Beyond the Past: sponsoring cultural heritage in Rome

marforioThe other day, as I viewed the new exhibit, L’eta’ dell’equilibrio, in the Capi­to­line Muse­ums, I pleas­antly came across the ongo­ing con­ser­va­tion project of the Mar­forio statue in the court­yard of the Brac­cio Nuovo.   The colos­sal, reclin­ing river god became one of Rome’s most famous “talk­ing stat­ues” and was located in the Roman Forum before being trans­ferred to the Capi­to­line Hill.

The spon­sor is Swarovski, and its 100,000 euro con­tri­bu­tion rep­re­sents a new phe­nom­e­non that Con­tinue read­ing

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Digging through time

There is so much talk in the news– you can’t escape it– about the many hot new online edu­ca­tional sites.  These  include courses listed by uni­ver­si­ties (for exam­ple Yale and Stan­ford),  MITx, edX, Udac­ity, Cours­era, and TED lec­tures. but prob­a­bly none is hot­ter Khan Acad­emy, recently part­nered with SmartHis­tory, run by Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Har­ris.   After cor­re­spond­ing with them  on Twit­ter, I had the good for­tune to meet with them this past July and become a con­trib­u­tor for SmartHis­tory, Con­tinue read­ing

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Caligula: 1400 Days of Terror

Photo source:

Caligula: 1400 Days of Ter­ror has aired in the US on Octo­ber 9 and will air in Italy on Octo­ber 28.  I had a lot of fun film­ing this doc­u­men­tary in Rome and Her­cu­la­neum, and am proud to be part of a great group which includes col­leagues here in Rome: Valerie Hig­gins, Gabriel Radle and Katie Parla.

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Living History in Rome day by day

Liv­ing in Rome has proved to be an excit­ing adven­ture over the past 20 years, more inter­est­ing than I could have imag­ined. Now, as the sum­mer sea­son is upon us– with sev­eral over­lap­ping pro­grams and a slew of doc­u­men­taries to film– I can’t help but reflect on the many ways I get to live his­tory daily in Rome.

Latin dead? Con­tinue read­ing

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Hadrian’s Villa and the proposed landfill– the straw that broke the camel’s back

The shock­ing deci­sion to cre­ate a mas­sive land­fill within a few hun­dred meters of Hadrian’s Villa, one of most well known, impor­tant cul­tural her­itage sites in the world is, to say the least, aston­ish­ing.  Con­tinue read­ing

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Dangerous Cocktail — snow, freezing pigeons, excited crowds don’t mix

Still cold here in Rome, but the snow will fade soon into the back­ground of everyone’s mem­ory.  So just a fol­low up from the lovely walks around the cen­tro the past 2 week­ends.  For a refresher, check out these images from Feb­ru­ary 3 and Con­tinue read­ing

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Snow makes ancient Rome into Winter Wonderland

Feb­ru­ary 3 and 4, 2012 have been really spe­cial days.  After the snow­fall in 2010, I didn’t think we’d get so lucky with a real dump again so soon.  Sure, it made life a bit tricky with the traf­fic but liv­ing in the cen­ter I was able to enjoy our loca­tion to the utmost and get around with­out a real commute.

Con­tinue read­ing

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(Why Not) Study in Rome?

Trick ques­tion.

view of the Pala­tine hill over­look­ing the Roman Forum

There is no city like Rome in the world– don’t get me started– that offers so much to so many dis­ci­plines span­ning so many time peri­ods, dur­ing which the city was either cap­i­tal of an empire or cen­ter of a major reli­gion. In both cases, both “empires” that form layer upon city to con­sti­tute the city’s rich fab­ric influ­enced west­ern civ­i­liza­tion is so many ways.  What was left behind, from ancient (Tes­tac­cio) and medieval garbage dumps (e.g. Mon­tecito­rio) to hulk­ing ruinous pala­tial struc­tures that encom­pass the entirety of the Pala­tine hill, in turn cov­ered by Renais­sance gar­dens and vine­yards, is a tes­ta­ment to the great­ness of Rome.


Today, beyond the clas­sics and study of the his­tory of art and archi­tec­ture, what does Rome offer? Plenty– a ver­i­ta­ble feast for the eyes of the stu­dent of graphic design, media/ com­mu­ni­ca­tions, jour­nal­ism (travel, pol­i­tics, cul­ture), stu­dio art, architecture-landscape-urban design, reli­gious stud­ies, anthro­pol­ogy, geology/ vol­canol­ogy (think about it, the hills of Rome are the accu­mu­la­tion of ash dumped by vol­canic erup­tions of times past).  Stu­dents that study in Rome  at the Amer­i­can Insti­tute for Roman Cul­ture do not just con­front col­lec­tions and see the sites but also, thanks for AIRC’s vast and var­ied con­nec­tions and rela­tion­ships with city and national author­i­ties (e.g. Min­istry of Cul­ture, super­in­ten­den­cies) entry into a world of one-of-a-kind expe­ri­ences, meet­ing with experts, see­ing their projects, and par­tic­i­pat­ing.   That is what we do best; that is why I am here.  A quick exam­ple is film­ing his­tory– a fan­tas­tic way to engage cul­ture. Another is writ­ing about Rome, but only after gain­ing access to a site being inau­gu­rated or speak­ing with some of the top Ital­ian and for­eign jour­nal­ists that reside here.  That’s the dif­fer­ence, not to men­tion our ongo­ing AIRC exca­va­tion, con­ser­va­tion project, annual con­fer­ence in cul­tural her­itage, and video pro­duc­tion, all of which cre­ate a web of related expe­ri­ences for stu­dents in love with Rome, Ital­ian cul­ture, and engag­ing the past in the con­tem­po­rary city.

The list goes on.  What we’ve done in our new pro­grams at the Amer­i­can Insti­tute for Roman Cul­ture is pro­mote and fos­ter expe­ri­ences in Rome’s rich her­itage cul­ture that allow study abroad stu­dents dig deeper– engag­ing the past for their own con­tem­po­rary endeav­ors.  In col­lo­quial Latinfilm, jour­nal­ism, ancient Rome and its art and archi­tec­ture, or for those with advanced back­ground in clas­sics, push­ing the lim­its on a more in-depth level.  Or even allow­ing you to roll up your sleeves and exca­vate with us at Ostia Antica (with lim­ited inter­ven­tion trenches)- a unique expe­ri­ence, in and of itself, to which we marry a related con­ser­va­tion project at Ostia. (For the project, just see this teaser video.)  Talk about a full cir­cle sus­tain­abil­ity project. If archae­ol­ogy is destruc­tion of the archae­o­log­i­cal record (thor­oughly doc­u­mented, of course), what more ful­fill­ing expe­ri­ence for archae­ol­ogy stu­dents than have them fin­ish the sea­son with com­plet­ing a con­ser­va­tion project for the improve­ment of Ostia!  And don’t take my word for it; our pro­grams direc­tor sums it up best here.

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Filming the past: conservation matters

What role does video have in cul­tural her­itage preser­va­tion?  Quite a lot, I’d have to say.   One thing to keep in mind is that video is a pretty cheap medium (e.g., HD video cam­eras and a tri­pod).  So, to get more bang for your buck, a video can say a lot about your her­itage project and reach a wider audi­ence than just an aca­d­e­mic paper or pre­sen­ta­tion.  If a pic­ture is worth a 1000 words, what is a good video worth?  Quite a bit more.  You can gain access into the trenches (lit­er­ally) and explore the ins and outs with the direc­tors, who are con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing the issues at hand, finds dis­cov­ered, and pro­vid­ing a view first­hand of the con­ser­va­tion issues.  This is not just reach­ing the indi­vid­ual but the mass audi­ence inter­ested in cul­tural her­itage, and it’s that large audi­ence that will have a great impact on the even­tual preser­va­tion of the site.  And the video is not meant to replace the great sci­en­tific work con­ducted but to enhance it and gar­ner more inter­est and sup­port in the given project.  Cul­tural her­itage is meant to be seen and expe­ri­enced, not so eas­ily con­veyed with words and pho­tos. (Just see our recent videos for Fas­tiON­LINE. )

I was pleased to present on Novem­ber 26  “Pod­cast­ing cul­ture: the role of video in her­itage preser­va­tion” with my AIRC col­league Alberto Pri­eto at the recent AUR and BSR-hosted con­fer­ence “Our Future’s Past”,  a conservation/ cul­tural her­itage con­fer­ence in Rome, a 3-day con­fer­ence in Rome.  Among oth­ers were col­leagues from many dis­ci­plines (busi­ness, tourism, con­ser­va­tion, archae­ol­ogy, etc.):  the British School of Rome, most par­tic­u­larly, the Her­cu­la­neum Con­ser­va­tion Project, ICCROM (head­quar­ted in Rome), World Mon­u­ments Fund, and other indi­vid­u­als, such as Jes­sica Stew­art (Con­text Rome), Lau­rie Rush (Dpt. of Defense) who pre­sented at our last year’s Unlisted Con­fer­ence.

I’ll post a video of our pre­sen­ta­tion in the com­ing week!

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Mad for Caligula

Time for a look at the 12 Cae­sars again– one in par­tic­u­lar– Caligula, though it’s hard to beat Sue­to­nius’ account and Michael Graves’.  Part of the fas­ci­na­tion with this Roman emperor is from pre­vi­ous “clas­sic” films (i.e., Caligula, I Claudius) and part from his some­what enig­matic (not much remains of his actions in the archae­o­log­i­cal record) and out­ra­geous, brief reign (37–41).  I’ve cov­ered Gaius (as he was prop­erly known) before in Ancients Behav­ing Badly (His­tory Chan­nel– Blink pro­duc­tions), a riff on antiquity’s worst rulers, but there’s so much more to say– and I was glad when North­South Pro­duc­tions con­tacted me about the two hour spe­cial they are pro­duc­ing for His­tory Channel.


Of course a  good area to start is the Roman Forum– and place dear to my heart– with our past dig– though the true expert on site of the “Domus Gai” (Caligula’s noto­ri­ous pad) is Henry Hurst of Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity (recently retired) whom I hap­pily ran into a few days ago in Campo de’ Fiori.  Our work (exca­va­tion: post aedem Cas­toris with col­leagues from clas­sics depart­ments at Stan­ford and Oxford) near Hurst’s site did launch AIRC and its even­tual study abroad pro­gram, and for­mal­ized our rela­tion­ship with the Ital­ian soprint­en­dency and Min­istry of Cul­ture.  So we owe a lot to the domi­cile of Caligula. Our work revealed, in con­junc­tion with Hurst’s study, that the pro­ject­ing struc­tures under the Domi­tianic por­tico of the so-called Augusteum/ library com­plex did indeed come very close to the back end of the Cas­tors’ tem­ple. Among bonuses to the dig were the remains of 7th cen­tury BC hous­ing! Need­less to say there are few places in the world with the com­plex­ity of the Forum’s stratigraphy!

So, it was a nice pro­duc­tion this Novem­ber– with film­ing on the Pala­tine, as well as a full day at Her­cu­la­neum, a beau­ti­ful set­ting for dis­cussing antiq­uity, espe­cially after the con­clu­sion of the Her­cu­la­neum Con­ser­va­tion Project.   I was pleased that a fel­low local Roman– Katie Parla is also in the pro­duc­tion, film­ing in Poz­zuoli. Looks like a great show– due out this spring!

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