When Big Data Slows Down: Digital Humanities and the Study of Roman Amphitheaters
Please join the unCOMMON Salon Series @ the Research Commons:
Sebastian Heath | When Big Data Slows Down: Digital Humanities and the Study of Roman Amphitheaters
Tuesday, April 21 | 6:30 pm
Bobst Library | 5th Floor Research Commons | Media Viewing Area
By the Second Century AD, well over 200 amphitheaters had been built within the territory of the Roman Empire. The most famous of these, the 50,000+ seat “Colosseum” in Rome, is also among the most unusual by being the largest and most complex amphitheater around. While the crowds watching gladiators and animals fight, as well as criminals being executed, were huge at Rome, in the Empire’s provinces they were smaller. But it may be wrong to assume that sitting in those venues provided a less compelling experience. Should we call a ten-thousand seat amphitheater, a pretty typical size for an amphitheater in a Roman city, second rate? Or should we call it more intimate in that a greater share of the audience was closer to the violence? Certainly, a greater share of a small city could witness the same event than was possible in Rome. And what do the techniques of Digital Humanities offer to attempts to answer these and other questions? Romans didn’t use Instagram, but modern visitors to amphitheaters do post YouTube videos. We don’t have many thousands of tweets – one of the tools in the “Thick Mapping” of urban experience – but we can estimate that there were well over a million seats in the amphitheaters that Rome’s subjects built. Can “Big Data” tools and visualization help us recover what it was like to sit in one? If we adapt such methods, what are the potential and actual pitfalls. A media-rich and data-driven approach may well open up new avenues in exploring these questions and these typically Roman structures.
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