My Website

My Website

This is my website on roman insulae (apartments), based on research for ARTH 699: Roman Topography. The purpose of this site is to conceptualize what the city of Rome looked like in regards to housing and community development. By synthesizing primary source documents, archaeological evidence, and scholarship I hope to provide a comprehensive examination of insulae and ultimately assist in the visual reconstruction of the city. There are two issues that will be addressed throughout this site; firstly, the definition of the term insula. By examining the traditional definition of the term insula along with contradictions and controversies in scholarship about various interpretations of the word, I hope to provide a comprehensive definition of what an insula is. The second topic I will address is the topographical locations of insulae in Imperial Rome. By mapping approximate locations of insulae based on textual and physical evidence and graphing the results of the Regionary Catalogs from the 4th century, I can then locate housing clusters and population dense areas within the regions of Rome. From my research it seems clear that housing was clustered around political and economic centers of Rome; meaning that public, private, civic, and religious spaces were mixed together, which lends credence to the argument made by other scholars that Rome was comprised of small neighborhoods within the fourteen regions.

Since information on insulae in Rome is scarce, I thought that the best way to locate them was to start mapping approximate locations of insulae. I thought that visually representing the information would perhaps provide a new way of looking at the data and reveal something new, and I believe the insula density map that I made does just that. By calculating square mileage in each region compared to the quantity of insulae, I was able to reveal insulae dense areas and thus population dense areas. I would like to apply this information to a map but I’m not sure how to do that (I guess this is where collaboration comes in). I used imaps builder, but it does not work that well, and arcGIS would not let me upload a custom map. It seems that there is no good mapping software out there that is relevant to pre-modern historians who need to upload custom maps so that they can work with past topographical features. Other than using photoshop, I’m not sure what my other options are, and my photoshop trial just expired…


Teaching History

History education at a primary school level and undergraduate level prioritizes the memorization and regurgitation of facts, and although some educators are very skilled at encouraging critical thinking of texts, history teachers often fail to explain the significance and relevance of studying history to children and young adults. In this way I can’t help but feel that history education in this country is hitting the target but missing the point. We should be encouraging discourse among students rather than the regurgitation of facts. After reading Dr. Kelly’s book, Teaching History in the Digital Age, I was inspired to look up theories on education, so I watched a few TED talks.


Charles Leadbeater discussed in his TED talk that education shouldn’t be an academic analytical activity but something productive; it should be relevant and have an immediate payoff. 


Ken Robinson encourages students to be creative and follow passions rather than be good workers and linear thinkers. He explains that there are different types of intelligence and we need to stop prioritizing academic analysis and start encouraging individual talents.


Ramsay Musallam, a Chemistry teacher, provided three rules he follows to spark learning:

  1. Curiosity comes first. Questions can be windows to great instruction but not the other way around.
  2. Embrace the mess. You don’t always have to follow taught methodologies; trial and error is ok.
  3. Practice reflection. We can revise education and create new paradigms for educators as cultivators of curiosity and inquiry rather than disseminators of information.


What I have come away with is that history education desperately needs to change. We should be encouraging students to be productive, curious, and creative. Writing is still essential to the way we learn history, but “students need a diversity of writing experiences” (Kelly, chapter 4).  Actively participating in historical practice and discourse may provide more practical skills with immediate payoffs rather than solely expecting students to write essays. Having students write blogs, create websites, enter information into databases, make maps, connect with local historical societies, and edit Wikipedia articles helps diversify our writing styles and interact and think about content in various ways. An additional benefit is that the experiences gained and skills learned through these activities may actually be more applicable in the job market.


More importantly we need to be able to communicate the benefits of studying history. We are often forced to memorize the names of great people throughout history, which idolizes and elevates these individuals above the everyday person, but instead I propose that we teach about people doing great things. In this way history is not only about creating national identities, teaching moral lessons, and analyzing change over time, but an inspirational force. It teaches us that individuals can make a difference and that no one was born into greatness. Well, I hope you enjoyed my idealized ramblings.

Topic Proposal

For HIST 696:

I would like to hear more about writing history on the web and how to write academic articles and blogs for a broader audience. We have talked about open access publishing, but have neither addressed how these articles should be formatted nor if writing styles need to be adjusted to be more concise. Due to hypertextuality, articles would need to be able to grab the attention of the viewer, which implies that historians would need to be able to succinctly make their arguments. This creates a disparity between the writing styles for academic journals and the web, yet historians are typically taught and encouraged to write lengthy books and journal articles while digital media is ignored.

Suggested Readings:

“Web History Publishing,” (2012)


Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty, Writing History in the Digital Age,;c=dh;idno=12230987.0001.001;rgn=full%20text;view=toc;xc=1;g=dculture (2013)


Joe Essid, “Effective Academic Blogging,”


Big Data and Distant Reading

Franco Moretti, a Stanford University professor of literature, was concerned that we will never have enough time to read through all the books and data that is available to us. He came up with a solution: don’t read them. The technique he recommends using is called ‘distant reading,’ it uses algorithms to sort through big data and pull relevant search results. By using this technique we must abandon close reading because we will never be able to read everything so we either skim or look at broad trends and avoid reading at all. He recommends creating maps, graphs, and trees to visually represent the trends, in his examples he charts the rise and fall of book production in various countries. The genre of books is inconsequential so you avoid the need to read the books at all. He seems to put more emphasis on larger trends than individual contributions. This has its merits since we can explain the causality of new movements and place revolutionary thought into a broader context. As Fernand Braudel would argue, looking at the individual in history is looking at chaos and uncertainty, but looking at the collective provides simplicity and order.


This of course also has its dangers, what if by abandoning close reading we are eliminating the human element from history and are missing underlying causes for events that may be the result of individual actions and personal experience. I am also concerned that big data is more applicable to born-digital material, since images and primary sources need to be scanned. It seems that we are privileging technologically advanced countries, or at least the interests of these countries, since big data within the humanities is dependent upon someone taking the time to scan documents and create algorithms to search databases and/or the internet.

Web Tool Proposal: Art Override


Art Override is a web app designed to replace advertisements in a web browser with images of paintings and sculptures from museums and art galleries. Art institutions would need to be willing to participate in the project and then the education and marketing departments within galleries and museums would collaborate and submit art works they would like to represent their institutions. These artworks would need to be submitted in accordance with set sizing guidelines so that the app requires minimal upkeep as the art institutions themselves are doing the majority of work. Art Override is interactive and educational in that when you hover over an image a box would pop up over the image displaying information on the artwork, and if you click on the image it redirects the user to the institution’s website that houses that particular art piece. Algorithms, similar to those used by Google, would ensure that the art being displayed on an individual’s screen is a reflection of their personal searches and preferences. Since Art Override permits museums and galleries to join, it would allow the propagation of not only historical pieces but contemporary art as well, increasing the overall awareness of historical stylistic genres and avant garde movements within the current art culture. Art Override would provide a mode of public outreach for museums and galleries that would enhance the dissemination of art, public education, museum marketing, and museum attendance.

Where the Maps At?

Throughout my studies and research pursuits I have always been intrigued by the way populations have interacted with their surroundings. Whether I’m researching architectural history and studying the way inhabitants and guests interact and move through rooms, or attempting to explain regional differences in ancient coinage, I have on multiple occasions thought to myself that all I needed was a good map so that I could visually represent my arguments. I have always been a visual learner and after reading this week’s articles I have finally realized what it is I have been doing all along, spatial history. Depicting data digitally through mapping systems would be the best way that I could present my data that normally would be, as Richard White says, “too opaque or too unwieldy to use without computers.”

Brian Sarnacki in his blog post quotes David Stanley as saying that “visualizations cannot be simply an ‘add on,’ but need to be a fundamental part of the research project from the beginning.” I fully agree with this since I often find it difficult to narrate changes over time without the use of visual aids. Of course, practicing art history I usually always have visual aids. However, I have had difficulties in the past finding decent maps on which to input data that would sufficiently represent my arguments and narrations.

Preserving Digital Visual Culture

After the class discussion tonight about digitally collecting oral histories and photographs to be included in born-digital archives, I was thinking of how this would be applied to art history. Could we convince artists to submit their work to online archives for preservation? The born-digital archives of art could include digitally produced art, graphic design, video games, advertisements, online magazines, web comics, and anything else that is representative of visual culture. We could also preserve through photography or video recordings interactive art exhibits, performance art, and psychogeographic art; all of which are dependent upon the interaction between the artwork and the environment and/or the audience. But when compared to preserving text, there are additional complications with archiving digital art and digitally recorded art. Would we need the artist’s permission in instances where the artist is anonymous and the work has been submitted by someone else (I’m especially thinking of psychogeography)? Also, entries would most likely need descriptions of the context in which the art was originally displayed, the intended audience, the artist’s intent, and possibly people’s reactions. New media art can sometimes only exist within a specific location or context and when removed loses its original meaning, thus it seems that when preserving this art almost every entry would need an accompanying detailed description of the location and purpose for which it was created, which results in more work for the archivist.

This may be a daunting task full of complications, but one that I think is possible. While it may currently seem that these archives are nonexistent, Rhizome ArtBase is one such archive that preserves digitally produced art and categorizes it by themes. Every artwork includes an interpretation and, in some cases, an artist’s statement about the purpose and inspiration behind their work. Although there are undoubtedly cataloging issues that need to be addressed, there’s still time and opportunity for art historians to take an active role in preserving the present visual culture.