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Welcome to a Seminar at the Swedish Institute!

Sensory archaeology meets digital humanities

Thursday, February 6th , 16.30


Vincent Alexandre (L’ École Français de Rome): Listening to the Ancient Past : the SonorA Project
The SonorA project was launched in 2012 by three of the French Schools abroad specialized in archaeology and history (Athens, Cairo, Roma). Its ambition is to obtain a better comprehension of the emission and reception of sounds in Antiquity, by a combination of philological, historical, archaeological inquiries. Grounded on the assumption of the historicity of sonic phenomenon, demonstrated mostly by senses anthropologists and ethnomusicologists, the SonorA project has for scope to get rid of as many contemporary misconceptions as possible on ancient sounds, thanks to firmly contextualized studies. Such a project is collaborative by nature and it would be my pleasure to make a presentation at the Swedish institute, hopefully engaging a fruitful collaboration.

Eleanor Betts (The Open University): Recreating Rome: a multisensory approach
Is it possible to reconstruct the sensory experiences of the ancient Romans, or a foolhardy mission to try? This seminar will present a methodology for recording sensory artefacts in the city of Rome. It will explore the challenges faced by scholars wishing to incorporate sensory studies into their research, whether that is archaeological fieldwork, digital reconstruction, material culture studies or text-based analysis. The scope of this multisensory project is vast and to succeed requires collaboration. Between us, we should construct a universal database of sensory data, collected from the sources and in the field (in its widest sense: excavation, but also ethnographic and sociological studies). Through this collaboration, I am certain we can gain a more enriched understanding of life in the ancient city of Rome.

Anna Foka (HUMlab, Umeå Universitet): The Sounds of the Roman Amphitheatre
Digital reconstruction is the process of graphically representing ideas and objects (Wileman: 1993).  This process, however, requires a conceptual picture to be transferred to in a graphical medium. This paper focuses on the potentials of a conceptual digital construction of a Roman Amphiteatre for multiple screens. However, I argue that current ‘historically accurate’ digital depictions of Roman amphitheatres are limited to lifeless and sanitized aerial 3D models. I propose a more innovative, multisensory reconstruction of entertainment sites for multiple screens can elucidate our understanding of historically and geographically remote social and cultural concepts.
I then move on to discuss potential methodological tools for generating discourses that add layers of understanding to our contemporary knowledge of the Roman spectacle. A participatory (embodied- tangible computing) and multisensory (sound and vision) digital recreation of a Roman amphitheatre (along the lines of Betts: 2009, Drucker: 2009, and Favro: 2006) can engineer deeper and constructive analyses of the dynamics and systemic operations regarding [ancient and current] popular entertainment. Last, I propose a methodology for the construction of conceptual sound in ancient narrative, informed by current practices in sound engineering. I aim to pit this against concepts of archaeo-acoustics and archaeology.

Cecilia Lindhé (Umeå University): Screening Mary: Rethinking Medieval Church Spaces in Digital Environments
Many digital websites and archives of medieval spaces and its objects are not only informed by what we might call a post-romantic notion of aesthetics, they also excise crucial dimensions of medieval materiality and performativity such as touch, smell, movement and sound. Further, these digital environments seem to be designed according to a hierarchical relationship between technological tools and humanities tools – where the former methods have been granted greater authority. This talk will present an effort to overturn this power relation by highlighting how an aesthetic practice grounded in the older lexicon of ”perception by the senses” and how rhetorical concepts such as memoria, ductus and ekphrasis/enargeia could challenge the conceptual foundations of websites and digital archives of medieval text and image.
It will also explore some digital interactive installations of medieval spaces that have been developed in HUMlab at Umeå University as part of the research project Imitatio Mariae – Virgin Mary as Virtuous Model in Medieval Sweden, funded by the Swedish Resarch Council. Instead of thinking in terms of collecting, preserving and exhibit collections of medieval artifacts, this installation aims to orchestrate the Swedish medieval church as a multimodal space that encourages multi-sensuous involvement and it further investigates not only how digital technology could function as a critical perspective on medieval materiality but also, and more generally, on the Humanities as such.

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