Today concluded our work with Ancient Itineraries after being together for two weeks in London and two weeks in Athens. The conversation began around the linked open data tool, recogito (link to recogito). The group had a unique opportunity to present their feedback to Elton Barker and his group about this resource. There were three main points of discussion:
How the Getty Vocabularies may fit into the recogito system, providing controlled vocabularies and another form of linked open data for the annotation tool.
The possibility to tag the itinerary of an object through space and time.
The possibility to tag an action such as beautifying or destroying a space.
This turned into an enriching conversation about the need to involve a broader range of users, which could be done through practices such as crowd-sourcing. This idea presents it’s own dilemmas, on the one hand it involves a broader audience in the discussion of cultural heritage sites. This includes local communities that are important to the sustainability of them. From a practical standpoint, however, it is quite difficult to design a digital platform that pleases many types of users.
After a quick coffee break, the team reconvened to discuss next steps for Ancient Itineraries. We discussed the possibility of turning the three original white papers, Geographies, Visualization, and Provenance, into formal papers to be presented publicly. We are also excited to begin collaboration with the Kings Digital Lab as they move forward in their design process to create a proof of concept. This will be presented to the participants for feedback and remarks. It would be a unique opportunity for us to get together for a final institute in December towards the conclusion of this project in order to review the proof of concept and discuss further collaboration.
We concluded our final meeting by individually sharing what we each got out of the institute and how we wanted to move forward in our own careers. A clear theme that emerged was that everyone felt like an “outsider” toward traditional art history. This was a unique reflection about the importance of Ancient Itineraries. It brought together a truly interdisciplinary group of scholars to think about how the digital can affect a traditional field. In this way the institute was a truly transformative experience for everyone.
Today we gained some practical experience of an existing Linked Ancient World Data tool, with much of our work focusing on annotation using the Recogito platform. Recogito is part of Pelagios Commons, and facilitates annotation of texts and images by identifying people, places, events, and other entities, tagging them with keywords, and linking to external authorities. These annotations can then be rendered as Linked Data. An advantage of the program is that it does not rely on any prior coding experience on the part of the user.
The morning started with an introduction to Recogito from Pelagios Community Director Elton Barker, who demonstrated its various features, including named entity recognition, creating relationships between entities, image annotation, and visualising annotations using a map view.
Recogito focuses on annotation of three main entity types – places, people and events – although any string of text can be tagged with keywords of the user’s choosing. While in many cases, places, people and events are easy to identify, some are less clear cut; for example, in ancient mythology, there is some blurring between places and people. Of particular interest to the Objects hub was a brief discussion on objects having agency; for example, in Homeric texts it is often the weapon that is described as having the agency rather than the person wielding it.
After Elton’s demonstration, we split back into our four ‘hub’ groups (Ideas, Objects, People and Styles) to experiment with using Recogito in relation to our hub topics. Here, we used a section of Pausanias’ Description of Greece that refers to Corinth, which we visited last week.
In the Objects hub, the first issue we encountered was that Object is not a specified entity type in Recogito, in the same way as Place, Person or Event. Instead we decided to systematically tag all text strings referring to objects with the keyword ‘object’, along with characteristics such as ‘material’ and ‘colour’. We found that objects were often described in relation to places and people, and found Recogito’s ‘Relations’ feature extremely useful for mapping these relationships. However, we also found that texts often do not describe objects neatly. For example, it can be problematic to annotate objects in sentences such as “The images of Asclepius and of Health are of white marble, that of Zeus is of bronze” because three images are being referred to, made of two different materials, each of which relates to a different person. We did, however, find this exercise extremely useful in thinking about how existing frameworks might be applied to more effectively describe objects in a semantic way, as well as how Recogito itself might be improved to facilitate object-related annotations.
The people team was interested in how a researcher might easily make the distinction between mythological and ‘real’ figures in a program like Recogito. The team discussed the possibility of visualizing figure’s relative timelines/chronologies using ‘real’/linear time vs. relative/mythological time, and how those different timelines might be able to intersect.
Later in the afternoon, some of us visited the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture, one of several museums holding the collections of Antonis Benakis. This particular museum is arranged chronologically, displaying objects from prehistory through to the 20th century, including archaeological artefacts, religious art, paintings, and costume.
As the museum is situated in the house where Benakis lived, we found it interesting to compare with the Soane Museum and Leighton House, which we visited during the first Institute in London. Reflecting on the different uses of space, it was noticeable that Benakis’ house had been completely repurposed as a museum, whereas the Soane Museum is preserved exactly as Soane had left it, and Leighton House is a recreation of Leighton’s original décor and collections.
One section of the Benaki Museum that we found particularly striking, and reminiscent of Leighton House, contained two richly-decorated rooms that had been transplanted from their original locations in people’s houses in Northern Greece to the museum. We discussed how each museum had situated objects in relation to their surroundings, as well as the importance of context – in Benakis’ case, transporting objects from one context to another, and in Leighton’s, recreating a context by assembling objects which either formed part of the original collection or are intended to represent them. One element we found particularly striking about the rooms in the Benaki Museum was the presence of costume; elsewhere in the museum, costumes were displayed in glass cases, but we found that including a costume in its original surroundings proved to be far more informative and evocative. Getty institute participant Ana Cabrera, who has previously worked with the textiles of the Benaki museum, provided valuable interpretation of these costumes.
A number of group members also attended a lecture at the Benaki museum as part of our visit. The talk , delivered by Massimo Vitti and Matthias Bruno, was part of the ongoing Roman Seminar series which bring together Athens-based scholars interested in the topic of Roman Greece. The talk, titled “The Odeion of Agrippa and the orchestra pavement in opus sectile,” was delivered in Greek and English, and provided a historical overview of the 1st century BC Augustan building located in the Athenian agora, and later changes to the elaborate marble pavement from the 4th and 5th centuries A.D.
Visiting the Benaki Museum helped tie together some of the threads that have woven their way through both the London and Athens Institutes and has provided much food for thought as we approach our final day.
The schedule for April 9 involved a morning of group presentations and discussion based on the visit to the National Archaeological Museum (NAM) followed by an early evening talk by Dr. Agiatis Benardou from the Digital Curation Unit, ATHENA RC, University of Glasgow and Athens University of Economics and Business.
The morning talks were arranged according to the four hubs (objects, people, styles and ideas) and covered a wide range of artifacts and perceptions of the NAM. The objects hub used the Antikythera shipwreck to discuss the choices the museum made in displaying the artifacts from a single unique deposit in different arrangements at different points in time. The ideas group made an interesting comparison between the prize objects in the collection and countless other artifacts that often go overlooked in the many display cases throughout the museum in an effort to explore the ideas of Greek antiquity that the museum was expressing. The people hub engaged in a fascinating comparison of two artifacts—the Archaic period Phrasikleia Kore and a plaster cast of a woven basket from Akrotiri—to explore the importance of context in telling the stories of the people and events that were responsible for each ending up buried for centuries. Finally the style hub focused on various instances of objects that feature a spiral as part of their overall appearance as a way to suggest a possible approach that breaks style down into its component elements of design. Such an approach may well lend itself to a computational approach to analyzing which components are essential in allowing art historians to conclude that an object belongs to a certain period/style.
As with every other presentation day, it was again the case that the group simply did not have the time to address all of challenging questions and ideas that these presentations raised. Thus, in the time that followed, we turned our attention in large part to the events, ideas and conflicts that have shaped the appearance and practices in the NAM today. The NAM is a very traditional museum. Outside of the temporary exhibition hall, the displays of works of art and archaeology have not changed in decades. The digital presentation of the museum’s holdings on the Internet is limited to a display of the highlights of the collection with brief narrative descriptions. As the previous blog post has made very apparent, the situation is very complex, but the way this institution chooses to present itself is also not accidental. But the result all the same is an institution that does not give the impression of being amenable to exploration beyond a time-honored itinerary.
This inevitably leads to questions about the role of digital art historians in bringing their skills, ideas, and technologies to communities that may not share their interests. If we are excited about what “the digital” can do for cultural heritage and art and if we are committed to ideas of openness and transparency in places of significance to world heritage, what can we do, responsibly and sensitively, to convince our colleagues in other cultural settings to join us?
Perhaps by luck, but more likely by design, Dr. Benardou’s evening presentation provided an interesting way to think about this question. Working from a summary of the numerous ongoing digital initiatives in Europe, Dr. Benardou drew attention to a number of issues (e.g. the need for semantic linking of independent ontologies, the importance of sustainability of digital archives, and attention to digital materiality) that must be addressed by the digital humanities community if it is to achieve its goal of improving the research environment in the humanities.
As before, only a few of the many points she raised could be addressed in the discussion that followed. The topic of greatest relevance to the present blog post concerned the question of user interfaces. Conversation focused on the fact that, all too often, digitization projects focus almost all of their time and resources on building the largest and most complete collections possible, but address the user experience only as a last-minute afterthought. Interestingly enough, some of these digital resources have succeeded in spite of their discouraging user interfaces. Yet, in these instances, the value of the content outweighs the user experience such that researchers are willing to put up with the difficulties of accessing the data. At the same time, the opposite is not the case. An attractive user interface will only hold a user’s attention for a short time if there is no meaningful data to be accessed. In the end, Dr. Benardou explained that an effective digital framework contains three main components—content, tools, and community.
This observation suggests an interesting way to think about the NAM. As is clear to anyone who has visited, this museum enjoys both content and community. The lines at the ticket booth and galleries crowded with tour groups attest to the latter while a survey of the object labels show that this museum has addressed the former by collecting some of the most iconic works of art and architecture from numerous sites around the Greek world. Could it be that its strength in these two categories has allowed the NAM to neglect the third? And if so, how might the digital humanities / art history community convince institutions like the NAM to begin to focus more deliberately on the tools, i.e. the interfaces and utilities, that could elevate the experiences of its current and potential audiences?
I suspect that like those internet resources that are “good enough” because they deliver us the information and communities we need for our research, the immense weight of the NAM’s history and traditions mean that it is unlikely to change overnight in response to this type of critique. Nor would it ever be wise to attempt a negative solution to this problem by reducing a museum’s (or a digital resource’s) strength in any one component in order to force it to focus on another. Rather, the solution may be for digital humanists to focus on other related institutions that need help in improving their content, tools, or communities. I suspect that in the case of smaller museums that are not on the circuit of commercial and educational tours, our help could be put to good use. First, we may wish to consider building content by working with museum directors and curators to provide digitized copies of artifacts that might help to better represent the history of a location. Secondly, we might consult with these individuals to see what types of digital tools might improve a (virtual) visitor’s experience. Finally, in the third case, we could use our extensive digital networks to help build communities of support for these less frequently visited museums. In the end, by engaging those in the fields of cultural heritage and art in a discussion of how they would like us to help, we may well end up setting an example that even the larger institutions like the NAM would begin to follow.
On Monday the 8th of April, the first day of our second week in Athens, the team visited the National Archaeological Museum in the area of Exarcheia (see figure 1).
The history of the museum as an institutional space seems to have its very own interesting itinerary. The first national archaeological museum in Greece was established by Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first governor of the then newly-established independent Greece in 1829 in Aegina, one of the islands of the Saronic Gulf (see figure 2). At the time, Greece was geographically smaller than it is today; the northern parts still under Ottoman rule and the Ionian islands were under British protectorate. The location of the museum in Aegina was ideally situated, centrally, between Attica and the Pelloponese.
In 1858, an international architectural competition was announced for the location and the architectural design of the new museum.
The initial architectural plan of the relocated museum was conceived by Ludwig Lange later modified by Panagis Kalkos, the main architect, Armodios Vlachos and Ernst Ziller. The conception of the museum was thus largely a Greco-Germanic collaboration.
The construction of what was initially called the ‘Central Archaeological Museum (Κεντρικόν Μουσεῖον) began in 1866 and was completed in 1889 using funds from the Greek Archaeological Society, the society for Mycenae and the Greek Government.
In the turbulent times of World War II museum artefacts were sealed in boxes and buried, in order to avoid destruction and looting. In 1945 exhibits were again displayed. Overall, and throughout its early history, the museum served as a canon for the re-assembling of fragmented Greek artefacts and initially aimed at shaping the new identity of a nation that was previously under Ottoman occupation.
NATIONAL CULTURAL HERITAGE?
So how ‘Greek’ is the National Archaeological museum?
In 1866, when the idea of National Archaeological museum was conceived, Greece was under Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy, and under Bavarian rule, more specifically under the reign of King George (1863-1913). This was yet again a turbulent time for Greece as a nation: The Balkan Wars, The Macedonian front, The Epirus front, naval operations in the Aegean and the Ionian seas, the confrontations off the Dardanelles and the eventual ‘end of the war’, with the treaty of Bucharest concluded the war leaving Greece with southern Epirus,the Southern parts of Macedonia, Crete and the Aegean islands, except for the Dodecanese that was occupied by Italy in 1911 (see figure 3). Greece’s geographical area and population was therefore largely doubled only in the first decade of the 19th century. All these events shaped the museum’s representation of a ‘national’ cultural heritage.
Greece under Bavarian Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy is currently understood by scholars as a crypto-colony: a nation that was taking shape under the aegis of Bavarian rule. This had an effect on the nation’s cultural identity. Central European rule together with the Greek government aimed at ‘cleansing’ Ottoman elements from the aesthetic landscape of Greece in order to establish what the constitution of that time considered as ‘Greek’. In negotiating the cultural identity of a newly shaped nation with a deep and dominant historical past, the classification of any Ottoman period aesthetics was deemed ‘ungreek’ and had to be ‘cleansed’ in a rather orientalising fashion.
The National Archaeological Museum as a building is thus part of a large trend at the time: 19th century neo-classicism, an aesthetic movement that drew inspiration from a rather selective reception of Graeco-Roman art, leaving archaic or late antiquity aesthetics largely out of the constellation of perceived ‘Hellenism’. The movement largely followed up from the 18th century, when Johann Winckelmann defined Neoclassicism simultaneously with the rediscovery of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Neoclassicism was a popular style all over Europe as European students of the arts returned from their own educational itineraries in Italy, known as ‘the Grand Tour’ to their home countries with newly rediscovered Greco-Roman aesthetic ideals in mind.
In the 19th century, neo-classicists enthusiastically discovered and appreciated the previously Ottoman-occupied Greek space, and saw Greek art and culture through the rose-tinted lenses of German Romanticism. Greek art and architecture was mediated through and regularized, as ‘cleansed’, and ‘corrected’ attempting to restore the monuments of Greece, yet not always consciously. This was well fitted to the political direction of Greece as a parliamentary constitutional monarchy so Athens was re-designed in places featuring neo-classical architecture in the hopes of restoring a nation in its perceived ‘classical’ glory.
The museum building was no excpetion to the trend, yet has since then undergone many expansions. Most important were the construction of a new east wing in the early 20th century to accommodate the rapidly growing collection of artifacts as Greece was growing in terms of geographical breadth, population, and important finds. The museum was closed from about early 2003-July 2004, in the light of Athens hosting the Olympic Games. A new plan has been made for a subterranean expansion at the front of the museum.
THE OBJECTS; THE TREASURE- HUNT, THE PROMINENT MEN.
The museum, as of today has a breathtaking collection of display, one that has certainly marked European Archaeology: from the Mycenaean objects, the ‘Agamemnon’ mask, the Minoan frescoes from Thera, and even Egyptian Antiquities from the Stathatos Alexandrian Collection, to name but some. Artifacts derive from archaeological excavations from all over Greece: Santorini, Mycenae, Tiryns, Dodona, Vaphio, Rhamnous, Lycosura, Aegean islands, Delos, the Temple of Aphaea in Aegina, the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia in Sparta, Pylos, Thebes, Athens, Vari Cave, the Antikythera shipwreck and from various other places in Greece.
The museum collection further comprises a 4th-century BC golden funerary wreath and a 6th-century BC marble statue of a woman, which were classified as looted antiquities and were eventually repatriated in 2007 by the Getty Museum in California, after a 10-year-long legal dispute between the Getty Center and the Greek Government. One year earlier, the Los Angeles foundation agreed to return a 4th-century BC tombstone from Greek Thebes and a 6th-century BC votive relief from the island of Thassos.
The Museum architectural and exhibition infrastructure facilitates a complicated but very strategic access to the public with a central corridor featuring the gold Mycenaean treasure as the main entrance centerpieces, promoting the ‘treasure hunting models’ of a now largely dated archaeological practice and focusing on a person: the work of a male archaeologist of the previous century, Heinrich Schliemann.
During our Ancient Itineraries visit to the National Archaeological Museum the teams concentrated on working in 4 separate hubs: Objects, People, Styles,and Ideas choosing an artefact each to discuss data and metadata that could relate to a digital iteration and description of art history objects. Rethinking of a National Museum exhibition of Greek Culture in 2019 was inevitable. In this blog we have chosen for the sake of economy to focus on 1) the paper label of a vase figurine that most certainly does not correspond to how we think of societal categories in the 21st century and 2) a special temporary exhibition on countless beauty where beauty is defined in extremely binary and gendered terms.
The first item was an Attic Plastic vase in the shape of figurines from the end of the 6th century BCE. The label describes in detail the composition of the vase/figurines and eventually uses the term ‘Negro’ to describe the top right and left artefacts, a pejorative and offensive term that is most certainly a carelessly left remnant of the museum’s older days, as it relates to a colonial concept of a world that was founded on slave economies.
The part of the special exhibition that was dedicated to beauty featured a rather binary collection of female and male nudes, as well as hinting toward the classical concept of beauty as an platonic ideal of form, a Phideian harmony: a methodology that was reminiscent of 19th century ‘western’ neo-classicism, largely disregarding hermaphrodite statues, a concept utilised, for example, in the recent Acropolis Museum exhibition on Ancient Emotions that was curated a by professor Angelos Chaniotis (Princeton University).
Overall, and while the NAM and the Acropolis museum are focusing on the Greek ‘classics’, largely disregarding concepts of diversity and post-colonial imperatives, a holistic representation of art history objects could move beyond any romanticized and antiquarian concepts of Greekness and connect the audiences to what scholarship in Greek culture has developed to be in 2019.
The teams further discussed that a possible solution to the neo-classical antiquarian museum is to consider an organisation of artefacts as event based, to facilitate knowledge production on Greek national identities and their shaping over the centuries.
Last, but not least, we concluded that while the concept of a national museum is still very central for government funded organisations, national museums in ought to facilitate open access to diverse audience and ideas, nonetheless for the sake of making historical collections matter for contemporary visitors.
After an inspiring day out in the field, exploring the sites of Isthmia and Corinth, on Friday we went back to the Swedish Institute to develop our concepts for the Ancient Itineraries hubs. In the morning, each of the new groups worked independently refining and finalising its arguments and presentations. The four hubs we were divided in were: people, objects, ideas, and styles – all of us working around the Faun from Pompeii and then each group selecting independently an object from Isthmia or from Corinth.
In the afternoon, it was time to present the work of the hubs. The ‘Objects’ sub-team was the first to share its reflections and questions, starting with an overview of object metadata, which could be used to research objects’ itineraries, and a discussion of perspectives that could be adopted in visualising these itineraries. This discussion raised some interesting questions, such as whether to consider the object as central in the network of encounters and events surrounding its itinerary or as a starting point to explore this same network. They delved into the complexities emerging from researching objects, by drawing on the example of a Late Roman inscription which was found at the Sanctuary of Poseidon in Isthmia. This inscription was once part of a frieze block, which was subsequently re-cut and inscribed. The inscription is in Ancient Greek, dating to the Late Roman period, and presenting a Christian text; still, the carver used the plural ‘Gods’ instead of the monotheistic ‘God’ of Christianity. As if this ancient itinerary was not enough complicate, the journey of the inscription after its discovery, in Isthmia in 1883, was equally perilous. It got lost and forgotten, until it was found again in a new location, New Corinth, in 1928, from where it returned to Isthmia, in the museum, in 2005. The archaeologists’ notebooks add layers of complexity to this history. But – and this was the crucial point raised by the hub – all these histories are presented in a simplified version in the online metadata available for this object.
The group reflected then on how the interpretation of this complex itinerary can be further conveyed, first by using Linked Open Data to enhance the current online description (e.g. implementing place names, chronologies, and controlled vocabularies, particularly from the Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus). Secondly, the hub reflected on the needs of different audiences and how these could be supported pre-visit, during the visit, and after. In doing so, they identified a possibility in developing the online presence of the museum, through a richer website which could even link to the reconstruction of the Sanctuary of Poseidon in the popular Ubisoft Assassin’s Creed game. Then, the group recognised our privilege during the visit, when we were guided around the museum and the site by Jon Frey, who has an incredibly in-depth knowledge of the site: once the possibility of cloning our great Ancient Itineraries colleague had to be ruled out, the hub wondered how to replicate such a knowledgeable and animated storytelling for the wider public. Would a virtual guide or an app be able to convey the same experience? And finally, the hub suggested a participatory solution to keep visitors in touch with the site after the visit, by suggesting to draw an established approach within museums (‘create your own inscription’) and, in addition, enabling visitors to 3D print their work. In conclusion, the ‘Objects’ hub demonstrated effectively the difficulties in conveying through metadata the complex entangled histories that surround archaeological objects and, at the same time, stressed the need of developing solutions that speak to the unicity of each site and of its environment.
The ‘Ideas’ hub followed in presenting their reflections on the Faun and another inscription, in this case from Corinth. The team had begun by developing a ‘knowledge cloud’, a mental map of concepts emerging from their discussions around the faun. They had then organised this map in a network, and the network analysis showed as their entry-point, the Faun, had become decentred in the full network while they had progressed with their discussions. A first problematic issue they highlighted was the lack of standard terminologies to organise their ideas, hence why their ‘knowledge cloud’ was indeed a folksonomy, entangled in their own backgrounds and specific context as archaeologists and art historians taking part in Ancient itineraries. Thus they had attempted to explore past and present ideas and iconographies of the Faun, they demonstrated how networks change over time. They had mapped three main moments in the history of ideas surrounding the Faun: the ancient world, Victorians, and the contemporary period. Mythology, education, sexuality, and playfulness emerged as key concepts in all the networks. The iconographic representations and reinterpretations of the Faun they presented ranged from other Ancient Greek artefacts, such as vase paintings, to medieval manuscripts, modern sculptures in which the Faun resembled images of the Devil, and the Faun by Mallarmé, Debussy, and Nijisnki. They enhanced the possible ideas linked to this mythological creature by looking at social media, and particularly Instagram content, with the hashtag #dancingFaun discovering a range of playful posts engaging with the transgressive characteristic associated with the Faun.
Ideas around metamorphoses, playfulness, and sexuality became clear when looking at these posts. The hub noticed that other mythological figures, Erotes and Cupid, have overlapping connotations and interpretations as the Faun, although often framed in a more positive light: for example, the iconography of the Erotes – such those we saw on an ivory fragment in Isthmia – has been transferred to that of the angels in Christian times. The group had then chosen to focus on the Erastus’ inscription from Corinth. This inscription commemorates the paving of an area near the theatre by an Erastus, a notable in the Roman administration of the city. The inscription has been dated to the mid-first century AD, a fact that has led to identify the aedile Erastus with the Erastus mentioned by St Paul in his letter (Epistle to the Romans and Second Letter to Timothy) and in the Acts. As the Ideas group noted, this inscription has made the aedile Erastus visible thanks to a urban change he financed. Additionally, it was conceived to be seen in this public space, differently from the Faun, which was displayed in a private space in Pompeii. This comparison led the group to reflect on how ideas around the objects are affected by the space in which they are seen across times. The following discussion of this presentation focused on the need of inclusiveness and transparency, in which the ideas we connect to specific objects should be developed in conversations with different groups of people, with different backgrounds and experiences, and this ongoing process should be open and recognised as in constant evolution.
After the ‘Ideas’ hub, it was the turn of the ‘Styles’ team. In this case, the team had started their work by deconstructing traditional definitions of style, and had instead opted for a working definition that highlighted the peculiarity of each context in which ‘a’ style is identified and constructed. Drawing on the example of the Faun, the team asked how its style could be defined and looked at various descriptions of copies of this sculpture in museum websites and beyond. It concluded that style was often presented in free text form, as specific combinations of adjectives and words that required a connoisseurship rooted in Western art history. Could a computer identify style? It was pointed out that style is not listed in most museum online collections, where this notion is sometimes presented in the title or in the description of the object. Additionally, ‘style’ is also absent as a category in CIDOC-CRM, which tends to list it as part of the entity ‘period’, or in LIDO, which lists it among the possible object classification elements.
The group discussed then the concept of typology, at times overlapping with that of style, and argued that while typologies are useful to learn to recognise provenance, function, or periodisation of an object, they are also misleading if not contextualised. Therefore, this hub suggested that we need to go beyond the idea of typology, which is limited to the form and does not account for other data. A demonstration with Google Ngram Viewer, Web Crawling, and NLP represented an example of the possibilities and challenges that we could face when using computerised methods to detect and identify style. Ultimately, the group returned to the original question: can a computer recognise style? And if it does so, could a computer drew on patterns an data to create new objects according to a given style? And what would this mean for the future development of styles?
The last hub to present was that focused on ‘People’, who explored how our objects had been represented by people, and how it had been looked at by various groups of viewers. They began by discussing how archaeologists have visualised it in old photos, field notebooks, and in recent digital representations, as well as in museum presentations. They then looked at social media users, particularly on Instagram.
This hub’s object was a fountain in Corinth, and led the hub to consider representations of fountains on ancient Greek vases, on sarcophagus, and – like in the ‘object’ hub – in Assassin’s Creed. They also considered the link of the mythological figure of Medea with this site, noticing how objects are embedded in networks of relationships with various people. Their interest was therefore in reflecting on how to let these multiplicities of stories and individual experiences of the object emerge, so to, in turn, enrich the interpretations and narratives around the same object.
In conclusion, the four hubs have allowed us to reflect from different perspectives on a common object, the Faun, and on different objects from the same locations, Isthmia and Corinth. The hubs identified common threads, such as the users and personas we all tried to include in our reflections, and different emphasis and needs, stemming from the different networks the key themes of our hubs led us to explore. At the end of the presentations, we were therefore ready to go into a weekend of more museums and sites visits, but of course we could not do so before celebrating the birthday of our fellow Ancient Itineraries colleague, and so let’s wish once again happy birthday, Rebecca!
We don’t have an “official” blogger today, it being Sunday, so I am temporarily taking the reins to report on a tour of central Athens that we were given by Gonda Van Steen, Koraes Chair of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature at KCL.
The main idea of the tour was to follow an itinerary which took in some of the city’s heritage sites that are less well known than superstars such as the Acropolis and the Parthenon, which exist amid the day to day life of the city and are thus overlooked; but which still have great interest and importance.
From the hotel, we headed south east, and first took in Hadrian’s Arch, a feature that that can be fairly easily clocked going to and from the Acropolis district, but which is nonetheless overshadowed by it. Hadrian was very keen on Athens, and the arch is one of a number of impacts he made on the city. We proceeded down the hill, and on to the ancient bed of the River Ilissos, now an overgrown tangle of weeds, shrubs and evidence of dubious nocturnal activities; but once a focal point of the ancient city’s life. Near where the ancient river bed disappears under the modern road was said to be an entrance to Hades.
Crossing to the eastern bank, we passed a small Orthodox church, where the priest greeted us with a bowl of wayfarers’ bread and invited us in. It was a remarkable phenomenological experience. We were plunged suddenly into semi darkness, with ranks of various saints and apostles gazing down from their centuries-old gold leafed ikons. With Gonda interpreting, the priest explained that the church was built on an ancient shine of Hecate, and was dedicated to Saint Photini, who is associated with light and fertility. The light of Photini, it was said, worked against Hecate’s darkness from the underworld; a fascinating and unbroken chain of spatial narrative of belief, inexorably tied to a particular genus locus, spanning hundreds, probably thousands, of years.
After that we saw the modern Olympic stadium, completed for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, marking the founding of the modern Olympic movement. The Games of this time were played out against the backdrop of emerging late nineteenth century European nationalism, and battles over Greek identity. We crossed into the large park over the road and visited the Zappeion, the hall build for exhibitions around the first modern Games, and subsequently used as a conference and meeting centre.
Passing through Syntagma Square, we descended into the ticketing hall of the Metro station to look at the exhibits of archaeological artefacts and, in the subterranean walls, “mindfully reconstructed” archaeological sections of the city’s past. There is distinctly political edge to these, with a subtext affirming the long pedigree of the Greek nation.
The next leg took us through the university district. Although the University of Athens has now relocated to premises outside of the city, it retains the three great Neoclassical structures there today on “University Street”, formally known as the Evangelos Venizelos Boulevard. Under the courtyard on the other side of the road was the rather poignant “Stoa Bibliou”, a little basement precinct where academic publishers used to sell books to students. However the Greek financial crash did for these publishers, and their stores still stand empty there, some with displays of yellowing books still in the windows.
We then passed back towards the Acropolis area, taking us through the ancient district of Acharnia, past the walls near Monastiraki on Aeolou Street, which formed part of the ancient Acharnian Rd and Gate (the area made famous by Aristophanes’ comedy Acharnians). We returned to Monastiraki itself and finished at the “little metropolis” church, which is famous for its use of ancient spolia.
The day finished with the excellent hospitality of Dimos Kouvidis, who hosted us with food and wine on the terrace of his apartment, complete with sweeping views across to the Acropolis.
All in all, this was a fascinating tour of ancient Athens in its modern setting, displaying for us a rich archaeology of ideas, people, styles and ideas through the ages.
Additional notes/images from Ana Cabrera:
This being Sunday, we were awakened by the bells of the nearby church, Saint Catherine, announcing the Sunday Mass at 7:45 and at 10:00; and the sunny day that it was.
Today we have the opportunity to walk in Athens from a different perspective, looking at some hidden places and learning different aspects of the Athenian urbanism, Greek history and Athens vibrant city.
Our first stop was the river of Athens, Ilissos. Channeling through tunnels today, the river’s location is important to Athens’s development as a city surrounded by mountains, including the hill of Lykavittos and the Acropolis, among others. In the near future, the river and its banks will be open to creating a riverside walk.
After that, we turned to the 19th-century Stadium, where the first modern Olympic games took place in 1896 and saw how the city expanded using the grid structure, connecting hubs between different districts.
During the walk we began to know a little of the different characters and figures that mark Greek and Athenian history, some through the street names, others through the sculptures and busts that decorated the streets, gardens and squares. Even at the underground station at Syntagma Square you can see the city’s stratigraphy and see some of the archaeological material recovered during the station construction.
One impressive sight was the Akademia and University halls, with the 19th century Classical Greek style, including painting capitals. On the garden, two ancient olive trees watch the entrance on the Akademia.
From that point, we turned to see some Byzantine churches and the University’s “Books Stoa”. This was a place which have many small bookshops prior to the financial crisis, but which the crisis closed.
The last monument was an amazing Byzantine church that reused many decorated fragments and spoke of the city richness in materials to be used in buildings, walls, roads, as we saw in Isthmia last Thursday.
The walk finished with a Greek picnic on the terrace of Dimos Kouvidis, facing the Acropolis hill! A snack to get a taste of this city.
Thursday’s expedition to the ancient cities of Isthmia and Corinth began with a struggle to get through Athens’ public transport system in the rush hour, in order to reach Larissa Train Station. Our first destination was the ancient city of Isthmia, home of the biennial Isthmian Games. The group got acquainted with the history and importance of the site thanks to Jon Frey, a member of the Institute, associate professor at the Michigan State University and field coordinator at the Ohio State University Excavation in Isthmia.
Jon guided us across the permanent display of the Archaeological Museum focusing on the multifaceted biographies of the remarkable objects preserved there. The group explored centuries of history through the ruins of the impressive places of Ancient Greece’s religious, administrative and athletic past. After a walk through the Temple of Poseidon and the stadium, we passed by the theatre, and ended our visit in the outskirts of the ancient settlement.
The Roman Baths, a place of relaxation, philosophical discussion and delight, later became partly incorporated into the fortified system of the Hexamilion wall, built to protect the Peloponnese from invasions. Once richly decorated with marble brought from all parts of the Roman world, the Baths are situated on the site of the earlier (4th century B. C.) Greek baths and still display traces of the former dazzling appearance through mosaics and the hypocaust. The great hospitality of the museum curators and staff was sealed with a presentation by Angeliki Kandri, who gave us an overview of her interesting project about public engagement and customized experience for visitors in the Archaeological Museum of Isthmia.
After exploring the wonders of Isthmia, the group was taken to discover the site of ancient Corinth. The visit started with a very scenic lunch (so that we could get our daily intake of gyros) on a terrace with a view over the ancient site. Jon introduced us to many iconic monuments, highlighting how various narratives are intertwined over the material traces of the ancient settlement. Particularly fascinating was the story of the Glauke fountain, a spur of limestone bedrock shaped by quarrying activities, and readapted as a fountain. The myth narrates that Glauke, daughter of king Kreon, fell in the fountain in an attempt to save her own life after wearing a poisoned peplos she received from the witch Medea.
The visit continued to the area of the theatre and the agora, where the group discovered the transformation of the urban layout looking at the many patches of masonry, surrounded by beautiful spring flowers.
The various stories and objects laid out below the abrupt cliffs of the Acrocorinth captured our interest. We started reflecting on how we could approach some particular objects or feature from the sites with the lens of our itinerary hubs. Task for the day was to capture information about one specific target, different for each group/hub and start pondering on how we could map the itinerary focusing on style, idea, object and people. The discussion continued on the way back to Athens and will be developed further during the next days.
Our second day in Athens began with the visualization group presenting their findings and building upon the previous day of discussion. The group began with an observation that I think is critical to the work we are doing: much of the work surrounding visualization is based on the objects themselves. In other words, every grouping of objects may necessitate a different approach to visualizing the intersecting spaces and provenances surrounding it; we may be able to create general ideas and best practices, but there certainly is not a one-size-fits-all approach to visualization.
Another key point, and one that is far too often ignored or minimized in digital humanities projects, is that before we even begin to design our innovative, amazing, and inspiring visualizations, we need to address documentation, metadata, and data integrity. Without a strong emphasis on documentation we are not leaving a trail to decipher our decision making process or exactly what the visualization is supposed to achieve, and if our journey to the final visualization product is a tangled mess, we will be unable to effectively expand our work or even use it to its fullest potential. Along those lines, the use of standardized and recognized metadata is essential for any digital art history or digital humanities project. Once again this is not something that should simply be a “check the box” exercise, but something that is embedded into the very fabric of any art historical project.
From our discussions today and yesterday, another theme is beginning to emerge. The last institute was centered on networks and connectivity, and this one seems to be coalescing around the concept of gateways and entry-points. We discussed how art historical objects can serve as an entrance to different spaces and concepts: between the ideas expressed by the artist and those of an audience, between the spaces of production and acquisition and those of artistic creation, between the real world and mythical subjects depicted on it, In the same way, an object when digitized becomes a pathway from the physical world to the digital; for instance, when someone views a digital representation of an art work, they are entering several different spaces (intellectual, digital, etc) through that work. We can even consider the device that allows that to happen (a phone, laptop, ipad) as a digital equivalent of an axis mundi that provides a connection between the physical world and all of the various “worlds” surrounding a given object.
With these discussions as a background, and the initial presentations from our white paper teams complete, the institute is now shifting to the creation of groups around content “hubs”, where we will focus on how different aspects of art historical research and experience (ideas, people, styles, and objects) interact with our white paper subjects and inform our ideas. Even with just two days down the institute has been an amazing and thought provoking experience, and I am quite excited to see where we go from here.
On our third day in Athens, we began to transition from the three teams formed in London (Provenance, Geographies, Visualization). Although we will continue to work on our White Papers in the three primary teams over the course of our time in Athens, new themes and hubs will take precedence for the remaining seven days of our time together.
After ranking our choices, we were reorganized and assigned to new ‘Hub’ groups with the explicit purpose of distributing interests across the new divisions. We spent the morning in our new groups and continued the discussion over lunch. Our leaders suggested thinking about a sculpture we visited in London, the Leighton House Dancing Faun, in the context of four new ‘hubs’: ideas, style, objects, and people. Because the Leighton House sculpture is a copy of a more famous work, which is in itself an ancient copy, this is a complex enterprise.
In the afternoon we gathered to share our initial thoughts about the hubs. Each group delivered a brief presentation:
The Ideas group was interested in how ideas associated with the Faun, especially its erotic significance, have changed over time and how this aspect of the artwork fit within larger societal norms, or transgressed them in the case of the Victorian era. The group was also interested in how the Faun’s significance varied depending on display context. For instance, the Pompeiian and Leighton House contexts are both domestic.
The People group used the Faun as an entry point by thinking about all the different types of actors who may have interacted with the object from its inception to the present. It became clear to the group that there are, in fact, several Fauns which together form one ‘conceptual faun.’ The group then created a table of about 25 types of actors which each corresponded with one or more iterations of the Faun (Greek original, Roman copy, Naples copy, Leighton House copy, and the ‘conceptual Faun’) and used Palladio to map these relationships in a network and on a map. Although this was simply a preliminary form of visualization it helped with thinking through the relationships between a single object and the many associated creators and consumers.
The Styles group asked if there was a data-driven way for styles to be understood, attempting to move away from artificial constructions such as periodization based on style. Using an impossible case study of how a Roman-style car might look, the group tried to highlight assumptions about the affordances of style.
The Objects group started by identifying key attributes that should be represented in metadata about the Faun, in particular the materials and processes involved in its creation and the possible links that can be made to other objects. They moved on to discuss creating visualizations from the point of view of the object itself, based on ‘episodes’ in its life story: from creation to transportation to display in various contexts. Finally, they posed questions about predicting the future life of the object and how this relates tos the potential role of the digital.
We are excited to travel to two sites tomorrow – Isthmia and ancient Corinth, led by Jon Frey. In the afternoon we began to investigate websites and databases which deal with material from these two sites in advance of our visit. The goal is to be familiar with Ideas, People, Styles, and Objects that we may encounter and how those might be used as case studies, much like the example of the Dancing Faun.
Sunday night saw the Ancient Itineraries group come back together ready for the coming 2-week meeting based at the Swedish Institute of Athens. There were handshakes, hugs, noise, laughter, talking and eating. It was amazing watching 20 people who less than a year ago mostly did not know each other personally and, in some cases, didn’t know that the other even existed somewhere on this planet. Yet after 2 weeks in London, at the first Institute meeting, it was really like a large family coming back together. As with most families, the diversity amongst us is great: Art Historians, Classists, Archaeologists, Museologists, and Computer Science people. It was obvious by the end of the night, the coming 2 weeks is going to be another incredible time moving towards the overall goal of the Institute: to broker in world peace, a solution to climate change, and hunger, as well as resolving Brexit…slightly side tracked there. The driving goal is to explore the notion of “Digital” as it applies to art history and archaeology. We will look at ways of negotiating the provenience, geography and visualization of object narratives, emphasizing how context and material alteration matters as much as an artefact’s use and display.
London saw these three “distinct” areas of provenance, geographies and visualisations being examined as modes of object itineraries. What became clear is that although these 3 things are distinct, they must work together to complete an object’s biography. A little like a family that needs all of its members to be complete.
In the opening address to our collective family, Dr. Jenny Wallensten, the Director of the Swedish Institute at Athens, clearly identified that digital representation of objects is important and serving a purpose, but there is no substitute to experiencing that object with all of your senses. It is both the digital and the analogue the help to facilitate a deep understanding of the object’s narrative.
After 45 minutes this morning, the excitement from Sunday night was clearly evident, the discussion was rich, questions were being asked, the conversation was unfolding and the framework to drive these 2 weeks was appearing.
The Provenance group presented their continued work from London. The groups philosophy started from a point of no resource limitations. They blueskyed how provenance could be defined, and what the chanllenges would be in understanding provenance in object itineraries.
An object has a timeline, this becomes part of defining the object’s provenance. Digital datasets list provenance in multiple and varied ways. Hence, provenance is described within datasets in different ways, with different terminology and even different meanings. Therefore, provenance is interpreted in many different ways, even to where it is not included in some datasets.
A charter defining provenance would facilitate the minimization of the misunderstanding, misuse and even omission of provenance in dataset creation. When digitising an object, provenance can be clearly defined in what is and is not included along with clear explanation describing the provenance interpretation used.
In data collection, how do we respect the nuances of the data collection? How was it collected? From where was it collected? Who collected it? When we create datasets that can be machine to machine processed, that is, interact with each other, what is lost from the above-mentioned collection things? What it lost because it actually didn’t exist in the first place? Was it lost because it wasn’t actually shared or not interoperable or thought to be not important how much do we lose in doing this? This small data is extremely important, it captures so many of the data’s’ nuances. When datasets are created, we introduce new inconsistencies. These introductions aren’t wrong, but they must be identified as existing and even included in the provenance.
Then came the Geographies group. They are specifically looking at how can we represent the geographies/spaces of ancient art objects? Within ancient art objects, how can the multiplicities of geographies, spaces and connections that are in inherent within the object be captured and then represented. When looking at geographies/space we need to think of the connections in the space, how the space is defined by the networks, and how to visualise them.
The discussion that followed covered a lot of ground. When an object is digitally born how does the geography of this work? When we put something into the Digital Space how do we map this out to show the relationships that exist within the space of this object?
As the conversation evolved, a question emerged around whether we are trying to visualise space or are we trying to visualise something into space? This is a slight but significant difference as it actually alters the entire paradigm. There are places that are discussed such as Hades which has no place within the Earth’s space as we know it, but it did have a supposed multilple entrance points within our space. These need be included within a mapping of geography/space. Hence, the geography needs to be represented in a non-traditional way. When working within the Ancient World, to not include Hades would be to miss something that was significant within that world because we don’t know how to do with it. As Hades had an entrance point from the real world, we can represent that and link into the space of Hades that is not necessarily on Earth, but its starting point is on Earth.
In many ways, the digital world is similar to Hades. It is a place that doesn’t really have a geography, but it does have an entrance point with a geography. The geography is the location of our device, and it is our device that is the entrance point to the digital world.
We map the geography of something by “location”, but what about mapping something by the experience encountered when interacting with the object. Where are things placed in a museum display, where did the object come from, how did it come to be in the display, who interacted with it on the journey, those who interacted with it, where did they come from and where were they interacting with the object and is this important?
This led into considering the social networks of art objects and digital art objects. When we understand the social network interacting and connecting the object, it becomes possible to look at the intellectual interactions and the intellectual space and geographies that connect with the object. Linking objects intellectually, mapping the intellectual relationships of an object begin to facilitate a new understanding and creation of new knowledge connecting objects and people and more.
Moving towards a network analysis creates a non-traditional geographic mapping of an object. It facilitates a way to cartographically map an object’s interconnectedness in the geospatial world and then from a geospatial perspective we can link into non-geospatial realm that is interconnected but not actually linked to a specific location on the Earth. This would allow for the displaying go multiple different dataset layers on top of each other but not necessarily cartographically linked but also may be cartographically linked.
Ancient Itineraries II, day one, much was covered. The scene has been set for the next 12 days of intense thought, challenging discussions and enriching the family connection!