This week, I’ve been concentrating on recruiting people to represent the key stakeholder user groups, and have had some very positive initial responses from teachers, lecturers and researchers. It’s very encouraging to see how interested people are in what we’re dong.

In terms of the world of virtual classical heritage, the big news this week was the unveiling of Virtual Rome by Google Earth.

The project, which started off as a collaboration between various universities (predominantly in the States) called Rome Reborn, has now been adapted by Google Earth to be suitable for open access on the internet. It’s a great project and it’ll be a very useful teaching tool. I teach a unit on the City of Rome and the hardest thing about it is to help students who aren’t able to come on the field trip to get a feel for the topography of the city and to be able to imagine moving around it rather than picturing it as a series of discrete, static monuments.

For our project, this is an interesting one to track because, like our Pompeii Court, this virtual model isn’t based so much on ‘original ruins’ (whatever they are – I took this rather odd phrase from one of the press reviews of the model) as the Mussolini model of Rome. And it’s also aimed at a wide audience and so contains different ‘layers’ of metadata.

But the project also raises yet again the problem of the virtual experience. It’s great to be navigating over the city and poking around its nooks and crannies but when was Rome ever empty, clean or relentlessly grey and red? Rome was (I guess) loud, smelly, colourful and cluttered. If you believe Juvenal (which you really probably shouldn’t), you couldn’t walk around town without being shoved, pushed, mugged or murdered. And it must have had the builders in constantly – tenements burnt down notoriously regularly, older buildings crumbled, ambitious men built extensions and poor men improvised with shacks. The answer to the lack of colour of this virtual Rome, I suspect, would be the pursuit of authenticity (or at least the avoidance of inauthenticity). We know Rome was coloured in but we don’t know quite how so let’s keep it monochrome to avoid getting it wrong. The Mussolini model is likewise monochrome – it’s pretty impressive but it looks a bit like a giant airfix model someone got bored of half way through. By contrast, colour was a huge issue at the Crystal Palace. Owen Jones, director of the Fine Arts Courts, was bolder and took the opportunity to paint the casts of ancient sculpture and architecture (it didn’t go down well. A lot of people didn’t/don’t like to think of Greeks and Romans splashing colour and even gold highlights on white marble. I wonder if the fear of distaste affected the decisions made by Google Earth?).  Of course, there’s bound to be a gap between virtuality and reality, but I really want, in our project, to think hard about how best to articulate that, and our Pompeii house being based on a model itself, I think, presents a great opportunity for discussing the limitations of but also celebrating the game of its artificiality.


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