The basic research theory I am using is that if one were to gather together the mass of small pieces of information about one subject, using as large a variety of types of evidence as possible, a coherent larger picture will begin to emerge out of the minutiae. This is the basic premise behind the ethnographic method. However the recent history of Ancient Corinth has not yet been looked at from an ethnographic perspective or as a “local history.”
My goal is to write a local history focused on the change and continuity in architectural forms and city planning in the village of Ancient Corinth from the Ottoman period to the present. The question of how to write a local history of a small village is particularly complicated in this case, because the primary sources for this local history are texts and images generated by European travellers (who can be considered early ethnographers themselves), rather than by the local people. It is important to remember that these views of Corinth are from the perspective of Europeans: the local people inhabit the foreground of these images for the purposes of establishing scale or romantic detail. It is the appropriated classical culture (the relics of the Greeks or Romans) or the exocticism of the Turkish mosques, neither of which were of interest to the Greeks of the time, that occupy the center of the images and the focus of the visits.
Part of my goal in this project is to look behind and around the edges of the exoticism and romanticism and find the contingencies of the living village. But because of my European sources, not to mention the archaeological focus of original research I did while a research assistant for the Corinth Computer Project, this project and this exhibition are necessarily also about the travellers and the ancient ruins. Part of the problem with ancient Greek monuments is that they represent the history assigned to the Greeks by Europeans rather than that to which they themselves connect. There is a great need in Greek museums to break the “tacit and perhaps unconscious categories that at once circumscribe and enable any culture’s thinking” (Cantwell 65) with respect to the major, almost monolithic category of “the ancient past” which consists of nothing later than the Roman period and mostly decontextualized archaeological artifacts and the very minor category of “the recent past” which consists of small Folklore museums showing objects from the last 100 years, mostly costumes and farm implements, also decontextualized. This exhibit is an attempt to recontextualize both the ancient and the recent past.
Figure 1. Map of Corinth in 1831–1833.
For this project, I have gathered text from as many travellers accounts of Corinth as I was able to find in the Gennadeion Library in Athens, one of the two best collections of travel accounts for this area in the world. To find those that visited Corinth, I used Shirley Weber’s two indices, and followed up leads from secondary sources and other users of the library. I found a total of 121 accounts. I was allowed to photograph all the accompanying maps and illustrations of Corinth that I found. I spent a month in Corinth itself and was encouraged to include the collection of photographs gathered by a former Director of Corinth Excavations, Henry Robinson, in my research. In total, I catalogued 156 maps and illustrations from these two sources. The maps and illustrations I have selected for this exhibition are grouped around three views of the village: views of the village from a distance, views of the bazaar and central mosque and views of the ancient Greek temple. The Corinth Archive also contained an invaluable map of Corinth in 1831-33 (Figure 1) which provides information about the Turkish town plan, the post-independence Greek town plan and a proposed plan for Corinth should it have been chosen as the new national capital following the War of Independence. This map has been digitized and fitted to the scale of the Greek army map of the village made in 1963 (Figure 2). As an experiment to ascertain the accuracy of the images, I decided also to photograph some of the views as they appear today from approximately the same spot for comparison and to use as evidence when trying to identify the views. This task of identifying the sites of the views was made easier and more coherent by the use of the computerized maps, airphotos, satellite photos and surveyed information which form part of the Corinth Computer Project’s databases.
Figure 2. Map of Corinth in 1963.
On a theoretical level, I also want to explore the electronic medium of a world wide web page as an appropriate mode of exhibition of these different types of materials.
There were two major areas in which methodological issues needed to be resolved: one inherent in the type of material (travellers’ writings and illustrations) and the second relative to the world wide web as an exhibition medium. In the first, the challenge was to find a way to account for the fact that the travellers descriptions and drawings were not meant necessarily to be accurate renderings of the local area. While many of the early ones (before the War of Independence) seem to have been drawn with a reasonable degree of accuracy (Robinson 277), many of the others are primarily illustrations—artistic views composed with aesthetics rather than accuracy in mind. However, using the notion of “intersubjective checking” and the “Principle of Cumulative Assessment” (Hufford 121-122) the sheer number of accounts allows for a reasonable analysis of which accounts and/or views are accurate and which are not. If a detail appears similarly in more than one image, it can be reasonably certain that that detail looked that way on the landscape. For further discussion of this issue, see Robinson.
However, as illustrated in several images of the Temple, it is clear that some travellers took liberties with the work of their predecessors that today would be called plagiarism. The difference between modern and 19th century sensibilities about copying previous works is further illustrated by an examination of the descriptions of Corinth in the texts. The practice of reading previous travellers was common, and so one must be aware of the possibility of intertextual influence as well as outright copying. I would argue that part of what can be seen occurring in the texts is the creation of the tropes of the genre of travel writing. In my dissertation, I will argue that these tropes include stereotypes used in the creation of national character. In practical terms, this means that when trying to determine the accuracy of a written description, sometimes I can only conclude probability though many times, with enough accounts or images, I can be confident of a reasonable degree of certainty. I have tried to make this explicit in the analytic texts.
The second major area of methodological challenge lay in questions about how to display this kind of multi-media material. I felt that the world wide web offered the best combination of efficiency and flexibility., However it is not without its challenges. The most difficult challenge highlights the paradox of the web. While considered to be a highly democratic medium which supersedes political boundaries, makes location a non-issue, and is not easily controlled by hegemonic forces, the audience is still restricted to those who are literate and have access to the World Wide Web, or at least a computer (I could conceivably send it to someone via a disk). This presents some problems when considering that I am looking at this project as a local history, but the internet is the medium of the educated elite. There are practical challenges as well. The Web encourages a short attention span, as those accessing from home have to tie up phone lines to view it, and even those with dedicated phone lines or ethernet connections will have to be willing to sit at a computer screen for an extended length of time. This is exacerbated by the problem specific to images of detail and image quality versus download time.
To combat these disadvantages, I am showing only a small portion of what I have collected—those images that I have permission to use and that do not require a magnifying glass to see the details of interest. I thought also that a smaller portion of the images and text would allow a viewer to see the site without feeling overwhelmed. I tried to offer depth of text and analysis for the images I have chosen rather than breadth of images—the mass of material is a bit overwhelming. This shaped my twofold goals: to present some of the most interesting material in an exhibition format and to explore the web as an exhibition medium for this kind of text-and-image study.
I chose the web as the medium because it seemed ideally suited to a simultaneous exploration of text and images. Because I can store each image only once, yet produce “pages” that juxtapose it in different ways with different texts or different images, it seemed very efficient for practical reasons. The use of maps with hypertext links appealed to me on a more ideological level, as it offers the viewer a choice of paths to take through the exhibition rather than following a single one chosen by me. This focus on the interconnectivity of the exhibition as well as the lack of a proscribed path through it serve to address some of the concerns about the hegemonic tendencies towards simplification and traditionalization of modern museums as formulated by John Dorst (190-196).
Another advantage of the web medium is that the curator can provide a more complete sampling of his material and go into considerable depth without overwhelming the viewer by making detailed information, references, etc. available through hyperlinks which do not interrupt the flow of the text yet make it clear that there is more depth available. This may go some way toward addressing the common criticism of museum exhibitions that they do not work on enough levels to have the depth a scholar would want—a more complete representation of the evidence so that it is possible to challenge the interpretations on the basis of the evidence supplied, the background a novice would require and the coherence and boundedness a tourist needs to name just a few of the multiple concerns of an audience. The kind of flexibility a multi-media, hypertext, virtual exhibition should offer allows the exhibition to work on many levels. Anyone can escape from the kinds of categories outlined above and explore the information provided for other imagined audiences in a way that one cannot escape from the proscribed level of involvement at a museum exhibition, an academic conference or on a guided tour.
One of my concerns was to take into consideration the viewpoint of people with local interest, as well as that of scholars and those interested in Greece or travellers generally. It is for this reason that I used a “center-node” model rather than the more typical model for web pages which can be represented as a hierarchical flow chart of ever-deepening levels. The center-node model, begins with the opening page and then allows the viewer to choose from various paths to take through the village. In this way I have tried to replicate the experience of the traveller or the villager who comes on their own path, rather than those tourists who are bussed in and out on guided tours. The use of the modern plan as the basis and the 1831-33 plan as a comparison also tries to connect those familiar with Corinth today to the images of its past, as well as broaden the view of what is interesting about Ancient Corinth for those who aren’t already familiar with its many aspects.
This sense of a dual audience is important to the selecting I have done for this project. I have chosen to focus on the images in two neighborhoods—around the mosque and bazaar, an area which functions presently as the center of the village, and around the ancient temple. The selection of the village center reflects my concern to recontextualize the concern with the ancient past into the more recent past.
The selection of the temple is one that will appeal to non-local people, those who come to Corinth precisely to see the ancient ruins. Again, it was chosen because of its broad-based familiarity to a presumed audience. But to show it as it degenerated throughout the 18th and 19th centuries will place the visitor within the tradition of the travellers and show them that they are coming to Corinth by a different method of transportation but with the same goals and interests as hundreds of people have for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It should also show them that Corinth has had history since the Roman period as well, and make them rethink their view of where its importance or interest lies. Rather than focus exclusively on the ancient past, thereby fetishizing and reifying the presumed discontinuity with the present, it focuses on the time between the ancient past and the present.
Obviously, my small, narrowly focused, computer-dependent web page exhibit does not answer all the promises made in the above section. It does, however, begin to consider the concerns of some scholars in the fields of heritage tourism, ethnography, and exhibition-design in the context of a body of material that is only beginning to gain some serious attention. The exhibit of photographs on display in the Nemea Museum foyer which shows a selection of travellers’ drawings and relevant text from the 19th century, the recent exhibition in Athens and Corinth in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Corinth excavations which illustrated the history of the excavations and those involved in it—both villagers and foreign archaeologists (Langridge) and the growing interest in Greece’s non-ancient heritage reflected in museums such as the recently renovated Benaki Museum and the restored center of Rethimno (Herzfeld) all suggest that the time is ripe for beginning a discussion of how bridges can be built between the ancient past and the present. The idea of the internet and interactive exhibition as well as democratization of information offered by the hypertext format of the world wide web have yet to be explored in this context. This project is merely a sample of one interpretation of one possible use for the medium, and a very brief opening discussion of the advantages and possibilities of further exploration.
Click here for the full bibliography.
Cantwell, Robert. Ethnomimesis: Folklife and the Representation of Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.
Dorst, John D. The Written Suburb: An American Site. An Ethnographic Dilemma. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.
Herzfeld, Michael. A Place in History: Social and Monumental Time in a Cretan Town. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.
Hufford, David. Beings without Bodies. Draft, 1996.
Langridge-Noti, Elizabeth. A Corinthian Scrapbook: 100 Years of American Excavations in Ancient Corinth. Athens: Lycabettus Press, 1996.
Robinson, Henry. “Urban Designs for Corinth, 1829-1833.” Philia Epe Eis Georgios E. Mylonan. Vol 3. Athenai: Archaiologike Hetaireias, 1986.
Weber, Shirley. Voyages and Travels in Greece and the Near East and Adjacent Regions, Made Previous to the Year 1801. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies, 1953.
————. Voyages and Travels in the Near East in the XIX Century. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies, 1952.