Rome Comes Alive! Rich Media Enhancement of Course in Roman Civilization

This post is written by Barbette Spaeth, Associate Professor of Classical Studies.

The course CLCV 208, Roman Civilization, is a survey of Roman culture (history, archaeology, literature, society, etc.) from the founding of Rome to the age of Constantine (traditionally 753 BCE to 337 CE).  This course generally has about 100 students and is taught every spring.  I hope to make the study of ancient Rome more visual and experiential for the students in this course by incorporating video clips from documentaries and feature films on ancient Rome, as well as adding digital content, such as computerized reconstructions of ancient buildings and digital mapping of Roman sites.  With these enhancements, rather than just reading about ancient Rome and hearing me lecture on it, my students will see it “come alive” before their eyes.

In the past, when I taught this course, I showed some clips from videos, but the process was awkward and cumbersome, in that I had to advance the video or DVD to the correct spot in order to show the clip.  I tried to digitize video clips, but the then current technology required an inordinate amount of time to render the clip into a form that could be used in a Powerpoint presentation (about four hours for a four-minute clip!).  Now, with more advanced technology, I will be able easily to digitize the clips that I want to use.  This material will greatly enhance the learning experience for my students.  For example, when I teach about the fall of the Roman Republic and the establishment of the Empire, clips from such films as Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and excerpts from episodes of the HBO series Rome will help students visualize the people and events involved.  Here is a clip from HBO’s Rome that shows Caesar celebrating a triumph over the Gauls.

When we turn to Roman literature, clips from such films as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, based on the comedies of Plautus, and Fellini Satyricon, based on the novel by Petronius, will make these ancient literary works more accessible to students.  Here is a clip from Fellini Satyricon that shows the famous scene of the dinner at the house of the freedman Trimalchio.

Again, when I taught the course previously, I tried to incorporate some digital reconstructions of ancient Rome, but the software for this was still in its infancy.  For example, I developed a CD-ROM on ancient Pompeii that allowed students to examine the plans of houses and see descriptions and photographs of what had been found within each room.  Now, with elaborate digital reconstructions of ancient Roman buildings, such as those available in the Rome Reborn project, students are enabled to visualize these buildings much more completely.  Here, for example, is a “flyby” of a digital reconstruction of the center of ancient Rome from Rome Reborn.

I hope to incorporate some of these reconstructions into my lectures.  In addition, I hope to explore digital mapping of ancient Roman sites and incorporate some of this material into my course as well. Here, for example, is a digital mapping site showing Rome in the Augustan period (the late first century B.C.E.).

I would also like to involve students in creating their own digital reconstructions of ancient Rome, possibly through digital mapping, or some other type of software.  In the past, I have had students build their own Roman houses in the VROMA project, and I would like to explore other ways to involve them directly.

I plan to work with Paul Showalter of Swem Library to acquire the necessary videos, select the clips from them, and digitize them.  In addition, I will work with Pablo Yañez from IT to explore the software available for digital reconstructions of Roman buildings and for computer mapping.  The plan is to select the videos by the end of the Spring semester; work on digitizing clips and exploring computer software for digital reconstructions and mapping over the summer; and then incorporate this material into the course during the Fall semester.  I will teach the course in the spring of 2013 and try out the new additions.