What's Been Going on in Itinera for the Past Couple Weeks


What's Been Going on in Itinera for the Past Couple Weeks

For the month of January, I've been researching for Itinera to catalog the travels of artists and artifacts around Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries.  The project has had its ups and downs, but so far, all is well.

When I first started working in Itinera, my graduate mentor Jen assigned me to input information straight into the database.  I have no past experience with computer programming.  This was actually one of the reasons why I chose this research project, in the hopes that it would prepare me for more tech-oriented positions in the future.  I was a great programmer, when Jen sat directly next to me and dictated instructions on how to individually do each step.  But it wasn't all that great when she let me do it on my own.

NB: Right now, I am really bad at computer programming.

The information that goes into Itinera is important and public.  You're tracking the cross-country movements of real people who have lived and died, and real art that has existed for hundreds of years.  This is not something an undergraduate researcher wants to mess up.

Since then, Jen has taken pity on me.  I'm now directly researching information and prepping it to go into Itinera.  So we've taken a couple leaps back.  This task is much less stressful and requires more page turning than button clicking.

I'm currently researching the Elgin Marbles (or the Parthenon Marbles), which is a collection of antique sculptures, inscriptions and architectural pieces that decorated the Acropolis in Greece from about 447 BCE up through 1800.  By that time, Athens was pretty miserable and sketchy in term of being a city.  But they had their Marbles!

Cue: Lord Elgin.

Around the turn of the century, a Scottish diplomat named Thomas Bruce (but I'll call him Lord Elgin, since that's one of his titles), decided to seize the Marbles from the Parthenon and send them over to London.  Elgin initially sent a group of artists to Athens under the assumption that they would just sketch and study the sculptures at the Acropolis.  But after a lot of back and forth, he decided that he wanted the Marbles, so he basically just took them.

The Elgin Marbles are tricky to track because rather than being one solid object, they're broken up into seperate sculptures and friezes at different countries and museums throughout Europe.  Most of the collection is either in London or Athens, but Paris, Copenhagen, Vienna, and parts of Germany have some sculptures as well.  Since Elgin was a diplomat, he traveled a lot between England and then-Constantinople.  Elgin also sent other people on Marbles-related missions around Europe during this time.

The overall story of the Elgin Marbles is pretty dramatic, laced with political controversy and ethical questions.  So far in my research, at least two people have been imprisoned.  There is a lot of sneaking around and stealing about this affair, too.  I've even found one account of adultry between Elgin's wife and her lover.  It'll be interesting to see how the Elgins' marriage [spolier] fell apart.

Tracking the movement of the Elgin Marbles and all the people involved is pretty fascinating.  It's interesting to see why there was (and continues to be) all this controversy about the Elgin Marbles when, with an unsentimental eye, they're really just a couple hunks of old rock.  But caring about history means being sentimental about old things, so I think the Elgin Marbles are pretty awesome.

Photo courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elgin_Marbles#mediaviewer/File:Elgin_Marble...

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