From Belgica to Baghdad, RU Classics digital project nears end

And for yet another unique Rutgers Classics resource…a five year teaching initiative on the visual culture of the ancient world. This project started in 2003 and is now nearing completion.

Here RU Classics has transformed its collection of 16000 35mm slides and almost 1000 lantern slides into archival quality digital images ready for use by faculty and students in Powerpoint or web-based presentations.

Above: sorting pottery from the Stoa Gutter Well of the Athenian Agora excavations

These images include all aspects of material culture in antiquity. The Rutgers Classics digital collection is awash in vase paintings, landscapes, murals, statues, and monuments from prehistoric to early medieval periods. The regions represented stretch from ancient Britain to Egypt and Spain to Afghanistan, with a focus on the Mediterranean basin. Since the images reflect the work of many decades, they often provide distinctive views and diagrams of archaeological sites before and after reconstruction processes

The bulk of these slides represent on-site, original photographs by scholars such as Rutgers professores emeriti Jack Cargill (History) and Christoph Clairmont (Classics), or longtime University of Michigan professor and (later) ACLS president John D’Arms.

There are several sub-collections, ranging from a large group of glass lantern slides dating to the 1920s and 1930s, to an unusually valuable set of photos of inscriptions honoring Roman medical women, compiled by Zoë Perkins (Bryn Mawr ’97). The basic metadata markup for all the Rutgers Classics digital holdings will be complete by October 2008.

Above, tombstone of a medica from Metz, probably 1st century AD (CIL 13.4334) INI FIL MEDICA

Some of the most striking items in the collection are images of Israel, Iraq and Iran taken by Christoph Clairmont in the 1950s and 1960s.

Above: pottery in the Baghdad Museum, photographed probably in the mid-1950s.

And here is the really exciting bit.

In March 2003 Classics and the Rutgers University Library Technical Services Department worked quickly to gather original images of artifacts from the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad, photographed more than forty years previous by Clairmont, for display and reference. Any number of similar images taken at Iraqi regional museums, which suffered greatly even in the 1991 Gulf War, also reside digitized in the RU Classics Department.

Admittedly, the Baghdad photographs don’t really catch the eye; for that, poor on-site photoprocessing is probably to blame. But they have a real value in that they preserve images of some objects now presumed lost, often in their context in the original museum displays.

The Rutgers University Academic Excellence Fund and Harvard University Loeb Classical Foundation generously funded this project. Taylor Photo of Princeton NJ handled the scanning of almost all items, expertly working its way through the many technical issues involved. This fall Rutgers undergraduate Metaxia Drakopoulos (class of 2010) enters her second year as project coordinator.

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