Mapping Knowledge In Renaissance Rome: Raphael’s School of Athens

2012 to 2014
Undergraduate Research

ARTHIST 390S/HIST 390S - Mapping Knowledge in Renaissance Rome: Raphael's School of Athens, was co-taught by Professors Sara Galletti and John J. Martin during Spring 2013.  In the class, students stepped through the portal of Raphael’s painting The School of Athens to explore the ways in which artists and architects, astronomers and geographers, as well as printers and philosophers went about making knowledge in the Renaissance.  Working collaboratively, students analyzed a wide variety of sources about these disciplines as they were practiced in Renaissance Rome, and learned to use digital tools for deepening our understanding of cultural history. At the beginning of the course, each student selected a particular Renaissance discipline, such as astronomy, pharmacy, printing, architecture, and so on.

In a weekly three-hour class session, faculty and students discussed common readings and background materials. In a separate three-hour weekly lab session, students focused on their individual projects in a collaborative environment in which they helped one another develop research questions, strategies for the development of individual projects, and digital approaches to their materials.

Humanities Writ Large provided funding for the class to visit Rome for 10 days over spring break.  The faculty members envisioned Renaissance Rome itself as a laboratory for the men and women of the Renaissance whose new ideas revolutionized European culture in the early sixteenth century.  In Rome the faculty members took students on visits to a variety of sites each chosen to underscore the broader goals of the class, and to allow them to experience sites – such as the Farmacia della Scala – of importance to their individual projects. They also organized several walks through larger sections of Rome to help students understand the fabric of the city and the context of the sites in which they were interested.  Finally, they took advantage of the election of Pope Francis I as an opportunity to discuss Renaissance courts, politics, and religion.

For their final project, the students each produced a 20-page research paper and a digital project. The projects both used digital methods to analyze the data the students were examining and to visualize the results of their findings. Depending on the projects, they used mapping tools, databases, network visualization, and so on.

On April 3, 2014, Professors Martin and Galletti organized a public presentation of the final projects in the Wired! Lab. After a brief introduction, the students each displayed their projects on individual
screens used as posters, and the guests were able to move around and discuss projects with their creators.  Heather Hyde Minor, a prominent scholar of early modern Rome, was invited to engage with the students and offered a response to their work drawing out the value of the digital humanities for the exploration of historical subjects.

Overall the class proved to be a stimulating and intellectually valuable experience.  Professors Martin and Galletti believe that the students benefited immensely from the collaborative dimensions of the lab and were impressed by the ease with which students helped one another master a variety of challenges in the realm of the digital.  They are also convinced that the trip to Rome enabled the students to understand how ancient monuments and technologies shaped Renaissance curiosity and approaches to some of the most daunting challenges of the period.



Associate Professor of Art, Art History & Visual Studies
Professor of History