Towards a Colla­bo­ra­tive Cultural Analysis of the City of Rome

21. June 2023

The Census project will parti­ci­pate in a work­shop at the Biblio­theca Hertziana between 26.6.2023 and 28.6.2023 on the topic of a colla­bo­ra­tive digital project focused on the city of Rome. Please see below for a descrip­tion of the confe­rence by the organisers:

The purpose of the work­shop is to explore the state-of-the-art and the joint emer­ging oppor­tu­ni­ties towards a perhaps radi­cally novel, colla­bo­ra­tive, and multi­di­sci­pli­nary under­stan­ding of the city of Rome, as imagined, repre­sented, and enacted in histo­rical sources and modern data.

Rele­vant mate­rials may include maps and topo­gra­phic records from the forma urbis to cell phone call-detail records, texts from medieval mira­bilia to ChatGPT, and images from Renais­sance drawings to millions of online tourist photos. The work­shop coin­cides with several large digi­tiza­tion projects at Biblio­theca Hertziana, inclu­ding the entire photo coll­ec­tion and the library’s Rome depart­ment, both among the most compre­hen­sive of their kind. Toge­ther with the avai­la­bi­lity of modern sensor and social media data, as well as recent methods of quan­ti­ta­tive aesthe­tics, network science, machine lear­ning, infor­ma­tion visua­liza­tion, etc., our goal is to jointly capture and harness an as-yet unpre­ce­dented set of opportunities.

The work­shop is convened by Prof. Dr. Maxi­mi­lian Schich, ERA Chair for Cultural Data Analy­tics at Tallinn Univer­sity and Witt­kower Fellow 2023/24 at Biblio­theca Hertziana (Max-Planck-Insti­tute for Art History), and Prof. Dr. Tristan Weddigen, Execu­tive Director, Biblio­theca Hertziana (Max-Planck-Insti­tute for Art History).


The study of the city of Rome occu­pies a perceivable percen­tage of publi­ca­tions in art history and clas­sical archaeo­logy. And yet, despite the exis­ting cornu­copia of mate­rials and rese­arch results, the topic remains extra­or­di­na­rily fruitful, as there is perhaps no other place on earth, which has been covered by visual and topo­gra­phic docu­men­ta­tion in compa­rable depth, breadth, and over such a long time. Nowhere else, it seems, is it possible to study the evolu­tion of urban struc­ture, and of the asso­ciated graphical conven­tions, with similar consis­tency and density. The number of detailed, more or less inde­pendently produced city maps and synoptic city views, as produced since 1300 CE, some examples going back to Roman anti­quity, is in the hundreds; guide­books since the medieval ages are in the thou­sands; histo­rical drawings since the early Renais­sance and histo­rical photo­graphs since the 19th century are in the tens or hundreds of thou­sands; and tourist photos from recent decades, as available online, are in the millions. To this one may add that Rome is also well docu­mented and studied using much more recent indi­ca­tors, such as the “honest signals” of modern sensor data under­lying the new science of cities, the study of human mobi­lity, or more broadly compu­ta­tional social science.

Seizing the occa­sion, we are convening two work­shops at Biblio­theca Hertziana, one in June 2023 and another in June 2024, brin­ging toge­ther a broad range of rele­vant experts, to explore the shared oppor­tu­nity space towards a novel colla­bo­ra­tive cultural analysis of the city of Rome. The specific purpose of the first work­shop is to estab­lish and mutually under­stand what has been done, what is available, and what are the exci­ting rese­arch chal­lenges, posed and enabled by the exis­ting mate­rial. The second work­shop, one year later, ideally func­tions to summa­rize a number of initial proofs of concept, feeding into a joint publi­ca­tion, such as an article coll­ec­tion, that can serve as a scho­larly rigo­rous yet also a visually striking point of refe­rence for a whole new gene­ra­tion of rese­ar­chers into the city of Rome.

Both work­shops, 2023 and 2024, aim to combine tradi­tional art histo­rical exper­tise and the pionee­ring and long-ongoing work in compu­ta­tional art history as estab­lished at Biblio­theca Hertziana, with newly emer­ging methods of multi­di­sci­pli­nary science, cove­ring or harnes­sing cultural comple­xity, cultural evolu­tion, socio­cul­tural network analysis, quan­ti­ta­tive aesthe­tics, computer vision, and gene­ra­tive machine lear­ning models. The full poten­tial of this combi­na­tion goes beyond “more of the same”, such as the recon­s­truc­tion of another three-dimen­sional topo­gra­phical model, enri­ched with histo­rical layers and meta­data. In parti­cular, joint or reso­nant work may for example entail multi­di­men­sional carto­graphy and even­tually deeper under­stan­ding of the evol­ving, visual and concep­tual meaning spaces that emerge from the large amount and hete­ro­gen­eity of the available sources, as for example arising through know­ledge graph carto­graphy, or via embed­dings using machine lear­ning or compres­sion ensem­bles. In other words: We can aim for a compre­hen­sive under­stan­ding, not just recon­s­truc­ting the city of Rome through time in 3D, but of the cultural evolu­tion of coll­ec­tive and indi­vi­dual imagi­na­tions of Rome in all their emer­ging comple­xity. As such, the joint oppor­tu­nity also aims beyond further insti­tu­tional centra­liza­tion in the sense of a single coherent time machine, towards a diverse ecology of perspec­tives, a demo­cra­tiza­tion of data access, and an acce­le­ra­tion of under­stan­ding of Rome in parti­cular and socio-cultural dyna­mics in cities more generally.


Monday, June 26

Tristan Weddigen, Biblio­theca Hertziana (BHMPI)

Maxi­mi­lian Schich, CUDAN, Tallinn University

Thomas Hänsli, Swiss Art Rese­arch Infra­struc­ture (SARI), Univer­sity of Zurich / ETH Zurich
Topo­gra­phia Helve­tica: Visua­li­sing the ‘“voyages pitto­res­ques’” as Histo­rical (and Archival) Landscapes

Florian Kräutli, SARI, Univer­sity of Zurich
Linked Views of the Past: Mapping Digital Coll­ec­tions through Computer Vision and Crowd Intel­li­gence [remote]

15:15–15:40 Break

Georg Schel­bert, Humboldt-Univer­sität zu Berlin
The Utopia of a Rese­arch Plat­form for the City of Cities

Leonardo Impett, Cambridge Digital Huma­ni­ties, Univer­sity of Cambridge
Digital Art History and Critical Machine Vision: Reading Very Large Visual Cultural Data

General discussion
How to Define the Joint Oppor­tu­nity Space for a Novel Colla­bo­ra­tive Analysis of Rome?

Tuesday, June 27

Ales­sandro Adamou, DH Lab, BHMPI
Using Know­ledge Graphs to Revi­ta­lize Art Histo­rical Legacy Projects

Pietro Liuzzo, DH Lab, BHMPI
Photo Coll­ec­tion Data as Graph? Connec­ting with Data­bases of Inscrip­tions from Rome

Klaus Werner, DH Lab, BHMPI
Adding Geos­pa­tial Rela­tions to the GND ID of the Hertziana Library and Photo­gra­phic Collection

Martin Raspe, DH Lab, BHMPI
Anno­tated Digital Historic Maps as Entry Points and Visua­liza­tion Tools

10:40–11:05 Break

Mar Canet Sola, CUDAN, Tallinn University
Complex Dyna­mics from Simple Meta­data: Artist Coll­ec­tion Lag in Museums

Guido Calda­relli, Univer­sità Ca’ Foscari, Venice
Network Graphs from Archival Data

11:55–13:00 Discus­sion
General discussion
From Know­ledge Graphs to a Network Analysis of Rome?

13:00–14:00 Lunch break

Andres Karjus, CUDAN, Tallinn University
Compres­sion Ensem­bles to Disam­bi­guate Visual Family Resemblance

Valen­tine Bernas­coni, Digital Visual Studies (DVS), Univer­sity of Zurich
A Compu­ta­tional Art History of Pose and Gestures

Jose Balles­teros Zapata, DVS, Univer­sity of Zurich
Deco­ding the Expres­sion of Light with Machine Learning

15:15–15:40 Break

Ludo­vica Schaerf, DVS, Univer­sity of Zurich
Towards a Critical Visual Theory of Latent Space

Till­mann Ohm, CUDAN, Tallinn University
The Coll­ec­tion Space Navigator

16:30–17:30 Discus­sion
General discussion

From Multi­di­men­sional Embed­dings to a Meaning Space Analysis of Rome?

Wednesday, June 28

Giorgia Agos­tini, Univer­sity of Florence & Univer­sity of Pisa
Enco­ding Rome: Metho­do­lo­gical Approa­ches for the Ligorio Digi­tale Platform

Elisa Bastia­nello, DH Lab, BHMPI
Ligorio Digi­tale and Travel Lite­ra­tures: Sources in the Era of Neural Transcriptions

Kath­leen Chris­tian, CENSUS, Humboldt-Univer­sität zu Berlin
The Census of Antique Works of Art and Archi­tec­ture known in the Renais­sance: an update on the data­base in 2023

Ksenia Mukhina, CUDAN, Tallinn University
Lear­ning Geo-socio-visual Atten­tion Patterns in Cities and Museums

10:40–11:05 Break

Yan Asadchy, CUDAN, Tallinn University
Inequa­lity in Cultural Points of Inte­rest Based on Smart­phone Data

Darío Negu­eruela del Castillo, Iacopo Neri, DVS, Univer­sity of Zurich
On the Urba­nity of Images

Jason Armi­tage, DVS, Univer­sity of Zurich
Embo­died Cogni­tion in Virtual Environments

Petter Holme, Computer Science, Aalto University
Social Physics and Urban Dynamics

Final discussion
What’s Next? Joint Chal­lenges for a Multi­di­sci­pli­nary Cultural Analysis of Rome?