I’ve always had a strong interest for ancient roman life, and roman architecture coincidingly. As such, getting to know a source on this topic was exciting. It is interesting to see a book that, while having been written almost 500 years ago, was still written closer to our times than to the times it concerns itself with.
Andrea Fulvio’s Antiquitates Urbis was never a hugely popular book – after all these years, there’s only a latin and an italian version available. I don’t speak italian, and my latin never reached Fulvio’s level – what to do?
In the exercise „Friends with an Old Book“, we’ve experimented with means to get to know a literary source that don’t involve actually reading it. We can either look at what we find online/in secondary sources about the book (which wasn’t much in my case), or we can try to get in touch ourselves. For Fulvio, there were several scans available online, but of course, establishing a real friendship without meeting in person is difficult – hence why the visit to Einsiedeln was crucial and certainly the most fun part of the exercise.
For me it was the first time leafing through a book that is more than 200 years old, and it was quite a special experience. Although the basic concept of what a book physically is has mostly remained the same over the centuries, the whole culture surrounding writing and printing has obviously fundamentally changed. Reading a book from the 16th century feels much more personal than reading a modern book, as author, editors and even the printers seem much more present in the text. Typesetting doesn’t follow strict aesthetic rules nor the logic of a computer program, but rather shows personal, sometimes quirky choices. The author’s „subscribers“ are listed in a way that gives the impression that they were in close contact to him, and that it was indeed them who „ordered“ the book to be written – whereas today the book is more of an exchangeable piece of content which is serially produced by an often abstract writer-person and then thrown on the open market like any other common good.
Antiquitates Urbis has motivated me, like it probably has many before me, to finally visit the capital of the empire for myself and see how much of what I see in Fulvio’s illustrations I can still find. As hard it is for me to understand a book from a different time, in a foreign language, as hard it is for Acrobat Reader Pro to read gothic letters, as hard is it to understand a city and its architecture from mere reading.
I think that the approach of treating a book as a computable object is an interesting one, but that by leaving exactly this part of the exercise completely to the assistants, the new skills i have acquired through „Friends with an Old Book“ are negligible. I recommend making the exercise denser, a bit more in-depth and concentrate it at the beginning of the second semester. Having the open-format group project part right before the final crits proved to be a bit of an organizational challenge.