Visual Resources Update May 2024

Visual Resources Update May 2024

Just a reminder that faculty needing publication images are invited to fill out this survey. We are anticipating image needs and will be checking in at points during the year.

Questions for Kristina Zielke: how do old photographs offer new ideas?

Kristina Zielke is a visiting graduate student in A&A from the Freie Universität Berlin.

What brought you to Visual Resources/how did you hear about us?

My supervisor first mentioned Visual Resources during a brief tour of Green Hall. A few weeks later, a friend and colleague told me again about his good experience at Visual Resources and recommended to look for archival material on Olympia.

What were you expecting from the visit? Was it what you expected or different?

As I had already studied the archival material on Olympia in Berlin, Athens and also Olympia, I did not initially have particularly high expectations of finding something unknown to me. As I am working on the boundaries and limitations of Olympia from a longue dureé perspective, I already knew that free-standing walls were usually overlooked by excavators or tourists. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find photographs of Prof. Richard Stillwell as a former Professor at Princeton, who obviously shared my soft spot for walls and documented them. This was a happy coincidence for my research question. As research of ancient walls (whether fortification or otherwise) have received more attention in recent years, Prof. Stillwell’s collection of walls forms an important collection for comparative studies.

Well-dressed man with hat leaning over a stone wall writing something
One of the hand-colored glass lantern slides labeled “Olympia” in the Visual Resources collection. It is unclear exactly who this man is, but he could possibly be Wilhelm Dörpfeld.

Was it helpful to your research? How?

The visit to Visual Resources was very helpful for my work. Thanks to R. Stillwell’s photographs, images of various walls and water channels have been preserved, which can no longer be seen today as the walking level has been raised to improve accessibility for tourists. In addition, some photographs show wall structures that are now in a poor state of preservation and thus reflect the condition shortly after being excavated. This helps significantly to get a picture of their before being exposed to almost 150 years of weathering. I also came across a photo that shows a specific wall in Olympia down to its foundation, which underlined my thesis on the walls origin and it’s dating.

blocks of stone litter the ground, with trees growing in between
Row of ruins to west of the Echo Colonnade, Olympia, Greece (Image 253081, Richard Stillwell Collection, Visual Resources)

What is your experience using (and working in) archaeological archives or photographic archives? How do they feature in your research?

Since the excavations in Olympia took place at a time when photographs were very expensive and time-consuming, my work is largely dependent on archives. Particularly in the case of archaeological sites that have a longer modern history due to early excavations, reports or photographs are often the only source of information about the in situ state. Archaeological sites are not frozen in time after being excavated. The monuments are exposed to the weather, natural disasters, as well as humans and animals. Additionally, the desire to make the sites attractive for tourism requires certain measures of accessibility and preservation. The first major excavation in Olympia took place in 1875-1881, since then the terrain changed considerably. Paths were installed for tourist accessibility, and, in the process, numerous disruptive structures were removed, the walking level was raised, restorations were carried out. By comparing photographs over the course of time can therefore be essential for building research.

Can you describe the relationship (similarities, differences, etc.) between archival research and excavation? How, in your mind, can the two research practices support each other?

All fieldwork is based on thorough and objective documentation. Every excavation is a destruction of otherwise untouched ground as the excavated soil can never be reversed. Therefore, the archival studies are oftentimes a prerequisite for starting fieldwork, to ensure that an excavation has not already taken place at the selected site in earlier times. Sometimes trenches get filled in again after the work was completed in order to ensure the preservation of certain the structures. In this case, the documentation of the finds that are no longer visible (e.g. reports, excavation diaries, drawings, photos) are essential to research and may offer the possibility of new interpretations in later times, if more knowledge about a certain topic could be gained.

Thank you, Kristina for visiting and sharing your work. If anyone is interested in the historic photograph collection please reach out to or

Digital Methods in Ancient History

A number of people stand at a long counter with pots and pans listening to a male chef
Students in Lieberman and Cheung’s class, The Science of Roman History, enjoying a feast inspired by ancient recipes at New College West.

This past semester, Leigh Lieberman co-taught a course with Caroline Cheung called The Science of Roman History (CLA 247). Roman history courses usually cover the grand narratives based on the more traditional, literary evidence. Usually these courses leave no room for discussing how knowledge is created and the new and different methods for studying ancient history. This course instead looked at different questions to shed light on fruitful collaborations between scholars from different fields, prompting students to engage with STEM and digital humanities methods as we considered historical questions. Through different case studies and hands-on activities, students learned how different scientific, technological, and computational methods help us employ a multi-disciplinary approach to learning about the ancient past.

Screenshot of final digital projects for the Science of Roman History (CLA 247)
The StoryMaps Collection from The Science of Roman History, accessible to members of the Princeton community (who have set up a free Princeton ArcGIS Online account):

Throughout the semester, students focused their efforts on an object from The Princeton University Art Museum or Firestone Special Collections; their final projects outlined various scientific analyses that one could pursue to learn more about that object (i.e.: XRF, isotope analysis, statistical study, spatial study, etc.). These final projects were transformed, using ESRI’s ArcGIS StoryMaps, into a collaborative, multi-modal publication, giving the students an opportunity to gain some experience writing for public audiences.

Presentation of the 1929 Mount Athos Film at the Icon Museum and Study Center, Clinton MA

On Saturday, June 8th, at 1pm Julia Gearhart will be presenting at the Icon Museum and Study Center in Clinton Massachusetts thanks to the invitation of A&A alum and now museum curator, Justin Willson. Julia will be screening the 1929 film footage of Mount Athos that was discovered in the department in 2017 as part of a double matinee with Argyris Liapis’s documentary: Athos, the World’s Brightest Peak, winner of the Astron Award (Audience Favorite) at the 18th San Francisco Greek Film Festival in 2021.

The monthly update will be taking a break during the summer – see you in August!