BSR at the Sheffield Digital Humanities Congress

With eighteen sessions and three plenary talks, the biennial Digital Humanities Congress (Sheffield, 6-8 September 2018) presented a broad range of international projects and initiatives, highlighting technical solutions as well as considering critical theory and new perspectives and illustrating the enormous potential of digital media.

Clockwise from top left: Patrick O’Keeffe using digital eye-tracking technology in Rome’s baroque churches (photo by Michael Snelling); image from the John Marshall Archive research project website (courtesy BSR Photographic Archive); computer visualisation (courtesy Portus Project); image from the Ward-Perkins photographic archive (courtesy BSR Photographic Archive).

We showcased a selection of BSR projects representing the breadth and range of our interests: Graeme Earl (King’s College London), spoke about the linking of creative digital practices to architectural studies and augmented reality; Eleonora Gandolfi (University of Southampton) on the archaeology of Portus and the related MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses); Alessandra Giovenco (BSR Archivist) on creating a Library and Archive digital portal; and Patrick O’Keeffe (BSR Giles Worsley Rome Fellow 2017-18) on eye-tracking architecture.

The Library and Archive’s Digital Humanities Project aims to present our digital initiatives in a single portal, facilitating access, engaging with a wider public, generating interactive and collaborative research and integrating local and external resources. Many of our concerns were addressed in the presentations as seen below.

Sustainability

This has been an important issue for us since 2009 and is still today one of our priorities.

The problem of the funding and sustainability of digital projects and websites was addressed in the presentation by Jamie McLaughlin (University of Sheffield) who outlined a provocative and innovative solution suggesting that websites should be ‘retired’ when the funding has run out, stripped  down to the essential features, eliminating ‘bells and whistles’ but continuing to allow researchers access to the data.

He also suggested that websites ‘die’ if funding does not provide for long-term development, enhancement and maintenance. In our presentation we observed that projects dependent on individuals as opposed to institutions are at risk of obsolescence and neglect.

Metadata Curation

In the past, the quantity of metadata has often prevailed over quality on the assumption that the more we digitise, the better. However, here at the BSR we have maintained from the outset that high quality metadata is essential to facilitate high quality research.

Jo Pugh (The National Archives, Kew) questioned the merits of long descriptions of archival records and how they influence research.

Patrizia Rebulla (Archivio Storico Ricordi, Milan) discussed the role of the archivist and that of the researcher which, for them, should be distinct – the time (and cost) of cataloguing should be carefully assessed.

Data Model

The integration of our digital content originating from varying sources – our Information Library System (ILS) and Archival Management Software – is a challenge that we are addressing.

In describing the Casa Ricordi archive project, Patrizia Rebulla raised many issues on the importance of mapping data and ontologies as well as creating a robust and fit-for-purpose data model.

Standards

Another priority for us has always been the adoption of international standards for cataloguing and publishing digital content to ensure interoperability.

Fiona Candlin (Birkbeck College) highlighted the difficulty when national standards do not exist, and the problems their project encountered attempting to bring together information from 4,000 UK museums, the data of which was either inconsistent or incomplete or both.

Digital literacy

The use or misuse of digital data by researchers has raised the issue of digital literacy and the importance of teaching students how to critically evaluate and analyse digital content, given ‘the abundance and lack, at the same time, of meaningful quantity and meaningless repetition’, as pointed out by Elizabeth Williamson (University of Exeter) and Bob Shoemaker (University of Sheffield) who described strengths and weaknesses of the Digital Panopticon website

Crowdsourcing

Community engagement is another aspect of our Digital Humanities strategy. The attempt to create a scholarly community through the participation in a research project on our collections has already been made through the John Marshall Archive Project website which is currently accessible only to the research team. This is a perfect example of where crowdsourcing will be able to add real value to a research project.

Crowdsourcing tools were a frequent topic throughout the conference, giving us useful case studies that will inform our decision on how we might develop this practice in the future. The potential of crowdsourcing platforms in helping institutions enhance digital content and the conversations generated by the user engagement experience was addressed in Mia Ridge’s (The British Library) presentation.

Impact and engagement

The Congress ended with fireworks! Sarah Kenderdine (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) enthralled the audience with her extraordinary exhibitions in Australia and Asia using the latest technology and augmented reality to engage museum visitors in a heightened, interactive experience, for example using motion-capture technology with Kung Fu masters  https://vimeo.com/163153865

motion visualisation.jpg

The conference gave us much food for thought which is helping us to understand the digital landscape and inform the positioning of the BSR in the digital world today.

 

By the Library and Archive team: Valerie Scott (Head Librarian), Beatrice Gelosia (Deputy Librarian), Alessandra Giovenco (Archivist).

Advertisements

Postcards & Photographs #2

I arrived at the BSR to study vedute, (highly detailed cityscapes), maps and postcards of the monuments of Rome, using Peter Greenaway’s film Belly of an Architect (1986) as a vehicle for investigation. Weaving a narrative of power and politics, Belly of an Architect is presented as a sequence of postcard images of Rome, that alternate with actual shots in the style of the postcards. Greenaway originally intended to trace a route through the city, structured almost like a Situationist dérive, by using postcards chosen for their perspective, each of which connected a monument in the foreground with another in the distance. For example, by using a postcard of the twin churches in Piazza del Popolo, in which one could find in the background a small image of a part of the Vittoriano, the next scene would be set in Piazza Venezia, and if in that postcard one could glimpse the Colosseum in the background, then the next scene would take place there, and so on. When films use postcards and texts these things are always mediated by the filmmaker’s intentions. It’s like the actors. They are both themselves acting and the part they play. Showing postcards in the film is like characters talking directly to camera or when actors play themselves on film.

How excited I was after I introduced my research at the BSR and the director told us about Eugénie Strong’s postcard collection in the BSR archives. When I originally planned this research, I intended to collect my own tourist postcards of the monuments of Rome, but I found Strong’s far more seductive and conducive to the kind of ‘postcard’ tour I was looking for, one that is entirely subjective, blurs place and personal history and, speaks to each of us in a different way, as if whispering in our ears about forgotten experiences, adventures, romances, individuals.

1

 Anfiteatro Flavio, postcard (BSR Photographic Archive, Eugénie Strong Postcard Collection)

Like a postcard itself, that arrives with no return address, and only a cryptic comment, postmark and stamp to claim its origins, is the postcard collection from the 1910s and 1920s of Eugénie Strong, the first assistant director of the BSR. The postcards are filed in albums and boxes according to place, like a map that is not yet made. The Rome album begins with Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s (1720-1778) depictions of the monuments of Rome, and ends with the 1911 Ethnographic Exhibition to celebrate 50 years of Italy’s unification, that shows different pavilions from different regions of Italy for the World’s Fair that took place in the Valle Giulia. In fact the BSR building was designed by Edwin Lutyens and constructed as the British pavilion for that grand exhibition which is why it is in the English baroque style, double columns as pilasters on the walls and a neoclassical portico at the front.

Piranesi’s most famous built project is the piazza and church for the Cavalieri di Malta on the Aventine Hill. This is the famous portal with a keyhole that sights the dome of St Peter’s. Strong’s collection includes a postcard of the garden, as if we, like Alice, have entered through the keyhole.

2

Cavalieri di Malta, postcard (BSR Photographic Archive, Eugénie Strong Postcard Collection) 

The album continues with a collection entitled Rome Disappeared.

3

Roma Sparita, postcard album (BSR Photographic Archive, Eugénie Strong Postcard Collection)

One of my favourites is this one that shows La corsa dei Barberi, a horserace along the Corso, that took place at the time of the Carnival. It shows the Piazzo del Popolo and either very small horses, or else artistic licence in widening the street, and, since it depicts a time prior to its construction, no Vittoriano monument at the other end of the axis.

 

4.jpg

Corso dei Barberi, postcard (BSR Photographic Archive, Eugénie Strong Postcard Collection)

Most of the postcards are from collections that were never sent, but collected as sets, interspersed with a very few that were sent to her by friends, colleagues or scholars with requests. For example, each year her counterpart at the American Academy would send her a Christmas postcard, in exchange for one she had sent. Another favourite (not shown here) was of a stone frieze, of a pig, a horse and a cow with the note on the back: nice to see our old friends. What was the narrative behind this? Was this a favourite place to visit? And where was it? In the Forum? Elsewhere?

5

Eugénie Strong’s address, prior to assuming the Assistant Director post at the BSR (BSR Photographic Archive, Eugénie Strong Postcard Collection)

 

Renée Tobe (Paul Mellon Centre Rome Fellow 2017-18)

Postcards & Photographs #1

The early years of the BSR were dominated by two great figures. The contribution of Thomas Ashby, the BSR’s third Director, to the study of photography and topography has been well documented – see Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar Janet Wade’s post about her research following in the footsteps of Thomas Ashby on the via Flaminia, and my own recent blog on the many faces of Ashby.

However, the collections built up by his contemporaneous Assistant Director, Eugénie Strong, remain largely unexplored.

Three cupboards in the Photographic Archive hold the Eugénie Strong Collection. When you turn the key to open these cupboards you are suddenly grabbed by her personality which is reflected by the kind of material – photographs and postcards – she was to collect and assemble throughout her life.

Most of the photographs are testimony to her interest in Art History, ranging from Roman and Greek sculpture to medieval, Renaissance and Baroque painting. The photographic collection, bequeathed to the BSR after her death, includes many examples of nineteenth and early twentieth century photographs (all in perfect condition) taken by notable European photographers and needs careful examination before being re-arranged and made available for consultation and research.

The same applies to her impressive collection of European postcards, mainly relating to Italy and many with written comments on the back. Some of these are loose and arranged by country or continents (Africa, Asia), while the rest is neatly organised into nineteen albums.

1

Eugénie Strong in her role as BSR Librarian in the Main Reading Room

Eugénie Strong (1860-1943, née Sellers) had long been regarded as one of the most brilliant academics in the field of Roman sculpture, even before taking on the post of BSR Assistant Director and Librarian in 1909. Former Librarian at Chatsworth and Fellow of Girton College, Cambridge, she worked closely with Thomas Ashby when he was BSR Director from 1906 to 1925.

The astonishing number of images they gathered – Ashby taking photographs himself, with Strong collecting them from various sources – shows a keen interest in the value of visual culture at the beginning of the twentieth century. Their intention was not limited to pursuing their own research, but was concerned with developing a reference collection for the benefit of current and future BSR award-holders.

In addition to her image collection, there is also correspondence with Evelyn Shaw, BSR Honorary General Secretary, and various members of the Faculty of Archaeology, History and Letters (FAHL) in the course of her administration of the institution alongside Ashby. Remarkable was her role in coordinating the move of the BSR from Palazzo Odescalchi to the new building in Valle Giulia in 1916, while Ashby was engaged on the Italian front driving the British Red Cross ambulance. Not to mention all the responsibilities involved in the running of a Library!

2

The BSR façade during the building works (started in 1912 and completed in 1916)

It is no surprise therefore that she played an important role in supporting and encouraging all BSR award-holders, both in the Humanities and in the Fine Arts. The more we read about her through our past records, the more intelligible the picture of a resilient personality that made the pair with Ashby and contributed so much to raising and consolidating the BSR’s profile, until they both left in 1925.

 

3

Eugénie Strong in the centre of the picture surrounded by BSR scholars
Back row: Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Eugénie Strong, Colin Gill (Rome Scholar in Painting), Mrs Hardiman, Alfred Hardiman (Rome Scholar in Sculpture), Unknown
Middle row: Miss Jamison, Miss Makin, Winifred Knights (Rome Scholar in Painting)
Front row: F.O. Lawrence (Rome Scholar in Architecture), Job Nixon (Rome Scholar in Engraving), Unknown

 

This year’s Paul Mellon Centre Rome Fellow Renée Tobe has been delving into some of these Archive collections from the BSR’s early years, and in the next blog post she will reveal some of the treasures she has found in our collections.

 

Alessandra Giovenco (BSR Archivist)

Images courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archives

Discovering the future of the past at the Vatican Library

In the world of digital humanities, attracting ‘buy-in’ and investment for digitization projects can be a challenge of David and Goliath proportions. Small libraries and archives often struggle to find their way in building consensus and interest around their unique collections. This was one of the key themes of last week’s conference Digitization and libraries: the future of the past organised by the Bodleian Libraries (Oxford) and the Vatican Library.

With the superb chairing of Richard Ovenden (Bodley’s Librarian), some notable speakers explored various methods of scholarly apprenticeship and practice (Anthony Grafton (Princeton) and Timothy Janz (Vatican Library)), the so-called ‘archaeology of readers’, the Polonsky Foundation Digitization Project (Paola Manoni, Coordinator of IT services at the Vatican Library), and the use of IIIF protocol. 

Screenshot BAV

Emma Stanford (Bodleian Libraries Digital Curator) gave an insight into the use of social media showing how much can be done to increase access to, and engagement with, Library collections across wider audiences, unlocking the potential of so-called ‘citizen science’.

Since 2000, the BSR has been working hard to build up its own digital collections to meet the standards that are so important for Libraries and Archives and their future – the future of the pastKristian Jensen’s (BSR FAHL member, and Head of Collections and Curation at the British Library) paper on digital projects with BNCF (Paris) – funded by the Polonsky Foundation – discussed some of the conflicts threatening textual cultural heritage.

Interoperability is the term used to describe the building of metadata in such a way that they can be shared with and understood by other systems. This was the key principle on which our Digital Collections website was designed, adopting descriptive, administrative and technical metadata to bring together meaningful information both on analogue objects and their digital counterparts.

Jill Cousins (Director and CEO of the Hunt Museum, Limerick) explained the importance of metadata, with quality being preferable to quantity in terms of making content visible and accessible.jill c

Slide from Jill Cousins’ presentation

As we have built up our digital collections over the years here at the BSR, we have learned that enriching our records with appropriate metadata based on thesauri and controlled vocabularies is essential. We have not been mean in this respect!

Cousins also discussed open access and open content. The latter requires a thorough analysis of rights statements be applied to collections, which can then be labelled using the appropriate Creative Commons licence. Still, fear prevents many institutions from releasing their digital content without restrictions.

Collaborative projects based on shared metadata can also help rebuild collections of books scattered across Europe, as Cristina Dondi (Oakeshott Senior Research Fellow in the Humanities at Lincoln College, Oxford, and Secretary of the CERL) proposed in presenting her five-year ERC-funded project 15cBOOKTRADE. Collaboration is key to Digital Humanities projects and should also be promoted between researchers in both the humanities and the sciences.

It was more than encouraging to know that we have been on the right path since taking up the challenge of transforming our resources into digital assets, now a fundamental part of our day-to-day work. We may be small but we think big!

 

Alessandra Giovenco (Archivist)

Beatrice Gelosia (BSR Deputy Librarian)

BSR Library Special Collections. Gift from Mark Getty, BSR Chair of Council.

Professor David McKitterick introduces a selection of the latest addition to the BSR Library’s Special Collections.

Quite apart from its modern collections, the BSR owns a remarkable collection of early printed books, many of them from the library of Thomas Ashby, to which other benefactors have given since. But the BSR has not been able to add to these for a long time. When in February the collection of books about Rome assembled by Sergio Rossetti came onto the market in Milan, there was an unprecedented opportunity to enrich the library.

Rossetti’s four-volume bibliography of Rome was published in 2000-4, and he built up his own remarkable collection alongside. Thanks to the imagination and prompt generosity of Mark Getty, the BSR was able to acquire over a hundred volumes at the auction, dating from the early sixteenth century to the late nineteenth.

28166249718_c0a3ea804e_z

Mark Getty with Director Stephen Milner and Librarian Valerie Scott

Some were magnificent illustrated books, such as Pietro Castelli’s volume of engravings of rare plants in the Farnese gardens (1625), or Pietro Ferrerio and Giovani Battista Falda’s engravings of palazzi (c.1660) many of which have now disappeared, while the great etchings in the folio Rovine del castello dell’Acqua Giulia (1761) show Piranesi’s interests as simultaneously antiquary, architect and hydraulic engineer.

41249165265_ff9f8c933e_z (1)

Engraving from Pietro Ferrerio, Palazzi di Roma di più celebri architetti, Roma [1655-70]

42103282732_23489d3491_z

Engraving from Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Le rovine del castello dell’Acqua Giulia situato in Roma presso S. Eusebio…..…, Rome 1761

The copy of Giacomo Lauro’s collection of views Antiquae urbis splendor (1637) is in an impressive gilt binding with the arms of Pope Urban VIII. A group of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century books about the Tiber focusses , not surprisingly, on the periodic floods. An illustrated volume by Nicolai Alemanni on the Lateran palace (1637) focusses on Pope Leo III’s grand new ninth-century dining room, or triclinium, decorated with mosaics and only some of which survives.

At the core of this wonderful accession is a large group of guidebooks, in Latin, Italian, French and English, to be added to the already notable collection of these already on the shelves in the BSR. While such books are obviously reflections of local identity and are invaluable for anyone trying to unravel the history of ownership of works of art, they are also some of the closest ways we can come to seeing the world through the eyes of earlier centuries.

Just to read the ever more detailed guides, meeting the needs of seventeenth-century tourists such as John Evelyn or John Milton, or a host of eighteenth-century visitors, is not only to begin to see with their eyes, but also to wonder at the energies of people who (if they followed some guidebooks’ instructions) were expected to see Rome sometimes in as little as three days: the Vatican and Trastevere could easily be dealt with in just one. But these guidebooks tell us more.

DSC_8627

Frontispiece from Pompilio Totti, Ritratto di Roma antica……….., Roma 1645

Pompilio Totti, the much-printed author of the best of the seventeenth-century guides, showed how Rome could be divided into antica and moderna.  By the time we come to read his even more popular successor, the archaeologist Antonio Nibby (first published shortly after the Napoleonic wars and widely available in Italian and French) there are new concerns, arising from the ever-more revealing excavations. How should ruins be preserved, and how should they be shown off? These remain no less topical questions today.

DSC_8626

Frontispiece from Pompilio Totti, Ritratto di Roma moderna……….., Roma 1645

Of the later books, one further might be selected among these prizes. Matthew Dubourg’s  Views of the remains of ancient buildings in Rome and its vicinity  (London, 1820) has become rare because so many copies have been broken up for the sake of the lovely hand-coloured illustrations. But the text is worth reading as well, influenced by the fashion for gothic novels and written by a person informed by the dramatic paintings of Salvator Rosa. This is the Rome of the romantics, published just a few months before Keats died. Not surprisingly, Byron is quoted on the Colosseum: ‘a noble wreck, in ruinous perfection’. All these books invite further study, and all are being added to the union catalogue URBiS (www.urbis-libnet.org).

DSC_8629

From Matthew Dubourg, Views of the remains of ancient buildings in Rome and its vicinity…………, London 1820

Meanwhile, a selection is currently on display at the Entrance Hall of the BSR.

Text by David McKitterick, Emeritus Honorary Professor of Historical Bibliography, Trinity College, Cambridge.

 

David visited the BSR and gave a fascinating talk to staff, residents and award-holders about the new arrivals.

DSC_8553.jpg

DSC_8575.jpg

The research potential of our Special Collections has been enhanced by this remarkable gift and our aim now is to seek funding for specific BSR Library awards to generate more opportunities for research projects based on our rich collections.

Text by Valerie Scott, Librarian

Photos by Antonio Palmieri

Ashby Adventures 2018

Last week we hosted our Ashby Patrons visit to Rome. This is always a very special weekend in the BSR’s calendar when we welcome our Ashby Patrons to the BSR for an action-packed few days of adventures both inside and outside the city. This year was no exception with a full and expertly tailored programme of excursions!

Always an important part of the weekend, is the opportunity for the Patrons to speak with resident award-holders and to visit the studios of artists resident at the BSR. This year was no different. On arrival the group were treated to a visual feast (indeed, a sneak preview of what is to come in next month’s June Mostra) by three of our artists in residence – Murat Urlali (National Art School, Sydney, Resident), John Robertson (Abbey Scholar in Painting) and Oona Grimes (The Bridget Riley Fellow). After visiting the studios the group joined BSR residents and staff for dinner.

murat

Murat Urlali (National Art School, Sydney, Resident) in his studio

The first full day began with a visit to the Venerable English College, the Catholic seminary in Rome which trains priests from England and Wales.

IMG_2915.JPG

After a hearty welcome from Ryan Service, a Seminarian from the Archdiocese of Birmingham, the group had the privilege of being led around the college, current exhibition and the archives, by Archive Coordinator and BSR Research Fellow Professor Maurice Whitehead. This visit was also an opportunity to explain to the group the British School at Rome’s ambition to work in collaboration with Venerable English College to open access to their archives, facilitating the opportunity to bring UK scholars to Rome to study them.

IMG_2920.JPG

Sustained by a fine lunch, the group progressed to the second visit of the day, a guided tour of Palazzo Pamphilj (situated within Piazza Navona and now home to the Brazilian Embassy in Italy) led by Assistant Director Tom True.

IMG_2927.JPG

Within the Ashby group we were lucky to have BSR Former Chair of council Timothy Llewellyn, expert on the frescoed ceiling of Pietro da Cortona, who explained the story of Aeneas depicted on the ceiling above. We were then treated to a spectacular view from the balcony to the piazza below.

After a day of visual and gastronomic treats, those who had the strength, stomach and courage, rounded off the day with a gelato at Giolitti!

IMG_2943.JPG

Relaxed and refreshed, the second day saw the Ashby group venture out from Rome to Lake Bracciano, to enjoy a guided tour of Castello Odescalchi bathed in sunshine.

IMG_3023.JPG

IMG_3017.JPG

After the tour the group enjoyed a delicious feast comprised of locally sourced ingredients at an agriturismo in Trevignano. Yet, this was not the end of the days programme, upon arrival back to the BSR, Marco Iuliano (member of the BSR Faculty of Archaeology, History and Letters) gave a presentation entitled ‘Notes on the Cartography of Rome’, with particular reference to special holdings from our Library, including a map by Giovani Battista Cingolani della Pergola (1704), which depicts Lake Bracciano.

IMG_3037

The advent of the final day revealed that some of the best treasures had been saved until last. Valerie Scott (Librarian and Deputy Director) presented the Library’s latest addition, a gift of rare books presented to the BSR earlier this year by Chair of Council Mark Getty.

To round off the trip, Director Stephen Milner brought the Ashby’s up-to-date with his vision of the future for the BSR, prompting a lively discussion. As per tradition, the weekend concluded with brunch at Caffè delle Arti with reflections on the activities and success of the weekend.

It was a delight to host the Ashby Patrons, and was a chance to say thank you for their continued support and guidance, which is wholeheartedly appreciated and valued by the whole BSR community.

Roll on next year…!

IMG_3049

Blog and photographs by Alice Marsh (Events and Communications Assistant) 

 

Walking the via Flaminia: following in the footsteps of Thomas Ashby and his companions

Janet WadeJanet Wade is the current Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar, resident at the BSR from January to June 2018. Janet’s research project is titled Walking the via Flaminia: following in the footsteps of Thomas Ashby and his companions. As part of this project, Janet plans to traverse the entire length of the via Flaminia on foot (and bicycle), along with previous Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar, Nicole Moffatt. Following on from BSR Archivist Alessandra Giovenco’s blog on the many faces of Ashby, here Janet talks in more detail about her own exploration both of the via Flaminia and of the rich collection of material in Thomas Ashby’s archives at the BSR.

‘In one’s less sternly moral moments one even acquires the feeling that every fine day spent indoors, with the Campagna so close, is in a sense wasted.’

Thomas Ashby, The Roman Campagna in Classical Times (London, 1927), 18.

I couldn’t help but recall Thomas Ashby’s words as I wandered along the perimeter of Augustus and Livia’s estate in Prima Porta on a warm, sunny day in April. I was tracing the line of the ancient via Flaminia through Prima Porta, starting from the remains of an arch and wall that originally flanked the road. Both ruins are now incorporated into the walls of a medieval church and a restaurant on either side of the modern Via della Villa di Livia. A stroll up the hill took me to the extensive ruins of Livia’s Villa, with its commanding views of the surrounding countryside, the via Flaminia and Tiberina. At the Villa, high above the traffic with a light breeze rustling the trees and birds chirping, it was easy to imagine the tranquility and seduction of the Roman Campagna of Ashby’s day. I had to remind myself of a less serene walk from the Aurelian walls to Prima Porta that my partner Matt and I did two months earlier, attempting to stick as close to the ancient line of the via Flaminia as possible. We darted across major arterial roads on several occasions, hugged the rock wall of the cliffs of Saxa Rubra to keep at least half a metre between us and the oncoming traffic, and searched in vain for a way to get a glimpse of a piece of the via Flaminia antica that we knew was hiding behind a high fence near Due Ponti station. Ashby’s Roman Campagna was not so easy to visualise that day! It has survived–as too has the via Flaminia–but not in the same form as it existed either in antiquity or the early twentieth century.

4th century arch in the walls of the Church of Saints Urbano and Lorenzo at Prima Porta

4th century arch in the walls of the Church of Saints Urbano and Lorenzo at Prima Porta (Photos by Thomas Ashby (courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive) and Janet Wade).

The Via Flaminia Antica running through the middle of a car sales yard on the way to Prima Porta.jpg

The Via Flaminia Antica running through the middle of a car sales yard on the way to Prima Porta (Photo by Janet Wade).

Ashby’s exploratory tours of the countryside extended along Italy’s ancient roads beyond the borders of the Roman Campagna. Much of Ashby’s research on the Roman road system was done when he was at the BSR, firstly as a student and then as Director from 1906 to 1925. A century on, Ashby’s publications on the Roman roads of Italy are still largely definitive. His research in the library was meticulous; Ashby consulted whatever books, maps and prints he could get his hands on. Yet, ultimately, it was Ashby’s personal observation of the roads and their surrounding sites that enabled him to map and record the Roman road network so effectively. He tried to visit every inch of a road–or encouraged award-holders at the School to do so–before publishing on them. Ashby knew Italy’s ancient roads so well because he walked or cycled them. His series of articles on the Roman roads are thorough and detailed accounts, but they don’t always reveal the depth of the man’s passion. The collection of Ashby’s notes, correspondence and photographs in the BSR Archives tells us so much more.

Scribbled on the back of envelopes and previous correspondence (in fact, any paper that Ashby could find) are copious notes taken from the works of previous scholars. There are untidy drawings of sites, like Otricoli on the via Flaminia, which Ashby copied from early modern maps and excavation reports to take with him into the field. Military maps with scrawled annotations in the margins show obvious signs of outdoor use. Even more numerous are the scribbled notes from Ashby’s own exploratory tours; hastily drawn maps, personal observations, and measurements. And, of course, there are his photographs. Not always framed or focused perfectly, these photos still provide a wonderful record of the state of the roads and their surrounds in the early 20th century. Ashby’s photos and letters reveal both the pleasure he derived from hiking along ancient routes and the fruitfulness of missions often undertaken in the company of BSR award-holders. Letters sent to the Honorary General Secretary in London, Evelyn Shaw, recount excellent tramps up the Tiber valley, productive and enjoyable walking tours of ancient roads, and Ashby’s belief in the importance of this type of travel for the BSR Director and award-holders. Ashby’s correspondence also highlights the encouragement he gave to BSR scholars to study the ancient Roman road system. Certainly, he could not have mapped, recorded and published as much as he did without them.

One of the IGM (Istituto Geografico Militare) maps used by Thomas Ashby when he explored a section of the via Flaminia, including the town of Otricoli.jpg

One of the IGM (Istituto Geografico Militare) maps used by Thomas Ashby when he explored a section of the via Flaminia, including the town of Otricoli (Courtesy of the BSR Special Collections/Photo by Nicole Moffatt).

Map of the site of Otricoli copied by Ashby from Giuseppe Antonio Guattani’s Monumenti Antichi inediti ovvero Notizie sulle Antichita’ e Belle Arti di Roma, vol. 1 (Rome, 1784)..jpg

Map of the site of Otricoli copied by Ashby from Giuseppe Antonio Guattani’s Monumenti Antichi inediti ovvero Notizie sulle Antichita’ e Belle Arti di Roma, vol. 1 (Rome, 1784). (Courtesy of the BSR Special Collections/Photo by Janet Wade).

My interest in the archives was initially focused on the via Flaminia and the work that Ashby and BSR award-holder, R.A.L. Fell, did together on the road in 1920-21. But the via Flaminia has emerged as a perfect example of Ashby’s wider methodology and his collaboration with others. Ashby’s via Flaminia project straddled the pre and post WWI years of the BSR’s history. The archive material reveals a changing attitude to life and work at the BSR in the early 1920s­, when research on the road was being finalised. Student files held in the archives also reveal the intensely collaborative environment at the BSR amongst artists, architects and archaeologists in this same period. The number of current and previous scholars and friends of the BSR who were involved in Ashby’s publication on the via Flaminia exemplifies this. Indeed, the fascinating and talented group of scholars at the BSR in the early 1920’s deserves to be treated as a separate topic entirely (one that I hope to pursue in the near future).

Two of Ashby_s companions on the via Flaminia near Civita Castellana. Photo by Thomas Ashby.

Two of Ashby’s companions on the via Flaminia near Civita Castellana. It is likely that these men are Stephen Rowland-Pierce and Edward William Armstrong, the two architects who accompanied Ashby to this section of the via Flaminia to survey the valley of the river Treia (Courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive/Photo by Thomas Ashby).

Arnold J. Toynbee in Cesi as part of a tour of the via Flaminia and its surrounds in 1911-12. Ashby and Toynbee_s bikes are pictured in the background. Photo by Thomas Ashby.

Arnold J. Toynbee in Cesi as part of a tour of the via Flaminia and its surrounds in 1911-12. Ashby and Toynbee’s bikes are pictured in the background (Courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive/Photo by Thomas Ashby).

But let’s return to Thomas Ashby. He is a central figure in the history of Italy’s Roman roads and its changing landscape. J.B. Ward-Perkins, in his introduction to the 1970 edition of Ashby’s The Roman Campagna in Classical Times asked whether even then, almost fifty years on, we had ‘lost something of the capacity for direct personal observation which was at the root of all that Ashby did’. I think we have. Yet there is still something to be said for exploring roads and sites on foot as Ashby did; following a line of road or a faint track to see where it might lead. When used alongside modern scholarship and technology, there is no better way to investigate how an ancient road or monument has survived in its new, modern landscape. And this is exactly what Nicole Moffatt and I intend to do. With the aid of Ashby’s notes, correspondence and photographs, and with Ashby and Fell’s 1921 article as our guide, we will walk the via Flaminia from Rome to Rimini, documenting its new meaning and place in the 21st century.

The Arch of Augustus at the end of the via Flaminia in Rimini

The Arch of Augustus at the end of the via Flaminia in Rimini (Photos by Thomas Ashby (courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive) and Janet Wade).

nicole-and-janet-walking-along-the-via-flaminia-at-carsulae-near-san-gemini.jpg

Nicole and Janet walking along the via Flaminia at Carsulae, near San Gemini (Photo by Jeff Moffatt).

Janet Wade (BSR Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar 2017-18)

Profile photo of Janet by Antonio Palmieri.