Digital Roman Campagna Project: linking past and present

The VisLab1 display wall at La Trobe University

Roman Campagna map

Dr Lisa Beaven

The Digital Roman Campagna Mapping Project aims to produce a layered digital map of the Roman Campagna (the countryside around Rome) by digitalising three historical maps of the Roman Campagna at high resolution. The intention is to use a template, like Google Earth, to establish key co-ordinates. The individual maps will then be knitted together in separate layers, so that the end product will have a certain degree of interactivity, such as touch functionality and portals that can be accessed to lead to visual and written information.

The first areas to be mapped are likely to be small townships and hamlets in the Roman Campagna, as well as ports such as Ostia and Portus. The aim is to design the map in such a way that information in the form of text, photos or three-dimensional models can be incorporated into the map, and routes can be traced through it.

The maps

The three maps, Giovanni Battista Cingolani della Pergola’s Topografia Geometrica dell’Agro Romano (1704), Giacomo Filippo Ameti’s Il Lazio con le sue conspicue Strade (1693) and F. Ch. L. Sickler’s Plan Topographique de la Campagne de Rome (1811) are all held by the British School at Rome Library. They were once the property of Thomas Ashby, who built up a remarkable collection of topographical material relating to the Roman Campagna.

So far, two of the maps have been digitalised: Cingolani (1704) and Ameti (1693). This has been achieved with the assistance of the German Hertziana library in Rome, which has provided the equipment and scanned the maps in exchange for a copy of each.

Dr Lisa Beaven and Dr Richard Collmann take a closer look at one of the digitalised maps

Roman campagna with people

The British School at Rome and La Trobe University are partners in this project .Ultimately, the digitalised version of the map will be made available to the general public on the La Trobe University website, with a link provided on the British School at Rome Library website. VeRSI has provided invaluable technical expertise, advice and assistance, enabling the project to develop considerably.

Further potential

The project has the potential to be taken much further than it has to date. It could function as a multi-disciplinary online research resource to which individual scholars could add data in the form of archaeological information, demographic statistics, visual imagery and route information, depending on their specialist interest. For example, the reach of malaria in the early modern period could be plotted on the map using archival resources of various confraternities, who collected the bodies of malarial victims.

Potentially, the maps could also be used as a portal to promote the research interests of the British School at Rome, as many of its research projects, such as the Tiber Valley Mapping Project or the Portus project, are also located within the geographical confines of the Roman Campagna. It might be possible to use the map as a way of summarising the findings of these major research projects. If successful, it could become an open-ended resource, so that other scholars with specialist interests in other time periods, such as classical Rome, could add to the map and develop it further.

The British School at Rome Library also hosts significant photographic archives of the Roman Campagna, such as the Mackay and Ashby collections, some of which have been already digitalised with the financial assistance of the Getty Research Institute. As many of these are well catalogued, it might be possible to link these digital photographs with sites on the digital map, so that users can click on certain places in the Campagna and view the digital images relating to that location.

Already, an important initial outcome of the project is that the Ameti map has been restored and was immediately requested for an exhibition in Brindisi, Italy, suggesting that there is widespread Italian interest in these historical maps of the early modern period.

 

Partners: La Trobe University (Dr Lisa Beaven, Art History Program, and Dr Mark Kosten, eResearch Office) and The British School at Rome (Professor Christopher Smith, Director, and Valerie Scott, Head Library); Victorian E-Research Strategic Initiative (Dr Ann Borda, Director, Chris Myers, Program Director, Dr Richard Collmann, Senior Researcher, Kieran Spear, Software Engineer)

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