Historical position of the project
Since its initial rediscovery, the single greatest source of information for how Romans adorned their world has come from the site of Pompeii, especially from its rich and vivid corpus of wall paintings, mosaics, and sculptures. More than mere decor, the ancient world speaks to us through the wall paintings and other artworks of Pompeii both broadly and with striking immediacy. Innumerable aspects of Roman life are revealed in these objects: Roman appetites for food, sex, and mythologies, their identities as revelers, intellectuals, and professionals, and their practices of religion, politics, idyll, and idle. It was only after nearly half of the city was exposed, however, that in 1882 August Mau could collect a sufficiently large corpus of wall paintings to create his still canonical model of four styles of Roman wall painting. Yet, a crucial (and often overlooked) underpinning of his model was the attachment of these paintings to the architectures of different periods, a fact that permitted Mau to arrange his four styles chronologically.
Almost invisible to his scholarly work, but essential to it was another variety of architecture, an information architecture that allowed Mau’s research to be conducted, widely shared, and further refined. A generation before Mau, the Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli became superintendent of Pompeii and led his own revolution in archaeological practice. Despite the rigor he brought to fieldwork (e.g., stratigraphic excavation) and the wonder he brought to its results (e.g., body casts), the most important and enduring of Fiorelli’s innovations was the simplest: he gave an address to every building in Pompeii by dividing the city into nine roughly equal regions with their own individual city blocks (insula), each with its own sequence of doorways. In a single stroke, Fiorelli made it possible for every excavator, scholar, or visitor to discuss an unnamed building in the center of the city as IX 3, 2 and to know instantly where that building was: in Region IX, insula 3, at doorway 2. This system also became a de facto method of disambiguation, as the number of properties named the “House of the Gladiators” would proliferate over the centuries of excavation.
Mission of PALP
Four generations after Mau and five since Fiorelli, the scale of evidence at Pompeii has increased exponentially. Today, the city covers 170 acres comprising over 100 insulae with more than 1,000 individual buildings, 13,000 rooms, and 86,000 walls. Yet it is still the case that there is no single digital resource that allows this corpus to be searched, mapped, and displayed in an integrated environment that also allows for re-use of open-licensed and standards-based data. To meet the need for such a resource, PALP is working 1. to incorporate existing digital resources describing the architecture and art of Pompeii, 2. to make them individually discoverable and citable on the public internet, 3. to create new relationships between these entities using the principles of Linked Open Data (LOD), 4. to present these resources and relationships in a searchable and mapable environment based on the open source software Omeka S, and 5. to make all this data available for download under a Creative Commons Attributions (CC BY) license. Our work is premised on the observation that although our philosophy for reading artistic information remains sound and largely unchanged – that context reveals content – recent advances in our ability to manage the ever-increasing volume of both architectural and visual data means were are deeply underutilizing our resources. At the beginning of the 21st century, we find ourselves at an equivalent moment to the mid-19th century: we have a vast corpus of evidence for Roman art, but are in need of a dynamic information architecture to kindle and to fuel a conflagration of scholarly innovation and public appreciation. We have content, but we need context.