DHi Speaker Series: John Clarke: The Oplontis Project & Integrating Digital Research into the Exhibition Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero

Dr. John Clarke, Professor, Art History UT-Austin

Co-sponsors: Cinema & Media Studies Program; American Studies Program


Lecture: The Oplontis Project:  New Paradigms for Interdisciplinary Research in the Digital Humanities

March 27 @ Noon in Red Pit, KRJH 127 — Lunch will be provided.

How can digital tools advance archaeological research? In this lecture, John R. Clarke demonstrates how interactive 3D models, linked databases, and digital publication have constituted a quantum leap for a UNESCO World Heritage site. Since 2006, Clarke has directed the Oplontis Project, an international collaborative study of two Roman villas, casualties of the same eruption of Vesuvius that buried Pompeii in 79 AD. The Project has developed a navigable 3D model using the Unity gaming engine to reconstruct the fragmentary fresco decorations and monumental sculptures and to test hypotheses about the movement of visitors and servants through the huge luxury villa. Because the model is linked to the Project database, a user can click on any feature, such as an individual painting or excavation, and bring up all the associated data. The results of the research of 46 scholars, representing disciplines ranging from geological sciences to art history, are appearing in open-access, born digital e-books. Together, the model, database, and e-books constitute a new methodology to bring together scientific and humanistic disciplines in the public realm.


Workshop: “Integrating Digital Research into the Exhibition Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii”

March 27 @ 4:10pm in DHi, CJ 102 — Light refreshments will be provided.

My intent is to show how the digital components of the exhibition enhanced the visitors’ experiences. These components included virtual experience of Villa A in three formats: the first-person shooter Unity model, Oculus Rift, and the MIDEN cave. I will also demonstrate how the Oplontis Project used laser scanning and photogrammetry to expand the content of the 3D model to include the experience of the gardens, water features, and sculptures. We also used digital files to reconstruct rooms in the exhibition at full scale, complete with frescoes, mosaic pavements, and furniture that visitors could interact with.


Bio: Professor Clarke received his PhD from Yale University. In 1980 he began teaching at The University of Texas at Austin, where his teaching, research, and publications focus on ancient Roman art, art-historical methodology, and contemporary art.  Currently Clarke is co-director of the Oplontis Project, working, since 2005, to complete the study, excavation, and publication of two Roman villas (“A” and “B”) buried by Vesuvius in A.D. 79.   With the endorsement of the Italian Ministry of Culture, Clarke and his co-editor have published the first of three volumes on Villa A. Entitle Oplontis Villa A (“of Poppaea”) at Torre Annunziata, Italy: The Ancient Landscape and Modern Rediscovery. It is a born-digital, Open Access E-Book in the Humanities E-Book series of the American Council of Learned Societies. (To access the volume, type “oplontis heb” in your browser.) All the research findings will be accessed through a navigable, 3D digital model that links to the Project database, housed at the Texas Advanced Computing Center. Support for the project includes a Collaborative Research Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and grants from the Department’s Center for the Study of Ancient Italy (CSAI). Clarke has co-curated a major traveling loan exhibition of works of art and objects of daily life found at Oplontis and never seen before by the public. Entitled “Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis,” the exhibition has three venues (2016-2017): the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the Museum of the Rockies and the Smith College Museum of Art (2017) and is accompanied by a scholarly catalogue.