, we have to work harder as public historians to change the narrative, to talk to filmmakers, to write pop articles, and to do more outreach that emphasizes the vast palette of skin tones in the ancient Mediterranean. We do have the power to return the technicolor to the ancient world, but it does start with us.

Numbering The Stars: Remembering the Contributions of Medieval Muslim Astronomers And Catalogers

This week over at the Forbes blog, I discuss the International Astronomical Union (IAU)‘s publication of an official catalog of 227 star names. The list was published this week in order to further standardize how we reference stars and constellations, since each one has had numerous monikers in Greek, Roman, Chinese, Arabic and many other languages over the many millenia that people have been studying the stars.

Although I laud the IAU’s attempt to streamline naming, I was dismayed to see that in the section of the website recounting the history of cataloguing of the stars, the association begins with the western astronomers that worked during the European Renaissance. By crediting Johann Bayer’Uranometria atlas of 1603 as the first such popular catalog of stars, they in fact omit the great contributions of ancient astronomers and Muslim celestial cataloguers in particular. I attempt to remedy that by recounting a short history of Muslim mathematicians and astronomers (as well as a few forgotten medieval women).

I am also posting a list of digital resources and manuscripts below that I consulted for this article, so that you too can investigate the myriad contributions of Muslim scientists via the manuscripts themselves:

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Ursa major (الدب الأكبر) as viewed on a celestial globe (upper) and as viewed in the sky (lower) (Or 5323, f.8v). Image via the British Library and is in the Public Domain.

  1. Library of Congress, “Astronomical Innovation in the Islamic World”
  2. Marika Sardar, “Astronomy and Astrology in the Medieval Islamic World
  3. Abd-al-Rahman al-Sufi, “Tables from the Book of the constellations of the fixed stars (Kitab suwar al-kawakib) in a Latin translation,” via the British Library
  4. Ursula Sims-Williams, “Arabic scientific manuscripts go live in Qatar Digital Library,” Asian and African Studies Blog, via the British Library.
  5. The J. Paul Getty Museum, “Astronomical and Medical Miscellany: Toledan Constellation Tables; De Dispositione Aeris; De Prognosticationibus Egritudinem; etc., English, late 14th century, shortly after 1386Ms. Ludwig XII 7
  6. Elly Decker, Illustrating the Phaenomena: Celestial cartography in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
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I am grateful for the help given to me by the University of Iowa’s Special Collections librarians. Map librarian Paula Balkenende pulled a number of celestial maps for me and then gave me a special look at Lanciani’s Forma Urbis Romae–just for kicks. 

 

Roma Aeterna: Open-Access Resources for Mapping the City of Rome

I travel a lot in order to do Pleiades workshops and discuss the role of mapping in both research and pedagogy. The #1 question I am asked is: How can I map the city of Rome? This morning, I thought I would give a bit of a run-down on how you can begin to interact with the current resources for mapping the city of Rome, and perhaps use the secure data available for download from Pleiades and elsewhere on the web in order to begin to build you own maps for the classroom, for a future publication, or perhaps for a digital project.

Step 1: Scholarship on the Process: 

First, let us all take a moment to read about the process. Daniele Calisi and Maria Grazia Cianci have a great article titled: “Methods and Principles for the Reading, Analysis and Virtual Reconstruction of Urban Fabrics that have Disappeared” [PDF]. As the abstract notes, “The research proposed in this short article, try to show one of the possible methods to analyze and study some urban fabric, in historic cities in the first place, that have been lost or have been heavily modified over the centuries, dramatically changing their appearance.”

Step 2: Check Out Projects That Map Rome and Note Their Methodology & Resources:

Free Maps from the Ancient World Mapping Center: You can download PDFs of each of the maps used in The Romans: From Village to Empire (2nd edition; 2011). You can also write to the AWMC and request higher resolution images (.jpeg). My favorite map? The one of the churches of Rome in Late Antiquity [PDF]. It is also very easy to geo-reference each when you have the working scale provided.

 

 

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Map of the churches of Rome in Late Antiquity, provided by the Ancient World Mapping Center as a PDF (2011). 

Digital Augustan Rome: A mapping project that is meant as a digital successor to Mapping Augustan Rome that appeared as Supplement 50 in the Journal of Roman Archaeology Series (2002). This site gives you an accurate, interactive map of Rome to use around the year 14 CE, but it also tells you (step-by-step!) how they made this map. Like many projects, they worked in part from Lanciani’s published base maps. You can download their AutoCad file (.dwg file) and begin to develop your own–though you need to cite the project.

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Detail of a 1:6000 map of Augustan Rome. Map via the Digital Augustan Rome Project at the University of Arizona.

Interactive Nolli Map: Over at the University of Oregon, you can interact with the 1748 map of Rome created by Giambattista Nolli. It is heavily copyrighted, but you can download a Nolli map from the UC-Berkeley Map library that is in pieces, but in very high resolution.

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Section of Giambattista Nolli’s ‘La nuova topografia di Roma Comasco’ (1748).

Step 3: Begin Learning How to Geo-reference Old Maps And Find the Right One For You:

Harvard WorldMap: Over at Harvard WorldMap Warp, they have a tool for geo-rectifying old maps that may be in the public domain. In order to geo-rectify, you enter in control points for which you already know the longitude and latitude (e.g. the Colosseum is 41.8874314503, 12.4886930452)  in order to create a layer.

David Rumsey Map Collection Geo-Referencer: There are thousands of maps in Stanford’s David Rumsey Map Collection Library, and a number of them are in the process of being geo-referenced through their new Geo-Referencer tool. You can download many of them as a kml file for viewing in Google Earth, where you can then edit them. Such kml files can also be used in other mapping platforms, like Mapbox. Moreover, you can help them out by using your skills to geo-reference one of the over 72,000 other maps in their collection. You can download some stunning images to act as overlays, such as Luiga Canina’s famous 1850 maps of the archaeological remains of Rome. It incorporates the pieces of the Forma Urbis Romae (a database of the ancient city plan pieces is housed at Stanford University).

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The Pianta topografica di Roma antica by Luigi Canina (1850) via the David Rumsey Map Collection (Under a CC-Non Commercial License).

There is no shame in learning how to drop pins, draw polygons and lines, and “tracing” through Google Earth. You have to start somewhere, and so using Google Earth map overlays to teach yourself about the basics of layers and geo-referencing before learning ArcGIS or AutoCad can be helpful for beginners.

Step 4: Check Longitude and Latitude for Known Roman Monuments:

You can certainly do this through OpenStreetMap and just download the data for each known monument within the city, but what about the monuments that no longer exist? For that you might need to consult other projects. Remember to begin to keep an organized .csv file that keeps track of each place you want to map and their longitude and latitude, along with other important info, like the date of the structure or perhaps its Pleiades ID#.

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Screenshot from OpenStreetMap of the Flavian Amphitheater, aka the Colosseum. It is easy to find longitude and latitude with the website, and then download the data for use elsewhere.

Rome Reborn: The older version of the Rome Reborn Project has a number of KML files for use in Google Earth in order to help you geo-reference a over-layed map you are geo-rectifying, tracing, or developing. I found the one above cached at the University of Virginia–where Rome Reborn used to be housed. Google Earth is not a great mapping platform (and won’t have accurate coastlines etc. for the ancient world), but you can download this file and then pull up monuments to see their Rome Reborn entry, longitude, and latitude. As it stands, the current version of Rome Reborn is heavily copyrighted and quite divorced from its earlier alliance with Google Earth. I quoth from the new website: “Copyright Notice. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of this website are copyright 2013 by Bernard Frischer. All rights reserved.”

Nota Bene: This is a good time for you to decide if you want to be open access and provide data to everyone. My belief is that we should all be open-access and free with our data, but others in the field do not always share this sentiment. Particularly if you get funding from any publicly funded agency (NEH) or school, I believe you have a duty to make your data open to the public rather than proprietary.

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Screenshot of the KML file for the University of Virginia version of the Rome Reborn project visualized in my Google Earth.

 

Step 5: Explore the Objects Within the City of Rome (e.g. inscriptions, coins, and artifacts) and the Linked Ancient World Data Tags 

Peripleo: Ladies and gentlemen, Linked Ancient World Data (LAWD) is a beautiful thing. The Pelagios team has a project called Peripleo which connects you to thousands of objects (e.g. from the American Numismatic Society and the Epigraphic Database Heidelberg) that have Pleiades tags for that site. Linked open data means that Peripleo can essentially aggregate all of these tags. For the city of Rome, they currently have 106, 741 objects for you to explore. Consider using these tags when you begin your own project, in order to tap into the extant network of places, people, and objects already on the web.

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Screenshot of the Peripleo Project, created by Pelagios. Note the splendid use of linked open data. 

Step 6: You Can Map That

My partner in mapping crime at the University of Iowa is our GIS librarian, Rob Shepard. We do workshops together and often teach people about making their own maps. Seeking out a geographer or GIS librarian at your institution for help is highly recommended when you begin a mapping project. They can teach you about how to use ArcGIS to make shape files in order to develop your map more intensely and accurately, or perhaps teach you about the open-source QGIS, which can also process AutoCad files and Shape Files–with some modifying. There are also a number of free courses through Coursera or even ESRI.

Remember: You don’t have to start from the ground up for every digital humanities project. Linked open data for the ancient world is about sharing resources and peer-reviewed data, so don’t think you have to remake the wheel.

Other Resource Pages for GIS in Rome and Italy:

American Academy in Rome: The AAR has a great resources page which links to a number of archives and databases with GIS information for Italy and the city of Rome.