NWACC Final Report

The Nolli Map Web Site: Visualizing Rome


James Tice, Associate Professor of Architecture, Principal Investigator
Department of Architecture, School of Architecture and Allied Arts
University of Oregon

Erik Steiner, Dynamic Cartography Researcher
InfoGraphics Lab, Department of Geography,
University of Oregon

Date of report: April 15, 2005

• Contact information:
James Tice, Tel: 541-346-1443
Email: jtice@uoregon.edu

Brief Statement of Project Goals
Our project goal has been to create and implement an innovative and highly interactive website and teaching tool for the study of the city of Rome. To meet this goal we have focused on a unique historic document, the 1748 Nolli map, a cartographic milestone that serves to georeference many different kinds of information that will reveal Rome’s significant place in the history of Western civilization.

Our major design challenge has been to faithfully represent the Nolli map’s superb graphical presentation that is both beautiful to behold and effective in communicating a vast amount of embedded information. Using 21st century state of the art computing technology and geographic information systems (GIS), we believe that we have transformed this vital, but underused, 18th century document into a highly interactive, accessible teaching and research tool and website for many disciplines.

Project Accomplishments
A large part of our effort in this project has been the preparation of critical layers of information to be included in our research tool and website, including the map itself. We are extremely happy to report that in the process of developing methods for completing this compilation, we have created a far more valuable tool than we initially had imagined, and we have expanded our vision of what the website can accomplish.

The tool development component of our work, initially conceived of as merely a networked folder system to allow us to store and share important Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator graphics, has expanded into an enterprise-level multi-user geospatial database (“geodatabase”). While we began with an entirely graphical system of cataloging information about Nolli and the city, we now have a centralized database running on Microsoft SQL Server 2000 and ESRI ArcSDE, using ArcGIS clients such as ArcMap and ArcReader (all from ESRI). While we still take great pride in meticulously maintaining the graphical richness of the historic documents, the geodatabase provides a robust method to rectify images and linework to true geographic locations in space. The software also fundamentally supports multi-user access to shared materials in a distributed network, and the use of these materials in concert with data from other sources. All other advantages aside, the greatest benefit of the geodatabase is that it provides a scalable method to support the compilation and digitization of geospatial data by distributed authors. This system natively supports simultaneous editing by multiple users on the network.

Using the most commonly available GIS software, researchers may directly access our rich database which is continually being updated with more resources for Rome scholars. Students in an architecture course this term will be using and contributing to the geodatabase, something we see as a realization of the utility and usability of the system. With this ease of access, we expect this to expand rapidly over time – eventually becoming a premier resource for geospatial data on the historic city of Rome.

Rome is arguably the world’s most documented city. In a time that we are seeing an explosion of freely available geospatial data worldwide, there is surprisingly limited availability of this data for the city of Rome – both historic and otherwise. One of our successes has been providing a tool that will allow scholars to share GIS data through a centralized repository at the University of Oregon. The initial substantiation for this method is the Nolli map geodatabase.

Here is a list of key development efforts we have accomplished with regard to the geodatabase:

• We have digitally re-mastered a rare original print of the Nolli map at a high resolution, eliminating printing anomalies while carefully preserving the integrity of the engraving.
• We have meticulously geo-rectified the Nolli map to a 1-meter resolution satellite image of the city, using over 100 control points in ArcGIS to accurately “rubbersheet” Nolli’s masterpiece onto the modern city structure.
• We have designed and implemented a scalable data model to serve our data to students and scholars at the University of Oregon and other NWACC institutions. For security purposes, access is provided by request only at this time.
• We have begun compilation on over fifty unique data layers, including significant contributions such as an accurate geometric reconstruction of the historic wall circuits of the city.
• We have provided remote access to the geodatabase to students in Geography and Architecture. We plan to expand this access to other departments as interest grows, reflecting the inherent interdisciplinary nature of the project.

The second component of the project, and dominant public face of our work, is the Nolli Map Web Site at http://nolli.uoregon.edu/. The initial conception of an interactive map that allowed users to explore a high-resolution version of the Nolli map in detail has since expanded into a working scholarly portal that includes articles and essays about the map and several themes which use Nolli’s image of the city as a vehicle to convey deeper meaning in the city structure.

The organization of the site into four Thematic Modules allows for a structured approach to learning which guides the user into broad categories of study: Natural Features and Landscape Elements; Architecture and Urban Design; Social Factors; and Cartography. Each Thematic Module is developed with a series of “Feature Articles” or “Interpretive Essays.” We plan to have this portion of the site grow over time, providing a dynamic vehicle to support classroom discussions, advanced personal study projects, bulletin boards, data sharing, and other teaching innovations. Our model encourages contributions from other Rome scholars and students to the site – providing a real possibility for the site to become an organic and expanding academic resource that will remain current over time. Some articles will contain freely downloadable relevant GIS source data layers (snapshots of the geodatabase) that can be used with common GIS software.

The four Thematic Modules not only use the map as context, but they neatly dovetail with the Map Engine, a resource that is available from every page of the website, and the most innovative contribution of the project. Sites mentioned in the articles and essays may be searched for, and accessed through the Map Engine, which features the high-resolution remastered image of the Nolli map constructed by the project team. The Flash-based tool dynamically accesses a database of the complete Nolli map index of 1,320 sites, complete with detailed information regarding each site’s modern location, architect, period of construction, type, and a full annotation for nearly every location (the first in existence). A simple search will return matching results and clicking on them will automatically zoom the user to the site location on the Nolli map and return the detailed record of that site from the database. Using the navigational system, users can easily pan and zoom to any portion of the map so that both the macro scale of the city and micro scales of building are seamlessly displayed and easily accessed.

A subset of the GIS layers that we have compiled are also available as part of the Map Engine, where they can be overlaid at varying transparencies allowing users to literally “see through” time and data. These layers will also grow over time, as we complete additional themes in the geodatabase. Once complete, GIS data layers are reprojected from UTM Zone 33N to a custom-built projection for the Nolli map before being stored as XML vector data that can be dynamically read into the Flash client on demand.

The basic design of the website allows for both group presentations and personal viewing – to benefit the educator in the classroom, and students and scholars researching the city on their own. The Map Engine in particular allows professors to present the Nolli map in ways that were not before possible. Projecting the website on to a screen, teachers can display detailed images of the Nolli map as part of a one continuous document, flexibly moving to different locations and scales in the city on demand or as part of a structured lecture. In the near future we will incorporate the ability to save map “bookmarks” that can be exchanged through email, saved as links on a web page, or accessed through PowerPoint, so users can quickly return to a stored location in the map.

In addition to the features described above, the website provides the following:

• A Preface that describes the objectives of the project, and how to use the website
• A Glossary of Italian terms and their translations that the user may encounter on the site, in particular in the 1,320 site index.
• A Selected bibliography of resources that were used in the compilation of the website to date.
• A site Feedback page, which allows users to submit positive feedback or suggest articles.
• A Search engine that allows users to search not just the site all aspects of the Nolli Map Web Site, including the site index.

Matching results are displayed in categories based on their source (Feature Article, Interpretive Essay, Glossary entry, Bibliographic entry, and Site Index). All the documents on the site are stored in a database so they are indexed and searchable the moment they are uploaded, and changes to the annotations for the 1,320 site index will be immediately available to the end-user.

Teaching or research setting in which the results of the project were implemented
The Nolli Web Site has already changed the way courses on Rome are taught at the University of Oregon. This site provides a sophisticated electronic tool for the classroom and a highly flexible instrument for individual study that we see being readily incorporated into other programs within NWACC and other institutions nationwide.

The following summarizes teaching and research venues in which the Nolli Web Site and research have had, or will have, a significant impact:

• Instructional Technology Initiative Summer Workshop (Summer 2004) was an opportunity to present the Nolli Map Web Site idea to a cross-disciplinary group of faculty at the U of O. The outcome of our involvement was an Instructional Technology Fellowship Award.
• Architecture Seminar “Architecture and Urbanism of Rome” Department of Architecture (Spring 2005). Students use the website and GIS software related to our research for presentations, class discussions and independent study.
• The principal investigator is thesis advisor for Megan Cairns, Honors College student at the U of O. Her topic “The Architectural Links between Three of Rome’s Major Piazzas” (academic year 2004-2005 benefited directly from the Nolli Map Web Site project which has proven crucial to her research topic in ways that have not been possible before with more conventional resources.
• Department of Architecture Summer Program in its 25th year; program space is located in Rome at the University of Washington Rome Center, an NWACC member (Summer 2005). The principal investigator will serve as visiting faculty. The Nolli Web Site will become an essential part of the resources studied in Rome (particularly important as access to library materials for American students in Rome is limited).
• Multi-disciplinary Seminar “Roman Solarium” comprises faculty from History (John Nicols), Physics (Bob Zimmerman) and Architecture (Virginia Cartwright and Steven Duff) at the U of O. This group is focusing on a 1st c. B.C. Augustan obelisk to be recreated on the U of O campus at half scale (Winter and Spring terms 2005). The Nolli Map Web Site has provided valuable background information.
• A Public lecture series “The Legacy of Rome” has been planned at the invitation of the Department of Architecture in recognition of the principal investigator research for the Nolli Map Web Site. Nationally and internationally known authorities on Rome will speak. The principal investigator’s lecture called “The Micro-Urbanism of Rome” is directly related to the NWACC Nolli Map Web Site (April-May 2005).
• During a recent visit to Rome to view archival material at Studium Urbis, and confer with consultant Dr. Allan Ceen, the principal investigator presented the Nolli Map Web Site research to faculty at Penn State’s Rome Program (February, 2005).
• The Principal Investigator conferred with researchers at Stanford University in March regarding an important related project called “The Stanford Digital Forma Urbis Romae” involving the three dimensional digital modeling of a 2nd century marble map of Rome. A member of the team, David Koller, will be visiting the U of O campus to make a public presentation (April 2005).
• Director, Bernard Frischman, from the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia has contacted the Nolli Web Site team to express interest in our work and inquired about the possibility for future collaboration (March 2005).

Discussion of project results/extent to which goals were met
We believe that we have met or exceeded our initial goals and have the momentum to accomplish more in the future. We have been encouraged by the enthusiastic response to our work by colleagues, students and professional organizations. We have been able to meet all the functional goals of our original plan and position the product so it will become accessible to a broad public both within NWACC institutions and beyond (please see above). We are constantly evaluating our work and seeking out advice and comments from colleagues and others to improve and develop our efforts. We are hopeful that now formally posted the Nolli Map Web Site will elicit considered responses that will further contribute to our educational and research goals.

Impact of project/future plans
Initial support from NWACC was instrumental in attracting additional external funding for our project. In 2004 we received two grants and one professional award that builds on the foundation put in place by NWACC in the amount of $41,000. They are: an Instructional Technology Fellowship grant from the Office of Academic Affairs at the University of Oregon ($25,000 plus summer stipend of $1,500); a 2004-2005 Board of Visitors Faculty Fellowship and Student Assistantship Award from the School of Architecture and Allied Arts ($4,500). Finally we received a professional award from INTA and Space Imaging who generously provided us with crucial GIS documentation for Rome (valued at $10,000). We believe that without NWACC’s initial endorsement and support, these additional funds would not have been realized.

Our plans for the future are to increase and extend the teaching and research capabilities of the Nolli Map Web Site. We are already taking steps to develop and refine our Web Site and add new layers of information and increase its effectiveness as a teaching and research tool. The Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust (Critical Resource Reference Grant) have invited us to submit formal proposals in May 2005 to fund the Nolli Web Site in the future. Both proposals envisage a two year period with funding in the neighborhood of $200,000. We believe that other funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation would find our project interesting because of its innovations in educational technologies.

Summaries/URLs of publicity the project has gained

Public presentations
• “Remastering the 1748 Nolli Map of Rome,” North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS) Conference, Portland, Maine, Fall 2004.
• “The Nolli Map Web Site” Faculty Research Presentation, Department of Architecture, U of O, Fall 2004.
• “The Nolli Map Web Site for Teaching and Research,” Board of Visitors, School of Architecture and Allied Arts, U of O, Fall2004.
• “The Nolli Map Web Site: Plans for the Future,” Instructional Technology Symposium, Knight Library, U of O, Fall 2004.
• “The Nolli Map Web Site: Cartography and Urban Theory,” Department of Geography, U of O, Winter 2005.
• “The Micro-Urbanism of Rome” principal investigator will speak at the lecture series
• “Legacy of Rome” inspired by the Nolli Map research, Department of Architecture, U of O, Spring 2005.
• “The Nolli Map Web Site: Cartography and Urban Theory,” International Making Cities Livable Conference: European Urbanism, Venice, Italy, forthcoming, June 2005.

• “Beyond Wayfinding: The 1748 Nolli Map” AAA Review, School of Architecture and Allied Arts, Spring 2005 vol. XXIII No.1
• “First Instructional Technology Fellowship Awards Spur Faculty” Inside Oregon: the uo’s newsletter for faculty, staff, and graduate teaching fellows http://duckhenge.uoregon.edu/io/supp/itfaculty-jim.html
• “Workshops teach professors to use classroom technology” (coverage of the Nolli Map Web Site and U of O teaching technology teaching initiatives), Oregon Daily Emerald, January 12, 2005 http://www.dailyemerald.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2005/01/12/41e543b318470?in_archive=1