Category Archives: Forbes

Mapping Racism And Assessing the Success of the Digital Humanities

This week, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece (now behind a paywall) written by Prof. Timothy Brennan. In it, the digital humanities as a field is essentially assessed as a “bust.” A concluding critique seemed particularly harsh: “Rather than a revolution, the digital humanities is a wedge separating the humanities from its reason to exist — namely, to think against prevailing norms.” Although I and many others who engage with DH have a number of qualms with this assessment, I decided that one way to rebut it was simply by exploring one sub-field largely excluded from the article: GIS and digital mapping.

What is below is a transcription of my Forbes column for this week, which looks at how digital mapping has changed our understanding and access to issues regarding race, segregation, and social justice in the United States. I think that Prof. Brennan might wish to see just a few of the DH projects that challenge “prevailing norms.”

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How are mapping projects changing the way that we understand our history of racism, segregation and prejudice in America? A number of digital projects are now using GIS (geographic information systems) in order to geolocate social justice movements, visualize both historical and present racism and highlight racial issues, all using the familiar interface of the map.

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An interactive map of Washington D.C. in 1860 shows the segregation of people of color within the city through a new project called ‘Placing Segregation.’

In order to explore the impact of spatial humanities on social justice issues, I spoke to GIS specialist Dr. Rob Shepard, creator of the new ‘Placing Segregation’ project, which combines the geolocation of hundreds of written records with historical maps in order to visualize segregation in mid-19th century American cities such as Washington, D.C., Omaha and Nashville.

People of color have been using maps to visualize racism for a long time. As Shepard notes, “W.E.B. Du Bois famously geolocated and documented basic socioeconomic information about individual households in The Philadelphia Negro, as part of a sociological study in the 1890s. Consequently, the granular GIS-style approach I’ve been using in mapping residents for Placing Segregation – and my work with the project Civil War Washington before it – is not completely unique or special to digital humanities. And I don’t claim that.”

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Map by W.E.B. Du Bois of Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward drawn in 1899.

Many prominent African-American activists at the time turned to maps and other data visualizations in order to help the public–and even the president–to understand the detrimental effects of slavery on the country. In 1900, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington and a lawyer by the name of Thomas J. Calloway began to develop visualizations for display at the Paris World Fair.

As Allison Meier noted in an article on these visualizations, “Du Bois’s charts (recently shared by data artist Josh Begley on Twitter) focus on Georgia, tracing the routes of the slave trade to the Southern state, the value of black-owned property between 1875 and 1889, comparing occupations practiced by blacks and whites, and calculating the number of black students in different school courses (2 in business, 2,252 in industrial).” Data visualizations, now a key part of digital humanities approaches to organizing and visualizing archived records, have in fact long been a (analog) tool used to illustrate the suffering of African-Americans in the U.S.

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W.E.B. Du Bois created a map called: “The Georgia Negro: Land owned by Negroes in Georgia, U.S.A. 1870-1900” for the 1900 Paris Exposition.

In the past decade, as the movement towards digital approaches to history have gained steam both within universities across the country and in journalism, historians addressing race have again returned to the earlier methods established by African-Americans following the Civil War.

Shepard remarks on just a few of these projects and their ability to teach students using free resources online; a movement to democratize information called open access: “These resources are freely available to classrooms and students who have so much to gain from accessible information. University of Richmond’s Visualizing Emancipation project for instance, not only provides its research GIS data for download and use, but also the team has developed accompanying lesson plan documentation and the site encourages higher education instructors to get in touch with the team for more specialized assignments using the geographic datasets.”

It says a lot when a university within the former capital of the confederacy begins to invest heavily in visualizing and teaching the American history of inequality. Such projects often depend on federal funding agencies like the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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The University of Richmond’s Visualizing Emancipation project maps slavery’s end during the American Civil War. The project is partially funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Today there are dozens of digital projects focused on the African-American experience. Recently, The Colored Conventions Project housed at the University of Delaware brought together an epic list of over a hundred such projects. The list of digital initiatives include Mapping the Stacks, which visualizes Chicago’s black community archives from the 1930s to the 1970s. As I have previously noted, the Equal Justice Initiative has also launched the Lynching in America project, which provides access to interactive maps, archival documents and oral histories of lynching in the U.S.

The impact of these projects goes far beyond visualization; they champion a novel approach to informing the public. Pier Gabrielle Foreman, a professor of English and Black American Studies & History at the University of Delaware and the founding director of the Colored Conventions Project notes the import of such digital work in terms of information and preservation: “In the West, so many of the documents that record Black history have been devalued and discarded. Now they exist in remnants, a single letter instead of a full set of correspondences in in one collection, a single newspaper instead of a full run in another library. Digital Humanities projects allow researchers to better piece together this scattered archive. In the case of the ColoredConventions.org, we have been able to help reassemble the records of six decades of nineteenth-century Black political organizing–for voting and legal rights, for educational access, justice and jobs.” Digital Humanities can be used as a form of high-tech quilting that likewise stitches together disparate parts of the past.

Digital mapping and database construction can allow us to reconstruct, preserve, and visualize vestiges of the past, but academics engaged in this work are often dependent on the public for aid. As Foreman notes, “Without the distributed, collaborative and collective work of volunteer transcribers, national teaching partners, librarians and student leaders, this work would not be possible. Though this is collective work, we have a better sense of  how long Black people have been organizing for civil rights—and how consistently those rights have been denied.”

Additionally, digital mapping initiatives can react to crisis in real time. Recent map-a-thons at Columbia University, MIT and at Princeton’s digital humanities center, for instance, have brought together academics and the public to use open-source mapping to aid the hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

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Interactive map of the Lynching in America project from the Equal Justice Initiative.

Projects like Placing Segregation, Lynching in America, The Colored Conventions Project and myriad other digital humanities projects exemplify that there is a great deal of in-depth assessment and interrogation happening within digital projects that goes well beyond amusing data aggregation. From W.E.B. Du Bois to today, the use of geographic visualization has frequently been grounded in allowing the public access to crucial information. In the process, these maps and the humans behind them have taught us about the devastating impact of racism.

 

 

 

Were Pagan Temples All Smashed Or Just Converted Into Christian Churches?

This week over at the Forbes column [access it here], I discuss an article in the new volume of the Journal of Late Antiquity (10.1) It is a great piece of scholarship written by ancient historian Feyo L. Schuddeboom and is called “The Conversion of Temples in Rome.” The article effectively uses archaeological evidence for temple conversion within the city of Rome during the period of Late Antiquity (ca.300-800 CE in this case) in order to further dismantle the myth that all Roman temples were smashed to bits by angry pagans. Using the case study of Rome, Schuddeboom also suggests that temples being converted to churches was usually a pragmatic act rather than one meant to demonstrate the “triumph” of Christianity over paganism.

The article has a helpful map within it. It was also a great excuse to insert some pictures from Santa Maria Antiqua; a 6th century church in the Roman Forum. I was lucky enough to be able to see this converted quadriporticus church near to the ramp that leads up to the Palatine from the Forum Romanum and to glimpse at its recently restored frescoes (see images below).

Enjoy these photos and this amazing new issue of the JLA. If you care to read about another converted temple in Rome, feel free to read my article on the history of Roman Curiae. The Curia Senatus was a Roman temple and also the Roman Senate House–since senate meetings could only technically be held within a consecrated space in the city of Rome.

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).
_____”Why I Teach About Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World” Eidolon (September 11, 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.

The History Of Torches, Intimidation & Symbols of Violence

You may have noticed that I have been blogging less on my personal site. This certainly is a product of a busy summer with much travel and other publications to address, but I am afraid that–in part–I must admit that it was a reaction to receiving messages and tweets suggesting that certain white supremacist groups and individuals who objected to the statues pieces were “keeping an eye” on me here in Iowa and online.

However, the events in Charlottesville this past weekend pushed me to say something. Apathy is a choice and it is also an ideological position that can speak volumes. The University of Virginia is my alma mater and for many years, Charlottesville was my home. It is a place I still hold dear. Well beyond that, I wanted to make a statement condemning the actions of the white nationalist groups that gathered in Charlottesville. My Forbes column this week thus explored the history of using torches as symbols of intimidation and racial superiority. I hear duplicate it in full:

“In Charlottesville, Virginia this week, a number of white nationalist action groups came together at a “Unite The Right” rally to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Marching on the campus of the University of Virginia on the night before the planned rally, protesters carried tiki-torches and chanted “You will not replace us.”

The carrying of torches to suggest power and project intimidation has a long and sordid history.

Fire was a constant hazard in the ancient world. Property owners, apartment dwellers, city magistrates, and emperors lived in fear of the potential damage caused by unchecked fires in urban areas in particular. Torches could be used to light weddings (as they frequently were), but could also be used by soldiers as weapons particularly during siege warfare. They were also carried by rioters wishing to brandish a dangerous weapon which, in Latin, was called a ‘fax .’

Following the assassination of Caesar in 44 BCE, the citizens in Rome who gathered in the Forum to hear Antony’s eulogy grabbed pieces of wood and furniture in the area in order to make an ad hoc pyre upon which to burn the dictator’s body. Many present at the cremation then grabbed pieces of flaming wood as torches from the pyre. As the historian Plutarch noted, “people rushed up from all sides, snatched up half-burnt brands, and ran round to the houses of Caesar’s slayers to set them on fire.”

Fire provided light in a world without electricity, but torches were never devoid of the potential to cause harm. They also signaled at least the potential for violence to break out. In the gospels, we see the threatening use of the torch as well. When Judas finds Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in the book of John (18:3), it notes: “So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns, and weapons.” Romans regularly used small ceramic oil lamps to light their way in houses and while walking at night, but here the aggressive detachment sent to arrest Jesus is emphatically described by John as brandishing “torches, lanterns, and weapons” (‘φανῶν καὶ λαμπάδων καὶ ὅπλων’).”

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A 3rd c. CE relief depicting a Mithraic scene where a bull is being slaughtered shows a torch bearer providing light during the ritual. The relief with polychromy is now at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome.

If we look to modern history to understand how torches became a symbol of not only intimidation but specifically racial intimidation, we must look both to America in the aftermath of the Civil War and to Nazi Germany of the 1930s and 40s. In response to the rights given to African-Americans following the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan formed in Pulaski, Tennessee in the late 1860s. The group took their nomenclature from the Greek word κύκλος, which means “circle”; a word often used in antiquity to refer to how hunters encircled their game. Torches became a consistently described part of the Klan’s early parades and use of visual intimidation. They would continue to be a terrifying feature of the organization when it reemerged in the early 20th century.

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The torchlight procession in honor of the new Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler moves through the Wilhelmstraße in Berlin on the evening of 30 January 1933.

Torches used as statements of power and racial superiority were even more prominent in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. On August 1, 1936, a new tradition was introduced to the modern Olympic Games: the use of a torch relay wherein individual runners brought the Olympic flame from Greece to Berlin–connecting the ancient world to Germany. The ancient Greeks had indeed used torches in athletics, but the Nazis appropriated the torch as a symbol of both athletic and racial supremacy.

For more insight on the use of the torch in Nazi Germany, I spoke with Professor Waitman Beorn, a Holocaust historian who currently teaches in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia and serves as a consultant to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: “For the Nazis, the torches were meant to evoke avolkisch (racial) connection between a pseudo-historical German race and modern Germans. In addition, it enhanced the pageantry and spectacle of Nazi events, made famous at the Nuremberg rallies and in Leni Riefenstahl’s powerful film, Triumph of the Will.” Beorn notes Hitler’s attachment to the torch as a symbol: “In Mein Kampf, Hitler refers to another Nazi symbol, the swastika, as having ‘an effect like that of a flaming torch.’ He also described racial purity as ‘the fuel for the torch of human culture.'”

Beorn was there this weekend as white supremacists and Nazis descended on the town of Charlottesville. Many of them had gone to the local Wal-Mart the night before in order to buy tiki-torches, as they had for another rally there earlier in the summer. Beorn’s reaction to this weekend’s outbreak of violence perpetrated by white supremacist groups that came together to “Unite the Right” in this southern college town underscores the potency of their adopting such symbols: “For the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who descended on my town this weekend, the torch likely is an imitation of the Nazi rallies just as American racists imitate much [Nazi] regalia. However, in the context of modern white supremacy, the torch also likely echoes the burning crosses and torches of the Klan.” The use of cheap tiki-torches put up at pool parties and stored in suburban garages may at first seem laughable, but the visual message of hate and intimidation advertised by these torch-wielding individuals has a long and terrible history of violence.”

A special thanks in particular to Professor Waitman Beorn, a history colleague from UNC-Chapel Hill who is also a native Virginian that now teaches at the University of Virginia. To read more from him on this issue, please see his work on the Nazi chants recited in Lee Park in Charlottesvile back in May. 

 

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).

Legitimizing The Blog: On Reading, Citing & Archiving Blogposts

Over at the Forbes blog this week, I wrote about an issue within academic blogging that has been bugging me for a long time: Why aren’t more academic blogs cited in the footnotes of journal articles and within academic books? While there are certainly still specious blogs that abound on the web, the number of trusted, well-sourced, and highly researched academic blogs is on the increase. This post was meant to point out some blogs that are dependable and quite rigorously reviewed, to demonstrate how they might be cited, and then to show readers how to archive a blogpost. I will briefly go through these steps below.

  1. The Blogs: There are myriad blogs (Fun fact: In the plural, a Greek myriad=10,000) focused on classical antiquity. Tom Elliott (NYU-ISAW) runs a comprehensive feed aggregator called Maia Atlantis that will allow you to explore almost everything posted on the web having to do with the ancient world. In terms of my morning blog habits? While sipping coffee, I tend first to turn to the Rogue Classicist and then to move onto the medieval world by skimming any new posts from Littera Visigothica or Medieval Books.Trust and familiarity are big parts of reading and then citing academic blogs, but you will quickly come to learn the notable professors, librarians, scientists, and researchers in each field who post reliable content; however, just like anything else, you are still responsible for evaluating each post. Reading academic blogs may require a bit more source criticism and critique, but they are a great way to hear new ideas, to find out about recently discovered archaeological remains, or to find out about news fast. For instance, the AAIHS’ Black Perspectives blog is rigorously peer reviewed and contributed to by numerous scholars that provide citations and copious bibliography, all while reacting to current issues in real time.
  2. The Citation Format: Once we have a blog post we wish to cite in our own book manuscript or journal article, it is time to properly cite according to the accepted style manuals. There are standard formats for citing a blog post in MLA and Chicago Style, which can then easily be integrated into your footnotes and bibliography.First name Last Name, “Title of Blog Post,” Blog Title (blog), Publisher/Sponsor of Blog (if applicable), Month Date, Year of post, URL.Here is the Chicago Style format for a blogpost from Kristina Killgrove on crucifixion:Kristina Killgrove, “Line on the left, one cross each: Bioarchaeology of Crucifixion,” Powered by Osteons (blog), November 4, 2011, http://www.poweredbyosteons.org/2011/11/line-on-left-one-cross-each.html.

    I find that using the Zotero extension for your browser helps you keep track of online reading. This open source citation tool (originally created at George Mason University) will allow you either to find the proper citation through a Worldcat search or you can take a snapshot of the webpage and then cite that.

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    Screenshot that exemplifies how to use the Zotero extension in the Chrome browser.

    3. The Archive: On my own blogs, I tend to cite primary sources by giving the classical citation  (as stipulated by the Oxford Classical Dictionary [PDF]) or by hyperlinking back to the texts themselves. Usually this means a link to the Perseus Project or to LacusCurtius. I trust both Tufts University and LC’s Bill Thayer, who respectively run these sites, and also have confidence in their stable URIs. However, there are still a lot of dead or broken links when you only hyperlink back to either a primary or secondary source, and certainly this won’t work well for an ebook or journal article. The fear of corpse-links is not only founded, it keeps people from citing blogposts or webpages.

    Taking the attitude that webpages are ephemeral and thus unworthy of proper citation is something we have got to abandon. My institutional repository scrapes my blogs and then archives my posts in my individual IRO account. However, you don’t have to have an institutional repository in order to create an archive of your own blogposts or of the ones you wish to cite. We have at our disposal a number of citation tools (e.g. the aforementioned Zotero snapshot) and archiving sites that can allow us to archive a post in order to verify the words we quote for future audiences or to provide a later reference. Over at the Internet Archive, there is the so-called WayBack Machine. This service has permitted thousands of datasets from the federal government to be recorded, saved, and archived prior to their deletion under the Trump administration. It can also allow you to save a webpage and then site a stable, archived version via a link provided by the site.

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Screenshot of the Internet Archive’s ‘WayBack Machine’ interface. Just capture a web page’s current content by entering the URL and then hitting “save page.” The you can use the link in your bibliography, footnotes, or research records.

Academic blogging is a rather thankless task at times, but take heart: the visibility and recognition of blogs as valid publications is increasing. As authors, bloggers are still responsible for what they publish and should be held accountable for the things they say. But that means that readers must, in turn, cite the blogposts they are using in their own work. Over the years, I have seen a number of the ideas, images, and translations that I have posted reused without attribution. I am not here to point fingers, I am simply going to state the obvious: We live in a digital world, but plagiarism is still plagiarism, whether you copy and paste from a book or a blogpost. Our citation habits must expand to include the academic blog if we are to further legitimize them as publications. There really are no more excuses.

 

Modeling the Tincu House: A New 3D Model from Roman Gabii

Over on the Forbes blog this week, I explore the new publication of an interactive 3D model for a mid-Republican house from the site of Gabii. The University of Michigan Press and the Gabii Project were kind enough to let me read the new e-publication, which links together maps, 3D models, an archaeological object database, and text in order to create a multimedia publication. Admittedly, the publication is not fully open-access. It costs $150.00 to buy, a price-tag that will largely be paid by libraries and research institutions. However, the database is online and easily searchable, and you can read the introduction to the publication as well.

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Map of Gabii, a city-state about 11 miles to the east of Rome. It was active in the first millenium BCE until the 3rd century CE (Image via the Pelagios Project’s Peripleo map).

The most significant aspect of this e-publication (beyond continuing to make the case for digital publications generally) is that it begins to engrain a set of best practices for all archaeological publications in the future. I excavated for many years as an undergraduate, and excavation reports can often take a decade or more to be released. Even then, they are limited in circulation because these publications are usually gigantic  over-sized folios that are both expensive and unwieldy. However, the Gabii Project shows how digital tools can and should be integrated both on the ground and when it is time to publish. Excavators use on-site tablets to allow modeling and GIS mapping in real time, and then transfer data quickly to a central cloud. As such, final excavation reports can be produced, published, and disseminated much more quickly than ever before. In the process, they have also saved me a lot of bookshelf space.

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Screenshot of the new 3D interactive publication of the Tincu House, a house dating originally to the early third century BCE (Image used with permission from the Gabii Project and the University of Michigan Press under a CC-BY 4.0 International License).