We began the journalling after the first day of sightseeing, which incorporated the Forum Romanum, Palatine, and the Musei Capitolini. Between the bustle, the heat, and jetlag, we felt fortunate that all our accommodations had wifi, and we could thus promulgate the journalling assignment by email later (rather than asking them to note down the theme under the hot Roman sun. This was my fourth time in the Roman Forum, and I still struggle to bring real, deep meaning to the ruins–both individually and as a collective space. While I have in the past focused on the Forum’s life in the late Republic and early Principate–and thus the role of buildings in political agendas, a la Zanker, Wiseman, Wallace-Hadrill, etc.–Coarelli really emphasizes the transhistorical narrative of the Forum, from its beginnings as a marshy graveyard through to the elaborate (re)buildings of the Imperial age. I tried to lend such a narrative to the students’ experience of the Forum, while being all too aware of the challenges that faced them. We decided to make those challenges the focus of the first assignment:
I want to emphasize again that journalling is meant to be loose and exploratory; the goal is for you to unlock and refine ideas about your experience, and then share those ideas (not necessarily the text) with each other. So be rough, write messily, follow ideas down rabbitholes, etc. I used the word assignment earlier, but it’s also helpful to think of what we give you as themes to write on.
So tonight’s theme stems from the challenges we faced today: the fragmentary and transhistorical nature of the Forum, and the imagination required to draw (or wrench) a meaningful experience from it. So we would like you all to reflect on how well you felt able to do that, and what tools your education/life experience to this point have given you to help you do it. SUGGESTIONS! You might want to think about 1. Which monument made the most sense to you, or which you were most easily able to understand/get to grips with; 2. Which monument presented the biggest challenge, was hardest to understand, didn’t really feel like it had much meaning to you at all; 3. WHY the first one was at all manageable; 4. WHY the second one was more difficult. We also encourage you to think about what it means to understand or ‘get’ a monument–this does not have to be the same thing for all people.
So write on this theme, for 20 minutes or so. Do it now or before you go to bed. Tomorrow morning, read over what you wrote. Pick at least one thing to share with us tomorrow. We will use these answers to begin a conversation about how to enhance our experience of the rest of Rome.
The next day it seemed best to crack on with monuments while it was still cool and the crowds were not yet out in full force. But when we stopped for lunch on the slope of the Esquiline, we had a 15 minute conversation with the students about their reflections. Students at our college tend to be very good at this type of work, and the results were quite satisfying for a first assignment. They talked about how certain resources (mainly online, but also from some of our class and pre-trip readings) helped prepare them to deal with the monuments, but, perhaps more interestingly, how reading fiction (in one student’s case, particularly fantasy/sci-fi) helped cultivate the imagination necessary to fill in the gaps in the Forum and Palatine. A couple of them also spoke passionately about how important they felt the practice of describing experiences abroad to family members were at giving shape to experience.
One thing that struck me was when a student named the Temple of Saturn as one of the easier monuments to visualize (vs. Apollo Sosianus or Vespasian & Titus), because the presence of its whole front made it easier to extrapolate the monument in its totality. In my own journalling on the above theme, I had identified Saturn as one of the biggest challenges to me, because of my interest in it as an early repository of public documents, a practice about which we know very little, because there is so little left of the monument to help us reconstruct it. Where were the documents kept? How? I thought this difference illustrated well the different desires or agendas we were bringing to Rome.
One idea to which we are committed is generating assignments organically from the experiences we are having. So we put the next assignment together out of the pieces of the day’s discussion:
In today’s discussion, two of the tools you identified could be summarized as Knowledge and Imagination. While, I recall, the examples of Knowledge specifically related to book-learning or digital resources, it is important to acknowledge that you have you have been building Knowledge on this trip. Specifically, we spent the first couple of days in the heart of Ancient Rome (what the locals call Centro Storico), inside the Pomerium and thus the core of what would develop into the cosmopolis of Rome. You have met many different buildings that had several different functions or ‘lives’, and, as David told us, many of those buildings had lives outside of their initial, intended functions.
Tomorrow we visit Ostia Antica, a Roman port town. The theme we would like you to journal on revolves around establishing expectations for that visit, and using them to structure an interaction with more ruins and evaluate what we learned from the Centro Storico. So, if we tell you that what you are visiting is 1. a Roman town and 2. a port town, what structures or features do you imagine you will encounter? This is an exercise in both Knowledge and Imagination: based on Rome, what seem to be the significant or characteristic elements of a Roman town? Based on Ostia’s description as a port town–and what you know about port towns–what additional elements would you expect to encounter? What will you look for in Ostia, and how can you plan to make sense of this city? Another way of looking at it is, what do you wish you knew before you descended into the Forum on Tuesday? Are there questions you can ask or agendas you an establish to have a more robust experience tomorrow?
Same rules apply as last night: just set aside 20 minutes to write on this theme, and see what comes out. We are genuinely interested in your personal responses, and a wide variety of ideas is always more interesting than a single, ‘right’ one (if such could even be said to exist). Pick one or more of the questions above, and just write. If you get stuck, pick another. We can talk over some of your ideas on the train to Ostia Antica.