New digital archive showcases historical images of Rome

A team including Stanford researchers created a new digital archive to study Rome’s transformation over the centuries.

An 18th-century painting of the Colosseum by Francis Towne is part of the collection. (Image credit: Courtesy Istituto Nazionale di Archeologia e Storia dell’Arte)

The exhibit, which went online in the spring, consists of almost 4,000 digitized drawings, prints, photographs and sketches of historic Rome from the 16th to 20th centuries. The pieces were collected by renowned Roman archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani, who sought to document the entire history of Rome’s archeology up to the end of the 19th century.

“Rome is a layered city,” said Erik Steiner, co-director of the Spatial History Project at Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA). “To be able to see that history you need to look through those layers, and this collection helps that process.”

The archive is a culmination of a two-year collaboration among CESTA, the Stanford University Libraries, University of Oregon, Dartmouth College and the Italian government.

“This is part of our long-term ambition to bring one of the most documented cities in the world to the digital age,” Steiner said. “The project marries intense scholarly interest in Rome with best practices and tools built by the Stanford Libraries.”

An isolated treasure

After Lanciani’s death in 1929, his library, which contains more than 21,000 items, was sold to the Istituto Nazionale di Archeologia e Storia dell’Arte (Italy’s National Institute of Archaeology and Art History) in Rome.

Archaeologists, historians, architects and other researchers who study ancient cities have used the collection to glean valuable information about Rome’s history and structure.

“These materials are very important and have been used by many different scholars, but access to them is quite limited,” said Roman archaeologist Giovanni Svevo, who also worked on…

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