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The Urban Legacy of Ancient Rome Photographs from the Ernest Nash Fototeca Unione Collection

The Collection

This collection of approximately 1,300 exquisite photographs by Ernest Nash of the extant remains of ancient Rome was directly inspired by his monumental work, The Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Rome published in 1961. Six years earlier Nash had donated his collection of 3,135 negatives and 1,500 photographic prints to the Unione Internazionale degli Istituti di Archeologia, Storia e Storia dell'Arte in Roma, thus founding the Fototeca Unione collection at the American Academy in Rome. The photographs taken by Nash during his initial campaign, and years following, remain an essential photographic reference for archeological research to this day. In many cases, Nash's photographs capture the city's ancient structures as they were being unearthed at mid-century and serve as important historic documents in their own right. This online exhibit features an extensive selection from the Pictorial Dictionary and yet goes beyond by including important photographs by Nash that did not find their way into the original publication. These omissions, or rather limitations, of images in his published text are most likely due to constraints imposed by print technology, which made it difficult to update his offering in subsequent printings with photographs of contemporary excavations. Our intention here is to illustrate the wealth of his documentation using his entire oeuvre as a resource, an approach that we believe Nash himself would have approved and, indeed, might have realized had the technology been available. Through this exhibit we intend to honor Nash’s contribution to Roman studies and foster new research in this area to which he devoted his career. All photo negatives are housed in the Photographic Archive at the American Academy in Rome, his professional theatre and what one may call, his spiritual home base.

Geo-referencing Nash

Navigating the collection of several hundred objects spread throughout the complex urban landscape that is Rome is a challenging proposition. Geo-referencing (placing objects in correct geographic space) is one important enhancement included in this study that develops the larger theme embodied in "spatial history." Our belief is that by knowing the "where" of objects, understanding their contextual and spatial logic, one can facilitate a deeper understanding of the objects themselves and lead to a better understanding of the "connective tissue" that binds together events and places. The three maps revealed below show 1,286 objects noted as map pins in their correct geographic space, identified and ultimately placed through GIS software with accurate latitude and longitude metadata. The base maps offered as backdrops (allowing one to toggle back and forth between historic and contemporary cartography) includes the modern Open Street Map, satellite imaging and the masterful and extremely accurate 1748 Pianta Grande by G.B. Nolli. All three permit a "seek and find" function whereby clicking on a given pin will display the photo image(s) of that place along with explanatory information. The cartography thus becomes an alternative vehicle by which one can navigate the collection as a complement to the search and find mechanisms elsewhere.

Written by James Tice. Interactive map prepared by Giovanni Svevo.